Let’s talk about your dream of starting your own real estate brokerage. After all, having your own brokerage means more money, more autonomy, and greater responsibility.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy! In my 27 years in the real estate industry, I’ve been an agent, broker-owner, franchise partner, recruiter, speaker, coach, and author. I’ve launched two brokerages, invested in two more, and coached dozens of broker-owners. I’ve put in the 80-hour work weeks, the sleepless nights, bought the Porsche, and yes, made mistakes along the way. Lots of them.
That’s why I wanted to write this guide. What does it really take to start a brokerage in 2023, when markets are shaky, interest rates are rising, and the economy is a wild ride? I want you to learn from the mistakes I made and build a sustainable brokerage from the ground up. In order to do that, you need to start by asking yourself some important questions.
1. Why Do You Want to Start Your Own Real Estate Business?
Starting a brokerage is a risk, and success requires a massive commitment of time, money, and energy. Understanding why you want this will help you envision exactly what you want to accomplish. A clear set of objectives will give you the fuel you’ll need for those 80-hour work weeks and the motivation to put yourself $50,000 (or more) in debt.
7 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting My Real Estate Brokerage
Money Is Not Enough to Fuel Your Daily Grind
If you really want to succeed, you’re going to have to dig a little deeper than money as a source of motivation. Maybe you really crave independence or want to prove something to yourself. Maybe your commission checks aren’t creating the lifestyle you want for your family. Whatever your reason, you better know what it is before you get started.
In order to be successful at a difficult task, your goals need to be concrete. Once you have your target, you’ll be surprised at how much energy you have to actually get there.
It All Starts With Your Mission, Vision & Values (MVV)
In order to create the motivation to keep going, sit down and come up with a heartfelt statement that includes your mission (why you’re doing it), vision (what it will look like when you achieve it), and values (the ideals, standards, and rules you will follow).
While this may seem a little woo-woo, it’s actually a crucial first step for building a successful business. Every decision you make, every agent you recruit, and how people see your brokerage should be based on your MVV.
How to Create an Inspiring Mission, Vision & Values for Your Brokerage
2. Are You Qualified to Start a Brokerage?
Before you start doing anything else, you need to take the time to figure out if you (and any potential partners) are qualified to run a real estate business. Here’s a quick gut check to make sure you’re ready to hit the ground running.
Do You Have a Broker’s License or Can You Hire a Broker of Record?
Legally, you’re going to need at least one person on your team to have a broker’s license so they can be the broker of record—aka the person legally responsible for all the transactions any agent in your brokerage completes. Note that the terminology differs by state. This same position in Illinois, for example, is a managing broker, and in Colorado it’s an employing broker.
When you’re ready to take that step in starting a real estate brokerage, consider The CE Shop. They make taking the requisite broker classes and passing the exam simple, convenient, and affordable.
In some states, like New York, you can hire a broker of record to take on that responsibility for you. While this might seem like an ideal solution in theory, in practice it can be a nightmare. I call these brokers “four-star generals.” Since they think they have earned their stripes, they feel entitled to just sit behind a desk and bark orders. Having a personality like that at the head of your brokerage makes it much harder to grow a sustainable business.
Do You Have Enough Savings to Live for at Least a Year With No Income?
This is an important one. Even if you have the perfect plan and the money in the bank to make it work, you can never guarantee success in your first year. The market might shift, the economy might tank, or you could get sued by an irate client. You need to mitigate the risk of going bankrupt by having enough savings to cover your personal and business expenses for at least twelve months.
Can You Get Financing?
If you’re new to business ownership, you might be surprised to learn that even billionaires use loans to finance new ventures. There’s a simple formula to understand why: OPM > YM. That is, using other people’s money (OPM) is better than using YOUR money (YM). Look into potential sources of funding you and your team can acquire quickly and cheaply.
