We have a new entry to the broker blogger space — as of today, Steve and Kris Berg are now operating as San Diego Castles Realty. They were formerly agents for Prudential California Realty and have built a great brand in the San Diego area for themselves through their San Diego Homes Blog and other online efforts (Kris contributes to Inman News and Agent Genius), which I would guess made the decision a bit easier for them. I had a chance to ask Kris a few questions regarding what the drivers were behind their decision to go independent. My answers and her responses are below:
Q: What made you want to start your own brokerage?
A: It’s really an idea Steve and I have been kicking around for awhile now. We all recognize that the dynamics of our industry have been rapidly changing, and the larger companies natural have more difficulties adapting swiftly. We saw the changes happening several years ago, and then we chalked it up to technology. The old model of floor time, cold calls and calendar magnets during the holidays was on the verge of being supplanted by a consumer-centric (versus agent-centric) approach; yet the brokers continued to focus on the old ways of doing business.
Today, we have the added dynamic of a challenged market. You can pick your term du jour: Correction; recession; or depression. Whatever the name, this arguably unprecedented environment has created the perfect storm for the retooling of our familiar ways of doing business. Our clients don’t care if we work in the Sears Tower or out of the back of our car. They no longer respond to push marketing, and they don’t shop in the places we have been taught to market. Our customers, like it or not, are empowered. We have let the inventory (MLS) horse out of the barn, and I think that is a good thing. It presents unique opportunities for us to redefine our value proposition and reestablish our worth, but only so long as we adapt.
My buyer clients now have access to the same information on homes for sale that I have. I could see this as career ending, or I could see it as I do – a chance to actually provide service in a service industry, to provide counsel in a consulting field, and to act as an “agent.” My seller clients can advertise their homes for sale in the same places I would. So why hire me as that “agent?” That’s the funny thing about our business.
Somewhere along the line, we forgot the meaning of our title. It’s not about an MLS, about a lockbox key, or about standardized forms. The classical definition of an agent is “one who exerts power and influence” or “one who is authorized to act for or in place of another.” I think it’s time we all get back to doing that, to caring for our work and for our clients.
But this is not to imply that the big brokerages don’t care. The great ones do, but at the same time they are not non-profit ventures. Over the years, they have become bigger than big, and with big comes big offices and expensive infrastructure and overhead. With big comes the necessary evil of recruiting time and costs, of training time and costs, and costs associated with keeping the revolving door, well, revolving. Sometimes I get the feeling that they can’t see the forest through the bottom line.
So, to answer the question (finally), we made the decision to go solo because we saw that as the only way to achieve the control and flexibility that we needed to best serve our clients. On a personal level, it was the only way we could ensure that our world would have order. Now, I am entirely in control of the life expectancy of the address on my business cards and the number attached to my voicemail box. The caveat is that I now have all of the liability yet, ironically, I also see this as a positive. It tends to elevate the significance of what I do and how I do it.
Q: What aspirations do you have for your brokerage? Do you see yourself staying small or slowly branching out (similar to the way Jay Thompson has)?
A: The honest answer is that I can’t see beyond the end of my nose right now. What I do know is that I am a real estate agent, and my intent is to continue representing people in their purchases and sales. In life, Steve has taught me the wisdom of the “24 hour rule.” We never make rash decisions until we have given it a day. In this case, we are giving ourselves six months. In the short-term, it is just the same license hung in a different way to acknowledge a changing dynamic.
Q: Do you think we’ll continue to see the rise of broker bloggers with the decreased cost of online publishing?
A: I honestly don’t think that the two have any relationship, at least not in the cost sense. The online media have changed our business, but those same online media are available to every brokerage and agent, big or small. I think the issue is more that the online forum is the great equalizer; we all, agents and brokers, have the same unique opportunity to broadcast our message and to find our audience. It will come down to how committed we are to listening, yes listening, to what our customers want and need, and delivering.
Q: What do you think should be the biggest factor in the decision-making process for agents who are thinking about branching out on their own?
A: The considerations are not unlike the considerations that the full-time, committed agent is faced with when choosing a real estate career. Have a plan, understand that success is a process and not an event, and plan on being a debt center for a year or so. You will incur costs, even if your model is of the “virtual” type. You need to have some basic business skills, advanced Googling capabilities, or a combination of the two. If it is instant gratification or a winning lotto ticket that you are after, don’t bother. Further, your liability logarithmically increases when you are Broker of Record. That is the bad news. On the other hand, you will be investing in yourself and personally, I can’t think of a better place to put my money.
You can also read more from Kris on this subject over at Inman. Congratulations for making the plunge — and best of luck going forward!