How to Recruit the Next Generation of Sales Associates
More and more agents are joining a real estate brokerage direct from college. Julie Leonhardt LaTorre, COO of Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates spoke with REAL Trends about recruiting the next-gen agent and some trends she’s seeing in the industry.
Hi, this is Tracey Velt, Content Editor in Chief of Real Trends. Today on our podcast, we’re speaking with Julie Leonhardt LaTorre. She’s the COO of Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates. Welcome, Julie.
Hi, Tracey. Thanks and thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure to speak with you today.
Why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do for Sotheby’s?
Sure thing. Actually, I have a very untraditional path to arrive where I did. I started as a high school teacher in Los Angeles right out of college for a number of years. I worked for a couple of nonprofits as a project manager and then wound up going to law school where I studied and then became a commercial real estate finance attorney on Wall Street for about six and a half years. I started in 2007, which if anyone remembers real estate in 2007, our clients were Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns. It was a challenging time for sure, but also a great education. Then, I wound up here at one of the greatest luxury real estate brands in the world.
That’s great. I want to talk to you a little bit about the next generation of real estate agents. Tell me a little bit about who they are and what are some of the trends that you’re seeing.
Sure thing. We’re actually really excited about the future of real estate here and really excited about this next generation of agents. We have a deep heritage in our brand, which makes us very unique, but it’s also really important to us to continually innovate and bring about new technologies and forward-looking marketing so that we really are the place where this next generation of top agents wants to start and grow their careers.
I had the chance to speak to some of our next generation agents, got them together on a phone call, and what we heard from a number of them is that they are a growing percentage of our market, of our agent population. What I found most interesting to learn is that they come from a lot of different backgrounds, as you would expect, but a number of them actually went straight from college into real estate, which was surprising to me. I thought of it more as something that agents come to as a second career.
A number of them did come as a second career. We have one who was a Broadway performer, someone who was a political fundraiser, but one thing we heard over and over again was about the importance of relationships and how obviously relationships are at the center of real estate transactions and what they do as advisors to their real estate clients, and a number of them who did come from other careers were able to take the relationships that they started in those careers and leverage them and bring them over into their real estate career.
For example, well actually, interestingly, a number of our next generation agents are some of our top performers. We have an agent, Jonathan Spears at Scenic Sotheby’s International Realty down in Florida. He did $120 million in sales volume last year. He’s number one in his market and he’s only 26 years old. It’s pretty incredible. In addition to being really professional and a great real estate agent, he really is personal. He thinks about those little things. We brought him here to do a video shoot and after production he sent a giant bouquet of flowers to everyone involved in the process. Those little gestures that really make people remember who you are. We’ve got some really successful next generation agents in our network.
Yeah. It’s so interesting because you talk about how it’s all about relationships for them and most people would think the younger generation is all about hiding behind a screen. Do you find that they use technology differently than older generation agents?
Yeah, it is interesting because most folks do consider next generation agents, the millennial age group, to be resistant to face-to-face interaction. We found it to be very, at least not for our population, and it may just be that the type of people who are real estate agents are more gregarious and outgoing, but what we found is they take every opportunity to get together. We host a number of regional networking events around our network. It’s funny, I’ve run into some of the same younger agents over and over again in Denver, Vancouver, Austin, Miami, Boston, so they do get out there. They understand the importance of making those face-to-face relationships.
With respect to the screens and the technology, they do use technology. I think not surprisingly to anyone, most of them said that the platform of choice is Instagram. But what I noticed, because I follow a number of them on Instagram and a number of our more traditional agents as well, the younger agents tend to post a lot more about themselves, about their life, about their pets. They post inspirational quotes, things about people who inspire them. I think they post more things that are sort of about their more authentic self and who they are.
I think that for the younger generation, choosing someone to work with who they feel they know and they know what their values are and that they share something in common is really important to that younger generation of consumer. I think that’s where these agents are able to connect, use technology to make that initial introduction that then allows them to make those connections and build those relationships. Really, the technology is serving the larger goal of building the relationship.
Yeah, I see that as well. You talked a little bit about how this generation kind of wants something different than other generations. Let’s talk a little bit about that. What are some of the differences and what are some qualities you’re seeing in new agents and are you seeing a difference internationally or just domestically?
I think we see pretty generally across the board the same things domestically and internationally. It’s interesting, the more and more global we become those differences sort of fall away and there are more similarities generationally.
I do think that brand matters. We did a study with the Boston Consulting Group and the research came back and says that brand does matter. For a number of these agents, they think that’s an important part of growing their business is who they associate with. We did some research this year about our brand identity for the Sotheby’s International Realty brand and a couple of things came forward when we were thinking about why do people join the brand, and especially these younger agents.
It came down to professionalism and trust, the company we keep, and being kickass and cool, believe it or not, surprising, but really exciting for a heritage brand like ours. They do want the tools, they do want the brand and we strive here to get the right mix of heritage and professionalism, and innovation and forward-looking technology to try to get that right mix of what this next generation of agents is looking for.
