Frankly, it's scary to head toward a place where I never planned to go.
When I went into the real estate business about 2 1/2 years ago, I did not do so with eyes wide open. As I have recounted in these pages before, as a rookie I imagined myself signing up clients, waltzing through lovely homes with buyers and pretty much having all the advantages of being my own boss -- for example, working when I pleased, accountable to no one. It ain't that easy.
Okay, so I have a history of leaping before I look, and I'm paying the price, but gladly.
The transforming moment in my real estate career -- my third or fourth career, depending on how you count -- occurred when I realized that one person should not have to work so many hours and still fail to perform as effectively as I wished. Equally important, I appreciated the need to have more balance in my life -- to have a life. Finally, I listened to advice that having another agent work with me would more than pay for itself.
All in all, having help not only made me feel better, but also minimized burnout and its consequences. No longer would I, paradoxically, dread hearing, "I think I'd like to make an offer on that apartment." Those words used to mean just more toil, the extra income seeming hardly worth the effort.
But who knew that my naive first step of relying on a second agent as a buyer's representative a little more than a year ago would snowball into a full partnership with a wonderful third agent? It also has meant the creation of a team that now includes a full-time employee and the immediate prospect of another buyer's rep, as well as our existing "virtual" assistants in Chicago.
It turns out that I am following a trend that, according to my sales manager, Marj Rosner, has been building in recent years. "Years ago, people didn't think of real estate as a career, but as something they did part time for a second income, perhaps to subsidize their retirement," said Rosner, who has been in the business 26 years and supervises nearly 300 agents.
Now, she added, agents are more serious. "For them, it's about making a living," she said. "And as people make more money, they want to have a life, not just work and die and have money in the bank."
And so now I find myself spending significant time dealing with lawyers, accountants, bookkeepers and detailed business plans. Sure, I still show property, develop strategy and negotiate with the other side, but more of my day seems to be spent sitting in front of my computer than behind my steering wheel.
Neither my business partner, Alix Myerson, nor I can quite remember how the concept of joining forces began to take hold sometime last summer. For one thing, we had covered for each other in the past and respected each other's expertise, though she has been in the business for nine years, much longer than I. Her accepting attitude was surprising and flattering.
Suffice it to say that one thing led to another, and soon we were meeting with a high-priced lawyer because we both understood that any business marriage can end in divorce. We wanted to avoid any heartache that could result in the unlikely event that ours would end.
Observes Pam Kristof, a Re/Max agent with a team of eight, "Maybe it won't work the way you planned. Teams do break up." Sometimes bitterly.
It seems there are almost as many models for teams as there are teams. For example, Lynelle Massey, a Weichert agent in Vienna, began working informally with another agent much as Alix and I did. They share commission income unequally, depending on the source of their clients. As for expenses, they divide a very limited number of them. "Somehow, it kind of works out," said Massey, an agent since 1992.
Of course, Alix and I had to wrestle with those big questions about revenue and expenses as we developed a budget. We both found it easy to handle expenses on a 50-50 basis. It was harder to deal with our different income streams. We concluded that 50-50 made sense for that, too. "I always think that you're doing more and you always think that I'm doing more," Alix told me. "As long as we both think that, it makes sense -- it's perception."