By Samantha Jones
The beauty of the real estate industry is there’s no one way to run your business. We have fluidity and flexibility. This leads to some agents (like myself) adopting a team approach, and oftentimes, team members are part of the same family tree. After working with my mother for nearly five years full-time, I’ve learned a few lessons—and we still like each other.
It’s important to note, just because you’re related or married doesn’t mean you should team up. There’s a very personal and delicate balance to family teams; soul search before moving forward. If you do, here’s part of our recipe for a successful family business to help you get started.
1. Foundation. I believe it’s crucial to have a strong foundation before teaming up with family. That means making sure you have a solid relationship before you’re catapulted into the real estate trenches. Akin to inspecting a home, look at any cracks you can reinforce before business comes into the mix. Sure, the unexpected will come your way, but striving for stability from the get-go is crucial. I’m able to work with my best friend, who just so happens to be my mother. We’ve always been fortunate to have a strong relationship, which has sustained us through the good, bad, and ugly of life and business. We have the same sunny disposition and work ethic, which has proven invaluable. I could not work with everyone in the family, although I love them dearly.
2. Define your roles. Whether you entered the business at the same time or you have decades of success in real estate before teaming up, either way, defining business roles is crucial. Who’s better with technology, social media, and marketing? Does one of you excel at open houses, converting cold calls, or sphere support? Will one be a buyer’s agent, the other handle listings? Is one of you a better admin or marketing manager than lead agent? Play to your strengths and, “Run, Forrest, run.” After all, your business needs to grow to support all of you. Roles may ebb and flow as your business evolves in the years to come—ours has. Embrace the change and constantly communicate about it.
3. Humility. We all know Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither is a sustainable real estate business. Value the veteran agent on your team if you have one. I don’t believe quantity necessarily dictates the quality of one’s business. But if someone has been able to make the cut for years, especially those who endured the recession, then take note. Their phone rings for a reason. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to prove your worth. Offer new nuances while respecting their established approaches. After a few years in the business, you’ll get it. A little humility goes a long way.
4. Focus. What’s your why? Perhaps this a route for padding savings. For others, this business literally means keeping the roof over your heads. No matter the case, always remember why you teamed up in the first place. Even when it’s tense, remember you’re on the same team.
5. Money, money money. We all know those commission checks don’t grow on trees. Figuring out a pay structure is essential. Will you split every deal? Be paid for only those you each work on? Take it on a case by case basis? Avoid resentment by addressing this immediately. When I first started, I lived on one commission check for about six months while my mom had many closings. But that was her hard work paying off, plus she was putting my brothers through college. I needed to pull my weight. A few years later, I was bringing enough deals to the business so that it became a 50/50 partnership. One of us does more work than the other on deals, but it’s mostly even in the end. We’re both naturally giving, so we’ve never had any money issues. Yet everyone’s different, so communicate and never let commission or a deal get between you.
6. Divide and conquer. This is a recent lesson for us. My mom and I attended most seller/listing appointments as a team for more than four years. We did this partially because I was learning for the first few years, but also because we love spending time together. We found it easier and more fun. Recently, we realized that if we both work on every single deal from start to finish, we’re doing double the work for half the pay. Perhaps one person on your team will handle all the listings while the other handles all the buyers. We take all listings and buyer agreements as a team, but divvy them up on a case by case basis following the client’s lead on who they prefer as point of contact. We divide and conquer—one takes the lead knowing the other is always a sounding board if needed. This has been a game changer!
7. Communicate. Whether it’s by phone, text, or in-person, talking regularly is a must because your clients, business, and reputation depend on it. Even when you don’t feel like it, it’s still important to touch base. My mother and I have always spoken daily, but now our conversations have shifted to business matters with some personal topics added in here and there. We try to knock out business needs so it’s not weighing on one of us, followed by much-needed chit-chat. You and your teammate may be at different points in your lives—meaning, you have different visions for business. So, communicate any concerns and growing pains before they’re insurmountable.
8. Balance. Know that your relationship will change. It’s inevitable. You’re no longer just family; you’re business partners. Therefore, the bond and communication will change. There will be hiccups, even for the closest of teams. We’ve had a few growing pains over the years, some of which are still a work in progress. In most ways, working together has brought us closer than ever. I have more respect and awe than ever before for my mother. We can bond on a level others cannot comprehend because of our business. However, I admit that I do miss my mom, not my partner, at times. Our goal is to strive for more balance and time when business is turned off. That’s easier said than done, so wish us luck.
Our business and our relationship is stronger than, ever after teaming up. We’re incredibly grateful for that. I know we don’t have it all figured out. So, how do you thrive as a family business, or on a team in general? I would love to know your tips for success in the comments below.
Samantha Jones is an award-winning real estate broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in the Chicagoland area. She is a top producer who specializes in residential sales. Connect with Samantha on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.