It’s interesting Tracey, a lot of companies these days in real estate are calling themselves technology companies and there’s a lot of focus on technology. We think that technology is important and we’re always looking for the best technology to serve our agents or serve our clients, but we really do believe that technology should serve agents. We don’t think that it will ever replace agents. These smart bots, they’re smart, but they can’t do relationships the way that our agents can do. But we’re constantly looking for technology that will help to support the role of the agent and how they interact with their clients.
Yeah. That’s a great way to look at technology. I think people are coming around to that view of it, as well. Let’s talk about some specifics. What are some specific things that brokers, in general brokers, can do to attract the next generation of agents?
Right. This is important obviously, because this is our future. I think just like any agents, having a culture that people feel comfortable in, whatever that is for you, that’s your culture. But I think generally, having a place where people can be themselves, where you’re authentic, where you get to know them, where they feel like there is some genuine sense of care. I think that’s universal. That applies to all of us.
I would say to brokers, don’t be afraid to take risks. I think this is a really interesting time in our industry. A lot of things are changing and yet, change is one of the things that people sort of fear most. But I think for brokers to be willing to take risks, to think about creative, innovative ways, whether it’s the office space that they’re keeping, maybe rethinking how they use office space or creating offices that might be multipurpose, that might become places where people come in and are able to socialize. Whether it’s the kind of technology or the marketing that they’re doing. We’ve got people who use really creative ideas for marketing. Things like bringing an artist in during an open house to draw people, to walk through the property, things like that.
I think being willing to take risks, to be creative and to allow this next generation as they come in to express themselves. It’s funny, people seem to get upset. They think millennials come in and think that they know everything and they want to just do it their way. I think they understand the value of learning from others. They do want to learn, they want to be great at their profession. They do also want an opportunity to express themselves and what they think they bring. I think that it really behooves brokers to not overlook that because we actually can learn a lot. They can bring kind of a fresh perspective, a new way of doing things that could actually benefit the entire brokerage.
Definitely. What can brokers do to help these agents grow?
I think I touched a little bit on the importance of education, especially for younger agents, whether this is their first job or not. We don’t technically have first-time agents working with our brand. It’s kind of the place where people come later in their career that they sort of aspire to be. But, there are people who have great books of business, great relationships, other reasons why it does make sense and maybe they come from a real estate family, but they still have a lot to learn about the business itself.
I think it’s important for brokers and companies to provide opportunities for education, both formal education about the industry, but also an opportunity to share best practices with others and particularly others that are in markets like theirs or that are at a similar point in their career.
One thing that I’m really excited about that we’ve been able to do this year is we started a Next Gen Affinity Group for our agents. It’s an opportunity for brokers to select sort of their up and coming best talent, next generation of agents to come together. We host networking events, we do sort of trainings on the different tools and services that we offer and how to use them. In fact, it gives them access to me and other members of the leadership team so they can really get sort of indoctrinated into the brand, inducted if you will, and have the opportunity to learn from their peers and also from other agents who’ve been in the business longer who can help to continue that education for them.
Yeah, that’s a great retention tool. Are there any other newer strategies for retaining the next generation of agents, and what should your strategy entail?
Well, I think it’s interesting. I think any sort of recruiting strategy is a retention strategy. The same things that are going to attract these younger agents are going to keep them with you. I don’t think… It’s not gimmicky, it’s not about having some secret plan. It’s those really basic things that we talked about a little bit around recruiting, being authentic with people, getting to know them, showing them that you care, that you know when their birthday is or we have one of our older brokers who says he hates being on social media, but he gets on there, he wishes every agent in his company a happy birthday. He knows what they’re up to. It gives him a way to connect with people and know a bit more about them. That goes a long way in life and anywhere in life, really.
But in terms of retaining agents, they really want to be somewhere where they feel good, they feel they belong, they feel like they’re able to express themselves and they have what they need to get to that next level. Whether that’s education, training, networking opportunities, right? The ability to learn from others around them. And then of course, you’ve got to have the brand and the best in class marketing and all of those things, as well. To me, that’s the entry point.
But the culture and the ability to be part of an important network and have opportunities to grow and learn, I think is especially important for this next generation of agents. They’re just starting their career. They’re just getting started and they can see how much they have ahead of them and so they want the biggest kind of open road with the most opportunity for them there, and something that does continue to grow and change.
You can’t just create it once and then sit on that and be comfortable with that. Here we’re constantly innovating and thinking about what’s next. As soon as we do something, we’re looking for what’s the next thing. I think that’s important, as well. That’s the pace at which our world moves these days and we have to keep pace with that world or we fall behind.
Yeah, definitely. I completely agree with that connection between the broker and the agent, and a little appreciation goes a long way to keeping an agent happy, as well, as long as they have the other things that you also recommended.
I mean, they just expect to have those other things, whatever place they decided to be. They’ve gone there because they think that they do have those, the marketing, the brand, whatever it is. But the personal bit, it’s not hard, but in our busy lives, it’s really easy to overlook, but it’s so simple. It takes two minutes of just calling someone out for a job well done and it can make a tremendous impact.
Yeah, definitely. Well, Julie, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to Real Trends today. I really appreciate all of your insight about the next generation of real estate agents.
Great. Thanks, Tracey.