How to Estimate Real Estate Brokerage Expenses
Your financing needs will vary greatly depending on the environment you want to set up and where you want to establish it. These variables mean that, when you’re thinking through how to start a real estate brokerage, you could be looking at anywhere from $10,000 to $250,000 in capital to get started.
To start a virtual real estate brokerage, $10,000 might be enough to bootstrap your business. You’ll need the cash required to:
- Incorporate your business
- Get errors and omissions insurance
- Acquire phones and voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) software
- Purchase some basic lead generation and transaction management software
- Choose a good customer relationship management (CRM) tool (or even better, an all-in-one platform that can scale with your growth)
- Start recruiting agents
Brick & Mortar Brokerage
If you want to start a real estate business with a physical location, estimates are harder to come by. If you’re in a big city, you will be looking at renting office space for $2,500 to $7,000 per month for a small office in a good location. You can easily double that for a high-traffic storefront in New York City or San Francisco. You’ll also need to secure a long-term lease and pay for furniture, computers, Wi-Fi, and other utilities. Instead of that $10,000 bootstrap budget, you might need to budget $10,000 per month.
Do You Have Partners? Do You Trust Them?
Whenever money is involved, even the best of friendships can become strained. So before you start planning your real estate brokerage with other people, ask yourself if you really want to go into business with them. Are they professional? Do they have enough money in the bank to avoid making rash decisions because they need quick cash? There is no shortcut to vetting your partners, so make sure you get to know them well before you even think about planning your brokerage. Once you’re set on a partnership, be sure to carefully draw up a business operating agreement.
It is unlikely that two or more people will be in consensus 100% of the time, and this will lead to strife and indecision. Both can kill your business and possibly your friendships too. In a successful business operating agreement, there is usually one person who is ultimately in charge of making the final decisions. It is important to decide who that person is and address how others will handle it when decisions don’t go their way.
3. What Does Your Dream Brokerage Look Like?
In this stage of starting a real estate brokerage, you will actually begin sketching your company on paper. It’s also the perfect time to run through the potential problems that may arise.
What Kind of Brokerage Would Make You Happy?
Imagine your ideal situation five years from now. Are you running a large brokerage? A small boutique company that focuses on luxury properties? Or would you rather work with investors, focus on property management, or fix and flip? What kinds of people do you want to work with? What office culture would make you excited to come to work every morning?
Don’t worry too much about money here; try to focus on what you want, and flesh it out on paper in as much detail as you can. We’ll see how your dream brokerage stacks up against your local market later.
Does It Make More Sense to Buy a Franchise?
Before you sink your life savings into a new brokerage, you might want to consider investing in a franchise. Think through the advantages and disadvantages before you decide:
Ask Sean: Should I Buy a Franchise or Start My Own Brokerage?
4. Is There Room for Your Dream Brokerage in Your City?
By now you should have a better understanding of your motivations, the resources you need to succeed, and what kind of brokerage will make you happy. The next step in starting a real estate business is figuring out if your dream brokerage fits into your local market.
In order to find out whether or not your vision makes sense for your area, look at the current competition. Evaluate what successful brokerages are doing right—and more importantly, what they’re doing wrong that you could do better.
Here are some elements you should examine:
Are the listings in your local area split relatively evenly between brokerages, or is there one dominant brand that seems to get all the good ones? Depending on your strategy, the existence of one dominant brokerage in your city can be an opportunity for you to give consumers another choice. You just need to decide how you are going to differentiate yourself from the competition.
Gather examples of your competitors’ branding across multiple platforms, including print, social media, online presence, and events. What are they doing right? What can your new brokerage do better or differently?
Do the successful brokerages in your area have dated brands that don’t line up with local demographics? Brainstorm a list of cities or towns that are similar to yours, and figure out what brands are successful there but missing in your area.
Brokerage Models and Culture
Talk to local agents and see what kind of brokerage they’re looking for, but can’t find. Are there any high-split companies? What about virtual brokerages? iBuyers? Flat-fee options? New agent training companies? Also, consider what kind of office culture existing brokerages have. Are they formal and stuffy? Too laid back? What type of agent do you want to work with, and what type of culture will attract them?
