A simple truth led Chicago-based real estate agent Elizabeth Ballis to transition from being an individual agent to leader of Ballis Group, Coldwell Banker.
“You can’t be everywhere at the same time,” Ballis said.
Ballis has been thriving using the team approach for 25 of her 35 years as a real estate agent. Sales more than doubled from $5 million to $11 million the year after she hired her first assistant 25 years ago. In the past six years, annual sales have been $35 million to $40 million.
“… it’s too much to try to manage being outside — being a rainmaker — and getting all the stuff done on the inside; managing contracts, getting appointments set…,” Ballis said.
While her team’s dynamics have changed over the years, today’s Ballis Group includes an administrative assistant; her daughter, Deborah Ballis Hirt, her partner and a licensed real estate agent; and a newly licensed agent.
The administrative assistant is an important part of the team, according to Ballis.
“To keep a well-oiled machine, you need somebody that oils wheels,” she said.
The licensed administrative assistant’s responsibilities include managing the agents’ schedules and appointment preparations, such as scheduling and confirming appointments and making tour books. The assistant also does contract management, getting transactions ready for closings, and works with the marketing department to prepare ads and mailers, according to Ballis.
All in the family
Matt Swanson’s partner in real estate is his partner in life. He and Tracie Swanson head the Swanson Real Estate Team at Keller Williams in Boca Raton, Fla.
Working as a husband and wife team has challenges and rewards.
“We have learned to accentuate each other’s strengths: Tracie is detail-oriented, while I am results-oriented,” Swanson said. “Some of the benefits of working as a husband and wife team are: Our clients receive both a male and female perspective on issues; we share a common goal; we can discuss work anytime we are together; and we have different strengths that we bring to each situation. The biggest challenge is setting boundaries, so that work doesn’t encroach on family time. Fortunately for us, we like each other a lot, so we can work together and be a family together, and it works. It is not a good fit for every married couple.”
Swanson’s team, which launched in 2008, has grown from the couple only to including a transaction coordinator and virtual assistant.
“Our transaction coordinator gets paid per transaction, and she handles keeping track of all the paperwork and making sure timelines in the contracts are followed,” Swanson said. “This frees us up to give our clients a higher level of customer service and communication. We also have hired a part-time virtual assistant through My Out Desk to help us with pre-contract paperwork, social media and working in our database. By having the VA, we are able to spend more time interacting with clients, past clients and our sphere of influence and less time on tasks.”
Swanson plans to hire a full-time executive administrative assistant in 2016, who will take over the VA’s and transaction coordinator’s responsibilities, as well as handle other duties.
Making the team approach work: Start slowly
Real estate agents wanting to build teams should start slowly, according to Ballis. A good start is with an “inside” assistant, who can keep the business running smoothly while the “rainmaker” is in the field getting business. Even hiring someone a few hours a week to help with marketing and contract management can make a big difference in an agent’s ability to make more sales, she said.
“We did try to blend [the] inside/outside licensed assistant [roles] but that was not a productive way to work because it was too fragmented,” Ballis said. “Having a licensed assistant adds another level of flexibility to work with clients in a pinch, but it adds a bigger expense for the agent.”
Ballis uses pay incentives when hiring team members. She said she has always paid her administrative assistants a base salary, with a small bonus from every transaction, which is increased each year.
Work as a team
Whether yours is a husband and wife team, a family team or a team of unrelated people, it’s crucial that members share a common goal, so everyone focuses their energy on the same thing, without going in different directions, according to Swanson.
All Ballis Group team members meet with each client. That’s because clients who hire the group usually hire Elizabeth Ballis and her reputation. It’s Ballis Group’s responsibility to show clients that having another member of the team at a showing or other meeting is on par with having Ballis, herself, in attendance.
That’s Ballis Group’s model. But some teams work differently, she said.
“… there are big, very successful Realtors who have 10 to 15 people … but they don’t deal with anything day-to-day. They don’t do the showings. They do the negotiations,” Ballis said.
Choose team members carefully
Ballis said one of the more important things she learned about taking on team members is they should share her style in approaching business and real estate.
“I’m a 24-7 Energizer Bunny personality and having a person who is really laid back and calm doesn’t work for me, because I have very high expectations,” she said. “[Clients] are hiring your personality, so I think it is important to find someone that complements your style.”