Dana Flanagan switched from another national real estate sales firm to Keller Williams five months ago. She loved her former broker, and had been very successful there. She says she was often the top producer among 85 agents, and went to national sales conferences.
But she said, "I felt I had hit a ceiling and I wasn't doing any more business."
Flanagan, whose core geography is East Hampton and Glastonbury, said she knew other agents who had left their companies for Keller Williams, and started asking them why.
She heard that Keller Williams was more proactive in teaching agents how to run their own businesses. Most real estate agents are self-employed, and the brokerage provides them support with advertising, training and software. Real estate agents pay the brokerage a portion of their sales commissions for these services, and Flanagan found Keller Williams' split structure appealing.
Flanagan added, echoing other Keller Williams agents, that the company encourages agents to cooperate and teach each other how to close deals more effectively.
Those are the reasons why the Keller Williams Realty franchise is this year's No. 1 winner in the midsize employer category in the Courant/FOX CT Top workplaces competition for 2014.
Flanagan said that before she made the move, she was used to a cutthroat environment where agents were worried other agents would steal their customers. "I don't have time to help anybody else," she said was her attitude.
But at Keller Williams, top producers give seminars to agents who are not selling as much, to help them figure out how to land more listings.
"The one thing they can't copy is our culture," said Matthew Eardmann, operating principal at the franchise. "That's a culture of sharing," he said, founded on a rising-tide outlook — that "there's enough business" for all the agents to succeed.
The franchise that Eardmann and other investors own has 245 people, including 225 in the five-county area covered by the Top Workplaces award, with offices in West Hartford, Farmington, Simsbury, Mansfield and Wallingford. With agents primarily working out of their homes, the brokerage covers a broad sweep of towns where there are no offices, stretching down to the shoreline.
Farmington resident Sarah Ashton started selling real estate seven years ago when her youngest child entered kindergarten, and at the first firm where she worked, she said there was almost a fatalistic attitude.
"They didn't act like you should be successful. If you do a couple sales a year, you're doing great," she said. In her first year of work, that's pretty much what she did. The next year, she sold five.
She said that when she asked at her old firm if a top agent could do a presentation about how to turn a meeting with a client into a contracted listing, the response was: "Well, why would anybody want to give away my secrets?"
At Keller Williams, she said, "Everyone feels like they belong as much as anyone else."
The commission structure is a big part of the allure for agents. As Eardmann explains, all agents are on the same split. Agents pay the brokerage 30 percent, and keep 70 percent, though there's also a separate royalty fee for the franchise of 6 percent. But both obligations have annual caps, so that no agent pays more than $33,000 a year to the organization.
At some other agencies, the split begins at 50/50, and the bigger producer you are, the more favorable the split becomes, so that top-selling agents can keep 80 percent or even 90 percent of their commissions.
Flanagan said that even with a favorable split as a top producer, she was paying more than six figures a year to her former brokerage.
Ashton, who moved over to Keller Williams four years ago, had 23 sales last year, and is finally earning as much as she did as an accountant 14 years ago, though she is still not quite at the cap. She works seven days a week much of the year to do it, but she likes the flexible schedule.
Real estate firms have repeatedly had some of the most satisfied workers in the Courant/FOX CT Top Workplaces awards. William Raveis won the top award in the large employer division for three years running and finished in the No. 2 spot this year, and Berkshire Hathaway is at No. 3 among large employers. Keller Williams has also placed in the top three previously.
Why do real estate agents consistently give their workplaces top marks? This could be partly because the workers — who are about 80 percent women industry wide — are able to be self-directed as private contractors, and don't have bosses. Or it could be because real estate agents tend to be natural optimists.
"I think the business attracts positive-minded people," Eardmann said, and without a doubt, that means they tend to have an upbeat attitude about their jobs.
Eardmann said the agent-focused attitude at Keller Williams is why the agency kept adding people even as the industry contracted during the housing bust. Eardmann took over the central Connecticut and Farmington Valley franchise just before the crash, and since then, the franchise expanded to Wallingford and Storrs.
"Both nationally and locally we have some of the best retention in the country," he said.