CC Underwood was overwhelmed.
It was early in her real estate career and the dawn of the Great Recession.
She was helping as many as 40 customers at once but, naturally, didn’t want to turn down any business.
The short-sale market, in particular, was much busier than Underwood ever expected.
“Doing it myself wasn’t working,” she said.
So, two years into her career with Keller Williams Jacksonville Realty, Underwood put a team together.
She wanted to expand her business and, with a growing family, she wanted more flexibility with her time.
Underwood hired an assistant and later added an agent to her team. Then another agent. And another.
The rest is history.
Underwood is renowned in Jacksonville’s real estate industry for taking the team approach to a new level.
Hers is among Northeast Florida’s mega-teams. Sellin’ with CC now has its leader, three buyer specialists, a listing specialist, a transaction coordinator and an executive assistant.
Underwood credits much of her success to the training she and her team members have received from Keller Williams. The company is recognized by Training magazine as one of the world’s top training organizations across all industries.
“Our co-founder (Gary Keller) essentially wrote the book on growing a team in real estate,” she said.
Keller Williams Jacksonville’s 14-member Welch Team, led by Christina Welch, was Northeast Florida’s top producer in volume and units for the first half of 2016.
“We’ve been very fortunate to do well with referrals in a referral-driven business,” said Welch, who started the team in 2006.
New agents benefit from the mentoring that comes with joining a team.
“The way that our profession is going, you are going to see more and more teams,” said Diana Galavis, who partners with her mother, Millie Kanyar, on the Impact Team for Watson Realty Corp.
But agent teams — like other business relationships — come with inherent challenges.
Underwood and other Jacksonville-area Realtors say team management and growth require good hiring choices, dealing well with individual personalities and making the necessary changes until the right people are in the right places.
“Like with anything, you learn by failing — and that’s the best lesson,” Underwood said. “But I’ve made some really great hires, too. Our team never stops growing because of someone who didn’t work out.”
A team’s success and growth depend on putting the right people in the right spots — “just like in football,” Underwood said.
“Everyone works for each other’s success and if everybody’s doing their own thing, it’s not OK,” she said.
In other words, it’s called a team for a reason.
“It’s super important that everyone works as a cohesive unit,” Welch said.
Growing business and staying sane
As it turns out, selling real estate is, well, much more than selling real estate.
For starters, there’s processing property into Multiple Listing Services, networking and other facets of marketing, mounds of paperwork and showing properties.
And, of course, meeting with buyers and sellers until the deals are done.
The primary idea behind agent teams is for the leader and others on the team to perform the tasks that produce the most income.
So, when business reaches a certain level, it’s natural to consider starting a team, said Kanyar of Watson.
“The time comes when people who are doing well in real estate bring in more leads than they can handle,” she said.
Re/Max Unlimited’s Kim Sandberg says there’s another reason to start a team: “To stay sane.”
“You see people everywhere these days using the team approach to try to reach the next level and also to try to gain some life balance,” she said.
The first agent teams were mostly informal arrangements between family members who worked for the same brokerage firm.
Some teams are two-person operations — arrangements as simple as an agent with an assistant who may or may not have a real estate license.
Kanyar said the most plausible threshold for initiating a team is when business gets to the point where real estate professionals “have so much going on that they can’t service people properly.”
Kanyar and Underwood said customers benefit from the collective experience and expertise of agent teams, which are able to offer a broader level of service than a single agent.
That makes selecting team members especially important.
“I think it’s important for agents to know that if they are planning on starting a team, or joining a team, that a team doesn’t mean there are individual parts working independently,” Underwood said.
The broker is responsible for the actions of licensed and unlicensed team members who are working on transactions.
So, no matter the team size, written agreements are necessary for the purposes of distributing commissions and predetermining separation terms, among other reasons, Kanyar said.
“Little things need to be discussed,” she said.
Even when the team members are from the same family, “There’s no way around that. It must be done,” Kanyar said.
Sandberg understands why agent teams aren’t for everyone and why some team leaders choose not to be on the front line of real estate.
But she says having a small team — the Sandberg Team is just her husband and another agent on board — is her cup of tea.
Scott Sandberg was helping his wife with her real estate business long before he became a licensed agent in 2012.
The Sandbergs are former advertising agency colleagues. She specializes in business development and he’s creative.
“We have definitely profited from (teaming up),” she said. “He was always coaching behind the scenes, anyway.”
Scott Sandberg continues to work largely in anonymity, performing administrative and marketing tasks, while his wife works directly with their customers.
“We have always played to our strengths,” she said.
Getting a team started
While there’s no right or wrong way to structure a team, most begin with administrative support.
Kanyar and Galavis have had as many as four team members, but the Impact Team currently consists only of mother and daughter.
The duo is considering bringing on administrative help for tasks such as answering phone calls and preparing listings to free up their time to generate leads and negotiate contracts.
But when Kanyar and Galavis consider the salary and benefits they’d endure, they think hiring a virtual assistant may be the best route to go.
It’s all about keeping it lean.
“That’s the great thing about our business. You can do it the way you want to do it and make it up as you go along,” Kanyar said.
The Sandberg Team added a buyer’s specialist, Cindy Spain, in January.
“Sometimes it’s a matter of either growing or start saying, ‘No,” to new customers,” Kim Sandberg said. “And you don’t really want to ever say, ‘No.’”
There are two readily apparent disadvantages to spouses or parents and siblings forming an agent team.
One is that family relationships can be complicated. Another, conversely, is family members can be so close they may want to vacation together.
Forming a team is just the beginning of a team leader’s responsibilities.
“Excellent communication is necessary and strong systems must be in place,” Galavis said.
Underwood said as her team and sales grew, she improved her management and leadership skills.
She leads her team without actively selling. Rather, she’s engulfed in a parallel career with Keller Williams as a business coach and trainer for sales professionals in many industries.
The bigger the real estate team, the more likely it will become that some agents aren’t a good fit.
“If you start getting renegades — the person who thinks it’s the Wild West — it can have a poor reflection on the team brand,” Sandberg said.
So, it’s critical to nip problems with agent team members in the bud.
“There are service standards you have to set and processes that have to be followed,” particularly because of the intricacies involved in real estate transactions, Sandberg said.
And sometimes, personalities simply don’t mesh.
“It’s just like any good relationship,” Sandberg said. “People are people, right?”
Kanyar said she thinks team member agreements should be in place no more than one year at a time.
And a probationary period should be implemented.
“That’s my opinion, because life changes, people change and business may change,” she said.
Missteps happen. That’s why having agreements in place ahead of time is imperative, Galavis said.
“I think the key, when it comes down to it, is that running a team is like a business,” she said.