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What do agents and brokers actually think about each other? What questions would they ask if they thought they could get an honest answer?

Intel sought to break through that barrier.

Welcome to the hidden world inside the brokerage, where agents are eager to learn more about their leaders’ plans, and brokers are torn between frustration and a genuine desire to help their agents succeed.

Sometimes, these conversations play out in the open — at least partly. Agents were particularly likely to say that they already felt their brokerage was transparent, and that they can get a straight answer to their questions.

But the majority of agents and brokers alike who responded to Intel had at least one question they wished their counterparts would answer.

To get the most unfiltered view of the inner thoughts of real estate professionals, Intel asked a pair of open-ended questions: What would you ask your counterpart if you were guaranteed an honest and transparent answer? And what feedback from your group would you most want your counterpart to take into account?

This exercise produced a wide variety of perspectives, with 244 agents and 78 brokerage leaders from across the country choosing to participate.

Read what Intel learned from this thought experiment in the full report below.

What agents really want to know — but are too afraid to ask

It’s a question that might eat at any brokerage leader: What do my agents and employees really think of me?

For the most part, agents told the Intel Index that they were happy with their brokerage’s level of transparency, but curious to learn more about how it works — and what direction it’s headed in the new landscape. 

A number of the agent responses were vague — ranging from the positive, “My brokerage is doing it right,” to the amusingly accusatory, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Not much could be gleaned from these.

But for the most part, responses contained thoughtful questions and genuine pain points in a real estate moment when so much seems up in the air, and there may be still more questions than answers.

When prompted, a large group of agents said they wanted to know more about their brokerage’s finances, operations, or what changes may be around the bend to commission splits, if any.

These questions, which might have been a mere curiosity in a pre-lawsuit world, carried additional urgency as the industry continued to digest the details of the NAR settlement.

  • “Will you adjust the 70/30 pay structure if commissions do decline?” wrote one agent. Asked another, “Will they keep the same commission structure if [commissions] are lowered?”
  • “Does this cause you to consider selling?” one agent wondered.

A few agents, such as this one, wanted a detailed rundown of the finer points of their broker’s business: 

  • “Explain in detail the separation of commercial and residential real estate sales within your company? List all business activities and interests that you are personally and professionally involved with and outline the business structures and affiliations with the brokerage firm itself.”

Some agents expressed frustration or a spirit of accusation with their responses. These extended not just to their brokerage, but occasionally to the industry’s largest trade group.

  • “Why does your family get paid so much?” one agent wrote. “Why so much nepotism in the company? Why don’t we get to see the financials anymore?”
  • “Why do we have to be members of the NAR to keep our good faith standing?” another asked. “They have done NOTHING for us.”

But mostly, agent responses were more curious than negative. And a large share of respondents said they were already satisfied with their brokerage’s willingness to answer agent questions.

“I think the owner of my company has been transparent with his thoughts,” one agent told Intel, “but it is hard to overcome all of the misinformation in the media. It just sounds like we are saying ‘nothing to see here’ which doesn’t [sit] well with many clients.”

One agent response echoes a common refrain, suggesting that a common complaint by brokers is shared by higher-performing agents as well.

“Why keep hiring part timers, and not adequately training them (though spending time and money on them, but inefficiently),” one agent wrote. This agent added that it felt like their brokerage was undervaluing and under-supporting its more experienced agents in the process. 

Brokers had a lot to say on this.

The broker’s juggling act

Brokers were asked the same set of open-ended questions about their agents.

In their responses, there was less curiosity and a greater sense of palpable frustration, Intel found.

“Do you think real estate is part time, some times and maybe, or are you committed to being a REAL ESTATE EXPERT and full time,” one brokerage leader asked, echoing a number of responses.

Brokers expressed widespread dissatisfaction with lower-performing agents, with terms like “part-time” and “side hustle” used to describe agents who were not taking the enterprise seriously enough, in their view.

Agents wanted to know whether their commission split would change. Brokers had a similar train of thought, with one using the premise of Intel’s original question — assuming the agent would answer transparently and honestly — to extract from agents, “What is the lowest commission split you will work for?” 

But more brokerage leaders had straightforward questions about how prepared their agents are for the climate to come.

  • “Are you prepared to follow the rules fully, with no trying to make things work the way they were?” one brokerage leader asked.
  • “Can you do a 360 on all the people that you told that you worked for free, and now tell them you didn’t?” another wrote. “And how is that going to make you feel moving forward?”
  • “How have you adapted your business plan as a result of the NAR settlement and overall market shifts?”

But even as some leaders were preoccupied with the next steps in a changing industry, other brokers believed their agents were spending too much time thinking about these issues.

“Stop worrying about the NAR settlement and focus on prospecting for more business,” one brokerage leader wrote to the Inman Intel Index survey in late April. “The brokerage will help you with the needed changes/challenges of the settlement, just stay focused on growing your business.”

While broker responses were more likely to air some point of frustration, a number sought out transparent feedback on how they could best help their agents’ businesses. 

Specifically, brokers wanted to know if agents found the NAR-related training helpful — Intel surveys suggest most agents think it has been — and whether there is anything that will make a meaningful difference in retention and recruitment of other agents.

One brokerage leader’s suggestion to agents? To “keep a positive attitude” throughout this mess.

“I realize how challenging that is right now,” this brokerage leader wrote. “I feel betrayed myself and believe that many Realtors do as well.”

Methodology notes: This month’s Inman Intel Index survey was conducted April 19-May 1, 2024, and received 620 responses. The entire Inman reader community was invited to participate from the website, and a rotating, randomized selection of community members was prompted to participate by email. Users responded to a series of questions related to their self-identified corner of the real estate industry — including real estate agents, brokerage leaders, lenders and proptech entrepreneurs. Results reflect the opinions of the engaged Inman community, which may not always match those of the broader real estate industry. This survey is conducted monthly.

Email Daniel Houston

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