By Richard D. Hoffmann
Whether they’re young and just out of college or older and embarking on their second (or third) career, rookie salespeople are all needy.
Rookies need mentoring and networking opportunities; they clamor for leadership, basic information, training, and coaching; and need help building a marketing plan and developing a client database. They need to learn the agency ropes, what it takes to run a business, and how to develop the sales finesse of their more seasoned colleagues. The list goes on and on.
Often training sessions at brokerages or associations meet these needs. But all too often, staggering numbers of rookies in the industry go without any training, either by choice or because of lack of opportunity.
Across the country, untrained licensees are creating more work in transactions for the more experienced salesperson on the other side of the table. Many brokerages have training solutions for their own rookies, but lately, associations say they’re being asked to enter the newbie training game, as well.
“We have a solid training program in our company,” says Susan Lowe, a broker and vice president of independent Chase International in Lake Tahoe, Nev.
Lowe has been turning novice licensees into successful practitioners for 12 years. “What I notice most about rookies is that they’re an eclectic mix of people,” she says. “Attorneys, nurses, teachers, pilots, marketing, corporate, financial, insurance—they’re a group of very educated, talented people. Each one brings something valuable to the brokerage.”
Drawing out that value, though, takes a lot of troubleshooting by mentors, which is critical to the rookies’ success. “You don’t really see how much they have to learn until you watch them try to close a deal, do comparables, or show a buyer a property,” says Lowe.
Although mentoring from a seasoned broker is very important in Lowe’s estimation, it’s a time-consuming and expensive pursuit. That’s why Lowe says she’s happy for the help she gets with rookies from the Sierra Nevada Board of Realtors® and several other Realtor® associations around Lake Tahoe.
“They are very helpful offering ‘Real Estate 101’-type assistance, in offering continuing education, how to use the MLS, and for networking,” Lowe says. “But what [rookies] really need is experienced people around them, not more inexperienced people.”
The depth of experience represented within the Realtor® organization is why many brokers look to local or state Realtor® associations for help with training rookies. Even brokers with their own sophisticated programs for new agents are supporting their local associations’ efforts to train the flood of new rookies entering the market.
Yet some brokers are quick to define what type of training they’d like their association to offer. Brokers at the Bay East Association of Realtors®, Calif., were glad to help set up the association’s new rookie “Realtor® Academy” but felt very strongly that they wanted only technical training and not tactical, says Toni Wilson, marketing and communications director. “Therefore, we will not be doing prospecting, negotiating, and that type of thing. We will be weaving protocol and ethics throughout each session, focusing on working with buyers and sellers.”
Jon Cheplak, well-known real estate guru and co-founder of The Real Estate Recruiters consultancy, agrees that Realtor® associations can do much for the the newly arrived practitioner.
Associations bring value to their members’ businesses, and the greatest value is to grow the human resource, Cheplak explains. “Given the dollars and talents available within the associations, I think there should be a great focus on helping rookies achieve.”
While larger associations have phenomenal opportunities, formal rookie programs can be cost-prohibitive to smaller associations, Cheplak points out.
Some state associations have stepped in with extensive rookie programs.
Dora Jacobs, now starting her third year with Prudential Carruthers, headquartered in Severna Park, Md., is one newcomer who credits the Maryland Association of Realtors® rookie program with her success.
“The classes are awesome,” Jacobs says. “I got all my CE credit from just going to the free rookie seminars. And attendance is huge. It’s lots of fun. MAR helps with exposure and I can’t emphasize enough how important the classes have been.”
When MAR started its rookie society in 2000, it cost only about $15,000 each of the first two years to get the ball rolling, says Debbie Hager, director of communications and public affairs. Today, with 28,000 members and growing, Hager says, the expanded MAR program offers free membership to rookies, free CE credits, plus a host of free seminars, including presentations by nationally recognized experts on all aspects of the real estate business.
“The rookie is the lifeblood of the business,” says 18-year veteran Ann D’Ambrosio of Coldwell Banker in Maryland. “I focus solely on recruiting as a manager, and I simply adore rookies.”
D’Ambrosio recruits rookies almost exclusively to fuel Coldwell’s explosive growth in the area over the past four years. Defying conventional wisdom, she created a successful program that has helped rookies realize six-figure incomes and an average of 36 transactions in their first year.
Her ability to quickly turn newcomers into top producers at Coldwell Banker is one reason the Maryland Association of Realtors® asked her to chair its Rookie Realtors® Society this year, which she was happy to do.
“This industry doesn’t seem like it’s a big ‘team’ business, but those who are most successful know their job is to help the new guy coming in, whether they’re with their company or not,” D’Ambrosio explains of her decision to head up MAR’s rookie society. “I feel I have to do as much as I can to help them.”
In recognition of the success of some area newcomers, the Cleveland Area Board of Realtors® kicked off its rookie program this year by spotlighting eight top-producing rookies in a Q&A session. One of those rookies was Frank Clayton, a 58-year-old Realtor® with Howard Hanna Smythe Cramer’s Shaker Heights office Clayton, who once owned his own business, appreciates the help he gets from the association. The Q&A session even got him thinking that he might like to get involved in helping rookies himself.
“I’m an African American, and there are some challenges that come with that,” Clayton says, declining to get specific. “I was surprised at the number of people in the audience who were minorities—including Asians and Hispanics, not just African Americans—who came up to me afterward and asked how to meet their own challenges in that regard.”
Another recent arrival on the rookie scene in Cleveland is 20-something Brian Rhodes of the RealtyOne/Real Living agency in the Pepper Pike area. He arrived right out of college, with his marketing major and psychology minor in hand, knowing only that he wanted to be his own boss, have financial success and freedom, and be in sales.
“Look, I didn’t even know what a market was when I got here two years ago,” Rhodes emphasizes. A big part of what the Cleveland board’s rookie program provided him early on was a sense of teamwork and belonging.
“We all look out for number one,” he says. “But realizing that teamwork is how houses are sold—every transaction has a buyer’s agent and a seller’s agent—that was important.”
Developing young talent and getting them involved in the business and in the association is the reason the Raleigh Regional Association of Realtors®, N.C., just started its Contemporary Real Estate Council for members under 40 with fewer than five years experience.
“Membership is changing so fast I can hardly keep up with it,” says Raymond Larcher, the Raleigh Association’s CEO, who notes the association is taking in an average of 200 new members a month. “All of our leadership is older and will be retiring within 10 years, so we want and need the input of our new members.”
Still a work in progress, the council plans to host six events during its first year, including two social events and four informational meetings or roundtable discussions. Topics will include market trends, political affairs, professional standards, technology, and other issues that affect business.
Dozens of associations across the country have launched programs to instill the basics in very green real estate licensees. As Cheplak points out, though, education is not enough. “Training is nothing without accountability,” he says. “It all comes back to the brokers. You cannot expect results on a broad scale without brokers holding agents accountable for their practices.”
Richard D. Hoffmann is a freelance writer out of Jupiter, Fla. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.