Do local brokerages make agents suffer using antiquated customer relationship managers (CRMs) or transaction management software? Peruse agent profiles and listing pages: Do they look like they’re from 2003? Most agents want shiny new technology that’s easy to use, so this might be something that can differentiate you.
Training and Mentoring
Does your competition draw in easy-to-recruit, brand-new agents who require lots of hand-holding and training, and then throw them to the wolves? If not, what kind of training and mentorship do they provide? How can you, as a small broker-owner, offer a better option?
It may seem like a lot to consider, but this thought exercise is crucial to your success. After all, if you want to create a successful real estate brokerage, you have to fill a need for both potential clients and agents. Now we’ll start modifying your dream brokerage into something that can work in your local area and figure out what you need to make it profitable.
5. Start Building Your Brand
Once you’ve narrowed your idea down to a brokerage that works in your local area, you need to start building your brand. While this can and will evolve over time, having a well-thought-out brand will help with your business plan, and might just help you get a loan.
As you’re considering your brand, make sure you can actually use it online by claiming a domain name and social media handles. Using your last name in your brand makes it more likely that your branding is available. If you’re using relatively common words, finding available domain names and social media accounts might be an expensive challenge, so choose wisely.
Here are the core components of any strong brand, roughly in order of importance:
1. Your brokerage’s name: The keystone of every great brand, what you name your business is one of the most important decisions you’ll make.
89 Creative Real Estate Company Names (+ Our Name Generator 2.0)
2. Your brokerage’s logo: As a visual representation of everything your brand stands for, your brokerage’s logo is the second-most important element of your brand. You owe it to yourself to create a professional logo.
The Best & Worst Real Estate Logos (+ Pro Design Tips)
3. Your brokerage’s slogan: A memorable slogan, also known as a tagline, can also help get more leads and close more deals.
6. Draft a Business Plan for Your Brokerage
Once you’ve crafted a brand, the next step is to create a business plan for your real estate brokerage. It’s one of the most important documents you’ll ever write for your business, so take it seriously. Here’s a quick rundown of what to include:
An Executive Summary
The executive summary of a business plan is where you briefly outline your path to success.
- How do you plan to fund your brokerage?
- How will you recruit agents?
- What will you pay them?
- Why does your local area need a new brokerage?
A Financial Plan
Next, you’re going to need to break out the calculator and make sure your numbers really do add up. Here are a few elements to think about including in your financial plan so that anyone can see a clear path to profitability for your business:
Your Splits & Fees Model
What do you plan to pay your agents? A high split might get more experienced bodies through the door, but you’ll have to close a large number of deals per month in order to break even.
If you pay something close to the market rate of 50%, you might have a harder time attracting talented, successful agents, but will find it easier to bring in plenty of trainable agents who only have to close a few deals to get you to solvency.
Most brokerages tend to go with something right in the middle: high splits and low or no desk fees for proven agents, and standard splits or even commission shares for newer agents with less experience.
The Best Splits & Fees to Charge Your Agents
Services You Will Offer Agents
Most agents in 2023 expect much more from a brokerage than just a good split and low fees. That means it’s crucial to offer compelling services to attract top agents. Services like marketing, printing, sign installation, inside sales agents, and transaction management will help you attract agents, so they need to be spelled out in your business plan.
9 Services Smart Brokerages Are Offering to Attract More Agents
An Office Plan: Brick & Mortar vs. Virtual vs. Coworking
Do you plan to rent out local office space or build a virtual brokerage? If you want to go virtual, then you can cross off rent as an expense and possibly offer better splits and get more talented agents. On the other hand, renting a nice local office goes a long way toward establishing trust with potential clients. Coworking is also a great option that splits the difference, as long as those types of spaces are available in your local area.
