By Connie Adair
In the world of traditional brokerages Sarah Rubenstein was a success, racking up over 80 deals a year. Simultaneously, she was raising small children, so it’s no wonder she was burned out. She was ready to give up her career in real estate.
Then she heard about independent TrilliumWest, which touts itself as an “un-franchise”.
“I watched them for a couple of years but my workload was so heavy I didn’t have time to make the switch,” Rubenstein says. But two years ago, after more than seven years with a big name franchise, she moved to TrilliumWest Real Estate’s Guelph, Ont. office. (The brokerage also has an office in Kitchener-Waterloo). She hasn’t looked back. “I’ve had an increase in pay, time to rest and time to spend with my family.”
To say she’s enthusiastic about her new work environment is an understatement. In fact when she saw a notice in REM asking for great real estate stories, she reached out because “TrilliumWest is never given enough credit.”
Rubenstein says when she arrived at TW, the adjustment wasn’t easy. She was used to going it alone and had to get accustomed to having support. “There are marketing people, an amazing person for art. I’ve created my own logo. Professional photos, signs and business cards were taken care of. (Management) takes it all off your plate.”
She learned how to increase her income with fewer deals, and she learned to work in a collaborative atmosphere where salespeople are encouraged to work together.
Salespeople – new and experienced – work side by side, each benefiting from the other. “Newbies ask veterans (for help) and veterans get excitement from newbies,” Rubenstein says.
Curt Knight, broker/manager and director of Realtor education, says the company, which now has 105 agents, is interested in growing its own talent, to train, mentor and grow under one roof.
Rubenstein also loves that there’s no divide between front end and back end. “There are marketing people, web organizers, secretaries, (salespeople and management) in all of the meetings.”
Rubenstein is also excited about the financial structure – salespeople pay 25 per cent of every deal up to $100,000, then earn 100 per cent of their commission for the rest of the calendar year. Value-added services, such as the graphic designer, are included in the split.
All these measures were in place before COVID-19 but since then the trio of non-selling brokers – Alan Mason, Curt Knight and Erin Knight – have stepped up to offer support, including offering private loans and “tons of learning opportunities to keep us all up to date. They even brought in a mindset coach for everyone to benefit from, including front-house staff. The support definitely shows with the attitudes of the Realtors here (and the enthusiastic staff) and it’s because of their amazing efforts,” says Rubenstein. She says the three non-selling brokers-to-agents ratio allows them to get the support they need.
Social events, such as a weekly virtual games and poker nights, keep staff socially engaged. Games night prizes – gift cards to grocery stores – support salespeople if the need is there, Rubenstein says.
Curt Knight says social events are great for retention. “When people like their co-workers, they stay.”
Rubenstein focuses on helping families in Guelph, Kitchener, Fergus and Cambridge become investors. Families who need help with their mortgages, for example, can shop for a home with a basement apartment. For families who want to buy another home, they can use the equity in their current home to make the move.
Her years of experience help find “amazing tenants and great landlords” and create a cash-positive situation and increase equity at the same time. The collaborative approach at the office means she can train other salespeople to take over finding and vetting tenants to free up her selling time.
Erin Knight, whose title is director of Realtor happiness, says they’re there to support, educate and as her title suggests, keep their salespeople happy.
The collaborative atmosphere goes a long way to doing that. Curt says a lot of brokers have a hierarchy without knowing it. “The big dog has a big office and new agents sit in cubicles in the back as if they’re not valuable.”
TrilliumWest has office space with a tech vibe – open space, as well as private meeting rooms.
With the exception of a special Fast Start program that’s offered to new agents (they’re taught how to build a business that’s sustainable), working together is key.
Philanthropy is also important. Rubenstein was instrumental in setting up a grocery shopping program. Every Tuesday TW salespeople do grocery shopping for seniors in Guelph residences.
Mason, the broker of record, started TrilliumWest in 2014 and a year later, Curt and Erin Knight opened their independent boutique brokerage. Curt says he always keeps an eye on what other independents are doing and wanted to know more about TrilliumWest. Although he and Mason didn’t know each other, he invited Mason for coffee. “Five hours later, the un-franchise was born,” says Curt. “We see the industry in a similar way. There were aspects we love and hate. We were determined to change the way brokers are seen and how they interact with their agents…. It’s not a landlord/tenant type relationship where agents merely rent out space for a desk fee. If we’re looking at it from a business standpoint, desk fees are better, especially in times like COVID.”
However, TW has “a vested interest. We’re not just collecting fees,” says Erin, adding they want to help their salespeople grow their businesses.