Lee Kiser is a multifamily expert, active broker and Principal of Kiser Group, Chicagoland’s leading mid-market multifamily brokerage firm.
You’ve decided to be your own boss and start your own business as a commercial real estate broker. You’ve taken and passed your license exam. Now you need to pick a company. What should you look for? Compensation structure is always an important factor, but there are many others you should consider. There are no right or wrong answers to the questions in this article — only the best fit for you. Here are a few things for you to consider, in no particular order.
Reputation: Take a look at reviews on everything from LinkedIn to Glassdoor to Yelp. See if you can find client testimonials, and if so, get in touch with those people to see if they’ll say more than what appears on a website. Also see if the company is in the press (most reputable companies will have a “newsroom” tab on their website). See what is said in the articles and if what you read matches descriptions on the company website.
Mission Statement/Core Values: Do the company’s values align with your own? Do you get the feeling that you would be working for the company or that the company would be working for you?
Specialization: Is the company known for something or is it a jack-of-all-trades business? As a new broker, you should consider whether you want a well-rounded approach to commercial real estate or a laser-focused niche approach. Reputable companies exist in both arenas. Specialization typically leads to deeper market penetration and differentiation from competitors. This is probably more important in dense, urban, high-competition markets than in smaller, tertiary markets.
Marketing Footprint: Besides just looking at a firm’s website as a potential candidate, also look at it from a client’s point of view. Is the message clear and concise for a commercial real estate professional seeking a broker? Are there links to offering memoranda, and does it look professional? Does the brokerage firm have a meaningful digital presence to win and retain business? From the listings, description of services, personnel bios, newsroom and other content, is the firm investing in search engine optimization, social media and other tools necessary for business today?
Resources: What marketing tools, services, research subscriptions and technology does the company make available to its brokers? Do they have tools to help you create proposals, analyses, email marketing and build your own brand? Do you pay for these services out of pocket, or are they included in your agreement?
Culture: During an interview, get an understanding of how the business works. Do brokers have territories or “own” individual clients? Are brokers within the firm collaborative and supportive, or are they incentivized to compete with each other? Would you have to start on an existing team or in a junior-level role, or can you start building your own brokerage practice from day one?
Training/Business Plan: Is there formal or informal onboarding and training? Does the company have a system for teaching new brokers the company, the industry and how to cultivate clients, or are you given a desk and a phone and told to go to work? Make sure to ask about an onboarding and training program and first-year road map during your interview — even ask to be shown a preview. Find out if the company assists you in developing a business plan or if brokers start by just working hard and learning as they go.
Technology: Does the company have up-to-date technology? How do brokers keep records? Does each broker keep independent databases, or is there a company database from which you will work? Are there tech systems you can follow and adapt or will you need to invent the wheel when you start? Learn more about the CRM and other tools you would be using at the firm. Ask about the latest technology incorporated — do you get a feeling that the company is set in its ways or forward-thinking and pushing the envelope?
Staff: Does the company appear to have staff in place that will support your new business? Does it have personnel assigned to office management, operations, marketing, IT and other positions you feel you will need?
Ownership/Management: How is the company owned and managed: individual person or persons, a large corporation, a board of directors? Are ownership and management actively involved in the day-to-day business of the company or still active in the industry themselves?
Policies: Does the company have a policy manual, and will they show it to you during the interview? Does it seem detailed enough to address the needs you will have as a broker? If you don’t yet know what you’ll need, does it seem well thought through, and is it detailed and specific to the company, or does it seem like something cut and pasted off the internet?
Compensation: Are splits between the company and the brokers competitive with other companies where you’ve interviewed? If the splits are lower, is this justified by the training and support you receive? Do splits increase for brokers with higher production levels, or are they static?
Room To Grow: Does the company provide a way for you to invest in your own future and grow alongside the company, such as profit-sharing based on production and tenure or a path to equity in the company? Does ownership have a plan for the future for maintaining success or expanding into other markets? Is the company actively recruiting and hiring or comfortable with the size it currently is maintaining with just a few additional hires?
As I said in the beginning, there are no right or wrong answers to the questions posed in these topics. These are simply guidelines for you to keep in mind as you discover not only which company might be a good fit but also what you are looking for personally. Congratulations on choosing to enter this exciting, challenging, rewarding career. Good luck finding a company where you can be your best.