How to Select the Right Office for Your Real Estate Brokerage
A Lead Generation Roadmap
One key to keeping your agents happy is offering them lots of leads. If you have limited cash on hand, spending it on lead generation might be your best bet for the first year or two, especially if you plan on targeting newer real estate professionals.
There are a ton of options here, and SmartZip keeps coming back as one of the best lead sources for new brokerages. SmartZip uses artificial intelligence to instantly sift through hundreds of data points on the internet and your MLS with one goal: to find homeowners who are getting ready to sell before they contact their first agent. However, they only offer this to one entity per ZIP code. Check to see if your ZIP code is available below.
Is SmartZip the Future of Real Estate Prospecting?
Your Talent Recruitment Plan
Recruiting new agents and getting them to stay with you can be a full-time job. How much money, time, and effort do you plan on investing in bringing in and retaining new agents? How and where do you plan to attract them?
You can’t expect the novelty of being the new kid on the block to be enough to get agents’ attention. Even established brokerages like Compass often have to offer big signing bonuses, generous marketing budgets, or splits that mean they will see little profit from these agents in order to entice them to jump ship.
Many new broker-owners are afraid to start a brokerage because they don’t think they can woo top talent away from the big players. While this is a concern you need to plan ahead to mitigate, don’t worry too much about it. You can still build a highly profitable brokerage with a mix of new and mid-level agents.
Also know that a brokerage without support staff is basically dead in the water in 2023. At a minimum, you will likely need to hire a receptionist and a transaction coordinator. A marketing professional is a smart third hire if you have the resources.
A Technology Suite
What kind of tech tools can you offer new agents without breaking the bank? In most cases, the more high-end the software you offer agents, the more agents you’ll attract. As an added bonus, many agents will be far more effective using advanced CRMs like Propertybase, which can automate outreach and follow-up.
Voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) is another way to attract agents and help them work smarter instead of harder. VoIP companies like Grasshopper offer multiple lines for cell phones as well as scalable, advanced phone systems for brick-and-mortar offices.
Perhaps you need an all-inclusive brokerage tool, with a CRM, marketing tools, and lead generation. As you consider all of your options, take a look at one of our favorites, Lone Wolf Technologies. They combine numerous solutions into one platform, meaning you spend less time on busywork and have more time to run your new business.
Real Estate Brokerage Software: Our Top 26 Picks for 2023 (+ Pricing)
The Management Structure
One of the most neglected elements of running a successful real estate brokerage is management. Most new broker-owners end up micromanaging their new agents, or worse, taking a laissez-faire approach, which can end in litigation.
As you might imagine, supervision can be more of a problem for virtual offices, especially those where managing brokers also work their own deals. Attorney and real estate broker James S. Tupitza noted he’s already seen a $1 million policy limit settlement this year against a broker for negligent supervision of a salesperson and expects more in the near future, characterizing the importance of quality control for small, virtual brokerages in this way: “There is an exponential increase in the risk brokers assume as the sales teams move away from the traditional office. Supervision must keep up with all the changes in the way salespersons operate.”
How will you ensure compliance without being an overbearing tyrant? For most people, the answer lies in building an organizational chart that spells out each partner’s responsibility and sticking to it. Technology, especially in transaction management, can also make compliance much easier to handle.
A Processes & Procedures Plan
If you think you can just wing it and come up with processes and procedures for your brokerage on the fly, you’re in for a rude awakening. Smart business owners spell out all the rules their agents and employees must follow. Good agents do not thrive in chaos. Structure is crucial, even for something as trivial as buying coffee for the office.
A Prospective Budget
In the budgeting section of your business plan, you’re going to take all of your hopes and dreams for your brokerage and (hopefully) make the numbers work.
Of course, your budget won’t be an exact representation of your monthly expenses, but it’s a good starting point to estimate how many agents you’ll need and how many deals they’ll need to close to break even, or better yet, make a profit.
