Big Dreams, Small Brokerage: Five Traits Of Independent Firms Real Estate Agents Should Consider

Kevin is the Founder of Marker Real Estate, an innovative firm with a transparent, inclusive, client-focused strategy.

At some point, every agent must make a tough decision: to work for an independent firm or a larger, franchised brokerage. According to the National Association of Realtors, as of 2020, the number of agents working for independent versus franchised brokerages was nearly evenly split. Of course, this doesn’t mean that all brokerages work for agents in the same way. 

Larger, franchised brokerages may appear to have a lot to offer on the surface. Beyond their name recognition and the trust that garners among clients, however, the benefits to agents may be more limited than expected. In fact, for some agents, there may be more to gain by joining an independent brokerage.

1. Potential For Profit

If you join a large brokerage, you’ll ultimately share more of your profits with the brokerage. At most large firms, agents not only have to split profits (often giving 30%–40% back to the brokerage) but also pay several thousands of dollars in annual fees as well as additional fees for access to services (CRM software, desk space, etc.). At the end of the day, these fees add up, restricting agents’ potential for profit. 

Independent brokerages tend to operate on a completely different financial model. Annual fees are not typical, and there are few or no service fees and generally much better splits between the agent and brokerage. Some independent brokerages also share leads with agents and break the ice by promoting agents to potential clients. 

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2. Innovation And Agility

Many larger brokerages, especially venture capital-backed brokerages that have come to dominate the real estate sector over the past decade, claim to be on the cutting edge of real estate technology. Compared to many older brokerages, some of these companies are tech-driven. However, many larger, tech-driven brokerages face an ongoing problem that their independent counterparts do not: the ability to quickly beta test new platforms and products.

I speak from experience. Running an independent brokerage with just a few hundred agents, beta testing a new platform or technology is simple. If I see something exciting and want to test it out, it won’t take me months to gain buy-in from the leadership team or board and work with HR to develop and scale a training program. When it comes to tech innovation, independent brokerages tend to be more agile and responsive to change. 

3. Service To Customers

In a brokerage with hundreds of thousands of agents, one bad review won’t make or break your firm. For independent brokerages, every review counts and you can’t afford to make a mistake. As a result, independent brokerages tend to be more consistent in their commitment to serving sellers and buyers and ensuring their needs are put first. As an agent, associating yourself with a brand committed to excellence and personalized service can help you quickly gain the trust of potential clients. 

4. Leads 

Some large brokerages will help agents find leads, but not all. Many new agents are left to generate leads on their own, but learning how to do so is a skill that can take years to master. This may explain why we see so much turnover in the profession.

Independent brokerages need to be invested in the success of every agent on their team and may be more likely to share leads as well as help new agents learn to generate them. This can have a significant impact on an agent’s profits and ability to succeed in the industry over time. 

5. Advancement Opportunities 

Standing out in a large company — any large company — is difficult, even if you are able to bring in a high volume of sales. Some agents at larger brokerages may also find that opportunities for advancement within the organization are hard to come by. At independent brokerages, on the other hand, agents are more likely to be known to the leadership from the get-go and in a sense grow up with the firm. As the company grows and new opportunities arise, existing agents are more likely to be recruited to fill new and expanding roles.

Choosing whether to work for an independent brokerage or a larger, franchised brokerage may be the most important career decision an agent ever makes. Be sure to weigh all the considerations carefully before you choose and make the right decision for your needs and professional goals.


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