When it comes to real estate mergers or acquisitions, you must remember that agents are the core of your business. Following any deal, retaining agents becomes a critical factor in the success of the combined brokerage. That retention cannot happen without proper engagement.
In January 2020, I finalized a friendly merger between my independent firm and a local ERA affiliate to become a unified ERA affiliated company.
Here are a few insights I learned about engaging with my agents following our merger.
Stay focused on your goals
Timing may not always be on your side but if everyone is working off of the same playbook, you’ll have a better chance of success. After deliberating for months, Joanne Breen, the former broker/owner of ERA Sargis-Breen and I decided to announce the merger in January 2020. When this decision was made we didn’t know that we would be in lockdown one month later, but that didn’t stop us from making sure that our new collective team understood what our focus was. This was done with constant communication via phone calls and Zoom meetings to keep our agents and staff overall in the know and on track.
It’s important to keep trying
Maintaining communication with your team is important when retaining agents, especially in the midst of change. While we were on lockdown, I made phone calls, FaceTime calls and hosted Zoom meetings. But I noticed that people were burning out. So, I shifted gears to try a few other tactics to keep agents engaged.
I invited seasoned agents to join me for online training sessions so they could re-engage with the brand offerings. After three or four months – when it was safe to do so – I changed things up again and started doing in-person meetings. I invited a national trainer for a live training event. We hosted a lunch and learn at a high-end landscape designer office. It was a great opportunity to “read the room” to see what’s working and what isn’t, and pivot when necessary. That doesn’t mean whatever you pivot to will work, but it shows your team that you are flexible and responsive to their needs.
Invite agents to be part of the plan
Part of our growth plans involved adding more agents and retain agents. Recruiting is hard, but it was even more challenging in a pandemic. That said, I created a generous incentive plan rewarding agents who provided me with recruiting leads. It’s been a great way to get agents invested in company goals and keep them connected to our success. As a result, we’ve added eight new agents to the company, increasing our agent roster by one-third simply by making our existing team part of the effort. In fact, all of the new agents came from referrals.
Compromise isn’t always the best path forward
The decision was made that each company would retain its name. It made sense at the time: ERA Sargis-Breen has been a market-leading firm for more than 40 years and had local brand cachet. Similarly, I spent more than 10 years building my company, Hart Real Estate. The result was that we described our newly combined effort with what I thought was a catchy numerical sequence: one broker, two names, three offices.
I originally thought this would go a long way in showing the existing ERA-affiliated agents how much they were valued in the new company, but it created confusion and delayed a true unification of the company. In hindsight, I should have given the new entity a single name from the start. We learn as we go! We changed our name to ERA Hart-Sargis Breen Real Estate, and we are operating as one unified team.
Change is good
People tend to be change-averse, and real estate agents are no exception. When Joanne Breen and I talked about ways we could leverage the merger to improve the company, we took a hard look at everything we were offering, what was being used and what wasn’t.
There were a few things we decided to no longer offer. Joanne made those changes before we announced the merger so that I could make changes that added value rather than be perceived as taking away something – even if it wasn’t being used. When I did make changes, they were under the banner of improvements to what existed before. Looking back, I believe I was too conservative in how these changes were framed.
My advice to my former self – and any brokers contemplating an M&A – is sometimes it may be better to just pull the band aid off and be clear and concise about why the change was made and the resulting benefits to your agents.
Walk the talk
From the first day following the merger, growth was the key message, and I made sure that I followed through on that. Many of the changes we’ve introduced were intended to retain agents and build the agent’s business and bottom line. We added a more generous commission structure and new lines of business, including a new luxury division and an expanded property management division. In addition, new partnerships with area vendors and service providers are generating referrals. Every day, I spend time thinking about new ways to fuel growth for my team and offer value to the agents.
In many ways, a merger has a lot of similarities to a home sale. Two parties come together to make a deal, sign the papers and celebrate the closing. But just as real estate professionals have become more focused on remaining relevant beyond the transaction, brokerage owners must begin the real work of engaging agents once the deal is closed. It’s an important lesson to learn, and in my experience, the key to optimizing your merger for the long term.