Let’s look at this highly simplified budget as an example:
|E&O Insurance||$190 x 10 agents = $1,900|
|Total Quarterly Expenses||$38,800|
|Target Quarterly Revenue|
|Median Listing Price||$500,000|
|Gross Commission Income (per deal)||$15,000|
|Total Revenue (per Deal Closed)||$7,500|
|7 Agents (Closing 2 Deals per Quarter)||$105,000|
|Total Quarterly Revenue||$66,200|
|Total Annual Revenue||$264,800|
Keep in mind this is an overly simplified budget and does not factor in slow seasons, agent turnover, or training.
Try to look at your revenue projections as soberly and honestly as possible. Being confident in your abilities is great, but the realities of the market have ended many would-be brokerages before they even really got off the ground.
6 Steps to Creating a Real Estate Brokerage Budget (+ Worksheet)
7. Secure Financing & Office Space
Now that you’ve come up with a bulletproof business plan, it’s time to secure your financing and start looking for office space.
Using the budget you came up with earlier, figure out how much money you’ll need to keep the business afloat for at least two to six months with no revenue. Keep in mind that this is in addition to your personal financial cushion.
Where to Get Financing for Your Real Estate Business
Financing can be trickier in this industry than it is in others. Real estate brokerages don’t have large assets to lend against—only desks and a few computers. That means banks don’t have the same security they do when they make loans to other entrepreneurs. Instead, they will probably make you secure the loan with your personal assets, as the Small Business Administration (SBA) does. This makes taking a loan out very risky.
You can obtain an SBA loan using money from your 401(k), get a traditional bank loan, use your own cash or a relative’s, or some combination of all three. Just be aware that you will likely need to secure your loans with personal assets.
Cover Your Legal Bases
If you have partners, you also need to make sure you have all agreed upon revenue shares and are all jointly and severally liable for any and all expenses or potential losses. A limited liability company is probably your best bet in terms of structuring the business, but make sure to consult with a lawyer to see what might work best for your unique circumstances.
How to Find & Lease Office Space for Your New Brokerage
In most major cities, good office space is still expensive, even post-pandemic. Here are a few tips to help you find a space that works.
- Start small. Consider coworking or subleasing in offices that already have some technology infrastructure such as internet access.
- Pay attention to aesthetics and make sure your space is well-furnished and professional.
- Choose a location that is convenient for potential agents and customers.
8. Start Recruiting New Agents
Yes, you’ve done a lot of work to get to this point, but don’t pat yourself on the back just yet. Now you need to start what is often one of the most time-consuming and frustrating parts of running a brokerage. Recruiting—and more importantly, keeping—talented agents who will actually close deals.
As a rule, buyer’s agents will be a whole lot easier to recruit than listing agents, but keep in mind that you’re probably going to have to feed leads to your new buyer’s agents or have an aggressive sales training program to help them get leads quickly. Most new buyer’s agents have limited marketing resources and few connections but will be hungry enough to close deals for you.
Try to get a decent mix of buyer’s agents and listing agents. Recruiting listing agents won’t be easy, but investing the time, effort, and money into recruiting them will be worth it. Every new listing agent you can recruit helps build your brand.
Consider these tips as you get started:
- Get ready to start wooing talent away from dull, tired competitors. You’re the cool new kid on the block, and agents’ curiosity will never be higher than right now.
- If you spend $10,000 to acquire an agent, you need to get that back quickly. A one-year return on your investment is a good rule of thumb.
- Bringing a top producer to your brokerage means other agents will take notice, making recruiting that much easier.
- Screening for a good cultural fit is crucial to hiring agents who will stay for the long haul. Agents will want to join you—be sure they value what you offer and be sure they always feel that you value them.
Bringing It All Together
Ultimately, the decision of whether to start a brokerage has to be yours, but if you have the right motivation, financing, planning, and vision, 2023 could be your year.
Have great advice for starting a real estate brokerage in 2023? Or maybe you have questions specific to your market or situation. Let us know in the comments!