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Should home sellers use a real estate team or a single agent?

US News & World Report – RE logo US News & World Report – RE 4/17/2019 Dima Williams
170420_HomebuyersAgent © (Getty Images) 170420_HomebuyersAgent

When Tim Heyl ventured into real estate, instead of doing it alone, he wanted to establish a real estate team. As a solo agent, he reasoned, he would have to focus on the many chores of an independent business – an obligation that would take him away from clients. A team, however, would absorb many of those daily, office-bound duties.

Hence, he hired a sales manager to work the phone. Then an administrative assistant joined. Later came licensed agents to hold open houses and showings. Heyl spent most of his time on advising and negotiating, tasks he described as priorities for clients.

“Eventually, there was so much consistency in the operation that I had so much time to focus on the customer that we had a machine going,” says Heyl, whose team, The Heyl Group within Keller Williams, operates in several major cities throughout Texas, as well as in Denver and Atlanta.

Today, Heyl’s team consists of 30 agents and as many administrative staff, from transaction specialists to marketing professionals.

“I do not look at a real estate team as a group of agents,” he says. "A real estate team is there to do the back-end work so that the agents can focus on the most important work for the customer.”

Teams on the rise

While the definition of a real estate team, a relatively novel arrangement, varies, their popularity seems to flourish. In the 2018 Teams Survey of the National Association of Realtors, its inaugural such study, some 26% of respondents belonged to a team. Of those not on a team, a third have considered joining one or forming their own.

“We have heard from our members anecdotally that there seems to be a growth in teams,” says Jessica Lautz, vice president of demographics and behavioral insights at the NAR, adding that because of the newness of the report, no prior data exists to statistically measure shifts.

Teams usually form around an agent or broker, whose reputation attracts more clients than he or she could alone handle. Employing support personnel becomes a means to offer more services, clinch more deals and hone industry specialties.

“Real estate became much more transparent with Zillow and the internet,” says Jason Friedman of The Friedman Team at Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty on Long Island, New York. “A lot of the bigger agents were being contacted more and were taking on more inventory. So, in order to service everyone, we started to need more support.”

Real estate, nonetheless, remains an industry packed with solo agents at brokerages, which, in some cases, may provide them as little as an office. Yet, operating alone does not imply worse customer service than what teams can offer – far from it.

For real estate buyers and sellers, the choice between a single agent and a team encompasses a myriad of considerations that could tip the scale in any individual situation. Here is what you need to know about the team-versus-agent distinction:

  • Cost
  • Rapport
  • Communication
  • Service
  • Competence

What Is the Cost?

Expense often crowns the list of concerns in real estate transactions – especially for home sellers, who shell out commissions.

Whether a solo agent or a whole team lists a property, the cost to the homeowner is unlikely to differ much. This is because, in general, team profits do not arise from higher home prices and commissions, but from larger sales volumes, spurred by the ability to take on more business.

“We pool our databases together,” Friedman says. “We have probably 50 to 100 (potential buyers) who are prequalified and are looking for something in (a seller’s) price range and area.”

Moreover, with a team a seller often benefits from in-house services such as home staging, personalized marketing and financial counseling – the type of activities that a solo agent might outsource.

“If it is done right, a team can support a seller really, really well,” says Dennis Cusack, downtown sales manager at New York-based real estate company Stribling. “But on the buyer’s side I would argue you might want somebody who is more focused, more of a singular (actor) because they can pay more attention to you.”

What Type of Relationship?

Residential real estate is an anchor for a lifestyle. Thus, customers often seek agents who will not only secure the best financial deal but will also grasp their worries, needs and wishes. The latter requires a level of intimacy that may be harder to achieve as the number of involved real estate professionals grows.

“You get me and I am all yours,” says Peggy Moriarty, a solo agent with Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty. “I am not a machine. I get personally involved with every single one of my clients.”

Tory Ketter, an independent agent with Keller Williams in Austin, Texas, says he affords himself to be open about his own family with clients, a natural trait that earns their respect and trust.

This does not mean, though, that team agents cannot foster rapport. Customers may pick a team because they prefer an individual agent on it – often the well-established owner.

“I hear from colleagues that they might lose a listing or get one because some of the sellers really want a relationship with that rainmaker agent,” Ketter says. “That cannot work for every team business model.”

What Agent to Work With?

What works, nonetheless, is education, says Sally Forster Jones, owner of SFJ Group, a Compass-affiliated team, and a U.S. News & World Report contributor. Helping clients realize the benefits of relying on team members – as opposed to solely on her – presents the key to a rewarding transaction.

While every team boasts a disparate structure, a leader is seldom to house hunt with every buyer, a task delegated to showing agents. Such separation of duties allows clients to tap varied expertise during a process standardized by the team leader.

Solo agents may not flaunt a staffed office – aside from an assistant – but, today, they regularly leverage outside specialists and brokerage-wide support, as well as digital tools.

“If you know the right experts in every field, then, I guess, that is my team,” Moriarty says.

Still, a referred-out task may stretch for days. This harks to the broader need of time and accessibility. Teams, for instance, almost always have a member responsible for swift, general customer assistance. Agents who operate on their own may be harder to reach. Hence, the most respectable of them usually rely on an assistant and a healthy breakdown of availability.

So does Moriarty, whose work ethic and industry acumen recently delivered a house outside of New York City to media executive Daniel Mandell.

“It is easier to know what you are dealing with working with a single agent versus a team,” Mandell says. “There is no trying to understand each individual's perspective on a piece of property.”

The sale of Mandell’s Manhattan apartment, though, was brokered through a team representative with knowledge of prewar construction. For both transactions, the agents’ expertise took priority over their affiliation – or lack thereof – with a team, Mandell says.

This sentiment should erase any ambivalence about doing business with a solo agent or a team. Both arrangements tout advantages and drawbacks but, ultimately, the dynamics and competences they carry should match a client’s preferences.

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