Did you always want to be a fireman? If so, it may explain why you are thinking about becoming a managing broker in a real estate office. The reality is, most managers arrive by circumstance, in the wrong place at the right time. Given a career choice of earning six figures or not, most of us pick the six figures, finding out along the way as Thomas Edison reminded us, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
Background: My mother was a Realtor in the 1950s when women were a rarity and not welcome in many real estate offices because they were taking jobs “rightly the domain of men”. Frank Ney, pirate, former mayor of Nanaimo, the Bathtub Capital of Canada, was the president of Nanaimo Realty, a then-dominant independent real estate and development firm on Vancouver Island. Famous for a Toastmaster-award-winning speech, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak”, he wasn’t shy about asserting the woman’s place – maintaining and preparing the home and herself for her husband’s arrival after a day in the trenches.
In 1970 I followed my mother’s footsteps because she had done very well in the real estate business, becoming a developer herself and eclipsing my father’s income to the extent he too obtained his license. Looked good to me. There I was, 25 years young, alert, at my first desk doing a word scramble, waiting for the flood of anxious customers to call.
I noticed other salespeople were – well, out. Doing what I had no idea. Perhaps getting a haircut. The thought they might be prospecting never occurred to me. Knocking on doors or cold calling on the telephone were practices I had been inoculated against, watching adults slam the door or hang up on Fuller Brush, encyclopaedia and accordion salesmen. Surely real estate sales were conducting on a higher plane.
Two events about a year apart set my direction toward management. One day our owner asked if any of us were interested in getting their general insurance broker’s license so the company could broaden its customer service. I suspect the others pointed at me behind my back – young and eager – and off I went. Selling general insurance (mostly automobile and fire) meant folks walked into the office and every house sale was a captive market. The commission on a homeowner’s policy was around $25 and on a house sale about $1,000, so if I sold 40 policies… I’d have to prospect.
Within a year, our small independent firm merged with another and was subsequently purchased by the then-expanding Nanaimo Realty. A branch office required a higher level of real estate license and I volunteered to take the course. Within a year I had the front office, big glass ashtray, in/out trays and a Dictaphone. (We kept the scotch in the back room!) I realized quite quickly I had to recruit. To recruit I would have to prospect.
What – again?
It dawned on me that regardless of the product, I was in retail sales and would have to – say it with me – prospect.
One week and 48 years after I was first licensed I received a letter of caution in connection with my supervision of a licensee who was found lacking by our real estate board’s Professional Standards Committee. The finding captured the peril every manager of a real estate office faces. It prompted me to find a book in my library by teacher philosopher Robert Fulghum, It was on fire when I lay down on it. Written in 1991 as a follow up to All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten, the title refers to the answer a man gave when found by firefighters in a smouldering bed and asked how it happened.
Every managing broker acknowledges the frustration of any complaint, be it from a consumer, regulator or association – by the time the file gets to us, it’s too late! The clause has been omitted, the property line described, the tenancy assured, the key released. It’s impractical to supervise a contract drafted on the run in the rush of multiple offers whipped by desperate buyers and awaited by impatient sellers. We must rely on training and ongoing education while hoping that the ego of our licensees allows them to call before they dig.
Fulghum acknowledged that “sin” is inevitable and what we see in others may equally be found in ourselves. He points to the Garden of Eden’s instruction, “Don’t eat that piece of fruit – it will lead to trouble. You know the rest of the story…” When we review the published sins of licensees in B.C. there are two common reactions, the internal reflection “Whew – that could have been me!” and the vocalized, “What a loser!”
There you have it. Bold career move or accident, being a managing broker is not for the faint of heart or ignorant. Challenges will not be avoided by aiming for the greener grass of a famous brand or an exclusive niche. The Scottish proverb, “No matter where you go, there you are” applies to the wanderer and to the welcoming committee.
Why do we persist? In B.C., in the Office of the Superintendent of Real Estate, Michael Noseworthy is hunched over his tablet, carving new rules for managing brokers, rules that will surely increase the risk and expand the job description without regard to a business model built on sand, where the CEO equivalent is frequently compensated as a begrudged necessity.
Religion aside, a lot of good material comes from the Bible and I offer a quote from former REM columnist Don Kyle as a guide. “What comes, comes to pass. It does not come to stay.” The Bible repeats “and it came to pass” 363 times.
So endeth the lesson.