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2011-01-11 18:28:16

Time to Stay, Move On, or Leave?

This time of year tends to bring soul-searching to REALTORS®. In addition to being the month when many boards assess the annual dues, it is January; those in climates with cold weather are facing heating bills; most are facing post-Christmas bills; and many markets are slower in the first quarter than other quarters. So it is this time of year that many of you are thinking: should I stay in the business, and with my current broker; should I move on to another broker, or should I leave the business entirely?

The thought of changing brokers is often spurred either by looking at your last year’s production, including your 1099, or by receiving a solicitation from another company offering you a “higher split”.  Before you do any of the above, you need to honestly assess yourself, your career, and your goals.

If you had a bad year in 2010, whose fault was it? Many will instantly reply: “The economy!” which is a great punching bag, particularly in tough times. And I’ll be the first one to admit that agents, in my opinion, generally worked a lot harder for lower commissions in 2010. Prices were down; things like short sales and foreclosure sales were tough, and those sales seemed to take forever to put together, keep together and get to closing. But the economy can’t take all the blame. Many agents tell me 2010 was one of their “best years”. As with anything, you need to be brutally honest—was it the economy—or was it you?

Some of you will blame your broker. Some of you may be correct, some may be wrong.  Before you leap to another brokerage, make certain the grass really is greener. If your problem is you, changing offices won’t change the problem.

How do you know if you should consider changing companies? Well, here’s my take on it—and this is a partial list:

  • If you have “grown” as much as you can in your current company and there is no way to continue growing—you might want to move. Example: you’d like to move into management, or even buy into the company, but it is a family owned business, and family members hold those spots.
  • If the company is too small to keep up with your vision. Example: the company is happy with their market share; they only use technology they have to use; and they rely a lot on what “has always worked”. Your vision includes expansion, both geographic and technological.  It may be time for you to move on.
  • If the company is too large to know you personally, and too indifferent to care.  Even if the company enjoys a huge market share, if you feel your contributions go unnoticed and unappreciated, you probably are not happy. Paychecks are great, but most happy people tell you job satisfaction is as important, if not more important, than a pay check. The company may have a large market share, but you could still have the share you personally have at a different company. You also can’t put a price tag on the satisfaction of being known and appreciated.
  • If the company appears to be unfocused, in disarray, stagnant, poorly managed, unmanaged, or any and all of the above. Unfocused companies are easy to spot: every week the broker/manager has a new goal: “We’re going to be the leader in relocation sales!” “We’re going to be the Short Sale Experts!” etc. A poorly managed or unmanaged company shows disarray—no one seems to know what is going on, where things are, supplies are not in stock; machines are not working and don’t seem to get fixed; everyone who is staff seems to know what their job isn’t, but not what it is.  The broker/manager is absentee, and when there, locked in the office, and avoids agents. You should run from this company. They are failing apart and you don’t want to stay for the ugly end.


Before you leap: if you have decided that a new company is in order for you, look before you leap. The broker/manager will put the most positive spin on things; and if they have other agents endorse the company, they will most assuredly be agents who love the place.  If agents have left that company within the past year or so, try to find out why—was it the agent, or the company? What do you know about the company’s professional reputation? No one wants to work for a company known in the business as being sleazy. Have you had co-brokered sales with this company? How did they go? Were you treated with professionalism and respect? What do the offices look like? Are they clean, organized, and professional? What kind of support staff is available to you? Remember, every minute you are not in front of a buyer or seller, you are losing opportunity to make money. The more “back office” support the company offers you, the freer you are to list and sell.

Who works there? Would you fit in with these agents? Each real estate office, in my opinion, has a “culture” all its own. For example, some offices are the “one big happy family” model—they hold birthday parties for each other; celebrate a new agent’s first closing; they may form close personal relationships. If you want to keep business and personal lives separate, this may not be your cup of tea. Some offices are “strictly business”—no one seems to socialize with anyone from the company outside of work, and they don’t seem to know much about each other’s personal lives. If you enjoy friendships at work, this may not be right for you. 

Office cultures to avoid:

  • The “kill or be killed culture” where people lock their desks when they go to the restroom, because they can’t trust their colleagues
  • The “hey, we’re just one big team here—so pitch it”—watch out for this culture, which can expect you to sacrifice your time and effort, with no money, to help train a new agent or helps someone who is in over their head. Be as altruistic as you like, but beware of a broker who will take advantage of your good nature. In companies like this, agents will make outrageous demands and be surprised if you are reluctant to help. Example: someone in the company, who is not familiar with your particular market, gets a listing in your market and expect you to help do a CMA and market it—but for no referral fee, or no split listing fee.
  • The “everybody else is doing it” culture—this is the scariest of all—the company where people are breaking the law or violating the Code of Ethics, and know it, but continue to do so, rationalizing that everyone else is doing it.


The final tough decision is whether or not to stay in the real estate business.  In the interests of full disclosure, one of the phrases that is literally like fingernails on a blackboard to me is: “I’m going to leave real estate and get a ‘real job’!” There’s nothing “realer” than real estate. It’s tough, it’s gritty, it’s hard work.  It’s also not for everyone. When I used to teach pre-licensing courses on a regular basis, I would keep track (confidentially) of those students I expected would succeed in the business. They were always a very small percentage of the people in the class. I was right more often than wrong, but it is still hard to see people really want to succeed in this business, but not make it and have to move on.  But for you, this decision has to be framed by many things which have nothing to do with how well you can sell real estate. If you are married, have a partner or a significant other, your life decisions should be filtered by what works best for your situation.  If your role is to provide some or all of the household income, you have to look at the big picture. It is astonishing to me how many people will stay in this business when it does not make financial sense to do so. It also astonishes me that many agents do not understand that to work on commission without benefits means you generally have to make at least 30% more than you would in a salaried position with benefits offered.   If you and your household are struggling financially; if you have obligations you are having trouble meeting, and you have the ability to make more money, or more reliable money in another profession, to me it is a no-brainer.  If you are struggling with this because you hate to lose your investment of time, energy and education, I would suggest looking around to see if anyone is hiring an assistant, or if you can work in a related field (title, mortgage,etc.) 

The final thing I would always advise anyone before making any of the moves above is to look down the road—five years, and ten years. Where do you want to be then? What does your life look like? Are you still working, or are you retired? What is your income level? Can you afford to do the things you want to do? Will you have significant financial expenses in those time periods (college costs, etc.)? How does your current position fit in with your vision of the future?


Melanie McLane is an author, trainer and consultant in the real estate industry. She covers these topics in her course: “It’s Not Rocket Science, It’s Just Real Estate©”, and her upcoming book of the same title.

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