Feature article

What to think about when you’re considering building a team

A team will expand your capacity but also add responsibility.

Have you been wondering if moving into an agent team structure makes sense for you?

After all, when they‘re run well, real estate teams are like well-oiled machines where each member knows their role, what to expect from the others. And, in theory, this team will make exponentially more as a group than they would individually.

We talked to some top team leaders around the country to see how they do it and we hear from others who have watched teams operate and can see other ways to be successful.

According to a New Plymouth Harcourts team leader Glenn Green, to be in a position to lead a team, you have to be established and experienced first. That way, you’ll know what speed bumps come with the job, and all the different scenarios that may be thrown at you, he says.

As the leader of ‘Team Green’, Glen has four other agents and a receptionist/marketer on his team.

“Today, we’re all off doing every part of the job from appraisals, to signing contracts - we’re all picking things up and there are so many moving parts. When you’re a high volume agent with a good reputation, it makes you busier every day,” he says.

Do you have the time?

Unfortunately, starting a team is not something you can do quickly and at a busy time. Christchurch Bayleys agent and team leader, Adam Heazlewood says it requires time for nurturing and training. It’s also about getting systems right otherwise it’ll be clunky; and having the right expectations on what a team should achieve, he adds.

“My view is you don’t add a second agent to double the business, you do it to triple it, otherwise there’s no point in doing it,” he says.

Adam (who had his own training on a small team with a senior agent) has had a team for the last 11 years. His team of six includes a business office manager and two PAs who are client managers, liaising with vendors and doing the marketing. His two agents, who he trained, work under him and they have their own listings supported by the team.

In their last financial year, the team made 160 sales of mid- to high-end homes in the city. Adam, with the help of his team finished second overall for Bayleys residential nationally in 2023. The team has over $700 million in settled sales to date and Adam, at 33, wants to be the youngest to ever reach $1 billion.

Inspiration and communication help set you up for success

When he was building his team, Adam says he looked nationally and internationally for inspiration. On a trip to New York, he met with top US agent and reality TV star, Ryan Serhant who leads a mega brokerage there and whose team is consistently one of the highest performing teams in the US.

The biggest thing he learned from the real estate star was that - despite the fact he had a lot of exposure from TV - his team and structure was what he put his immense growth down to.

Other things he has learned over the years is that communication is crucial. It’s lots of little things, for instance every listing goes through a Whatsapp group, there’s listing sharing, and they’re very tech-focused as a team.

The personalities of the group are a major factor, adds Adam. “We have a lot of fun, we enjoy each other’s company so it feels less like work,” says Adam. They also share the same discipline and work ethic, because for the lead agent, each team member is a representative of their business.

Don’t expect your life to be less busy as a team leader, warns Adam. “I’m still the point of contact with the vendor. I don’t have a team so I can sit back, I’m by far the busiest person,” he says.

“Our vendors consistently tell us that they feel like they are our only client due to all the communication and nurture which speaks volumes given what we juggle,” says the Bayleys agent.

Processes and a long-term growth plan are key for increasing capacity

Ray White Beachlands team leader, Brianne (Brie) Bignell says the goal of a team, in her view, is about increasing your capacity. In her team, she has two sales associates, a marketing/data manager, and admin support - and everyone knows their role.

“I think it’s about having clear boundaries and understanding what the process looks like,” she says. Each person knows what’s required of them and understands their tasks.

Brie, an agent of 17 years, focuses on the vendors and finding the next listing, while her two sales associate agents run open homes on Saturdays and Sundays and work with the buyers to help sell the property.

With her two sales associates, their capacity increases as her team grows and their market share grows too, Brie explains.

Team members need a long-term growth strategy too

Brie has built teams before, and has learned a lot along the way. She’s seen teams where they list a home with a well-known agent, “a name”, and the vendors never see the lead agent again.

While Brie generally allows her associates to headline open homes, even when she’s not there with them, she knows who is attending an open home in real time. She is still a control freak, she laughs, and knows exactly what’s going on, which her vendors appreciate.

Introducing another experienced agent to your team doesn’t always work, because agents tend to be ego-driven, adds Brie. Bringing agents in who she’s had a hand in training has worked better for her.

“I’ve never had this before, I’ve got such epic people who I trust totally, so I’m very lucky,” says Brie.

It’s about treating people with love and respect, she adds. “If you want to increase capacity, it will increase your bottom line, but it depends on your individual goal and if you like managing people.”

Her team is exceptional, Brie says. She recently promoted one of her agents, who she trained, to be her business partner.

A case against teams: Not every successful agent needs a team

For busy Tommy’s Real Estate agent, Sam Newble, he isn’t convinced that building a team is the way to go for him.

Sam, who works with business partner Ben Ryan, says the Tommy’s Real Estate’s culture is all about teamwork, its agents working out of one large office in central Wellington. It’s an environment where agents often work together, partnering up on properties and supporting each other when they get busy. Given this, he doesn’t feel the need to create a large team.

Some homeowners like to see a couple of agents working on their sale, so they’ll request an extra-enthusiastic, experienced agent, explains Sam.

Like Brie, the Tommy’s agent has seen examples in his market where the team leader wins the pitch to sell the home and is never seen again. “If I were a homeowner I wouldn’t want to have some hot shot agent palm my property off to a junior,” says Sam.

“The balance needs to be struck. It’s too big a decision to get wrong, a home sale needs to be handled with care,”he says.

Sam has seen teams in other agencies grow larger and larger and yet the agents don’t seem to be doing any better. “I’m not necessarily sure that the business unit is any more successful [than going out on your own],” he says.

A PA can be a good trial

A brokerage manager who prefers not to be named because she has teams in her office believes that for a good fast-rising agent, the best advice is to hire a PA, ideally with a real estate licence, and then a sales associate.

“I’ve managed a sales person who has a big team because it looks good, but could do incredibly well with just a sales associate and a PA,” she says.

If you’re thinking of starting a team, you have to ask why you’re doing it, she says. If the answer is not for the sake of the client and to help to give exceptional service, then is it for the right reason?

When a team is not functioning well, they’ve just got lots of stock and none of it is managed well. Rather than having 50 listings that aren’t being managed well, it’s better to have 20 listings run really well and not have the stress and pressure of being responsible for others' livelihoods, she argues.

What’s your natural preference?

As with a lot of elements of real estate, personal preference and personality should play a big role in your decision. Not all successful agents need teams to reach their potential but others thoroughly enjoy it.

The question to answer honestly is what works for your personality time, and would a team take you further, or hold your ways of operating back?