What is Company Culture? An Indie Broker-Owner Gives his 2 Cents

By Troy Palmquist
Posted on May 22, 2019

Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on (big-box, franchise, indie, etc.), culture makes a big difference in how a business operates. In fact, a company’s culture can make or break its success. So, when it comes to real estate, how do you find a culture that’s right for you?

Start by asking yourself these questions

What does ‘company culture’ really mean?

According to The Balance, “Company culture is the personality of a company. It defines the environment in which employees work. Company culture includes a variety of elements, including work environment, company mission, value, ethics, expectations, and goals.”

Does your brokerage align with your professional mission, values and goals?

Take a look around. Watch how deals are done. Interact with leadership. Pick your colleagues’ brains to see what is most important to them.

If something is missing or their goals and values don’t add up, it might be time to rethink your relationship.

Are you feeling out of the loop?

I’ve seen time and again, professional agents jumping from brokerage to brokerage, only to find themselves lost in the mix.

Although there are some corporate real estate giants that offer exceptional company culture, that is not always the case.

Most of these big-name companies are affiliate-owned, and the local leadership has a huge impact on how the company operates, regardless of the flashy brand name on the door.

This is where the culture of an indie brokerage can be a welcome alternative.

The differences in brokerage culture

In my soon-to-be-released book, I highlight some of the variations.

Whether it’s the emphasis on play at the Google campus or the hub of creativity and innovation at Apple, corporate culture is a watchword that impacts everything from office space design to casual Fridays.

Defining your company’s culture and living out that definition in the way you do business and treat employees is an essential part of branding yourselfand connecting to potential clients.

Franchise brokerages can never hope to define and display as compelling a culture as a local independent brokerage.

Because the real estate industry is so intimately tied to the local market and its people, an independent brokerage that shares that sense of place and community will always have a more inspiring culture, better attuned to the needs of its agents and clients.

While brand recognition favors the large franchise model, brand is distinct from culture. Just because people recognize your logo or your commercials doesn’t mean that they connect to your culture, and most corporate real estate brands have traditionally done a poor job of defining either.

Where indies shine

This compelling survey highlights the matter.

When asked what the primary advantage of an indie brokerage is, respondents to this Inman survey used one word again and again: nimble.

In my book, I point out why this is important.

Following the 2008 financial crisis that decimated the industry, many franchise owners found themselves paying unwieldy franchise fees to their big-box companies in a time of falling revenue with no end in sight.

The ability to respond to market conditions — both locally and on the national level — as well as the ability to reallocate and rebudget in the face of cash flow changes is a big part of the nimbleness factor these brokers value. It is telling that the only answer more popular than “Ability to be nimble” in this poll is “They don’t pay a franchise fee.”

Financial nimbleness aside, indie brokers are able to be more responsive to their local market in a variety of other ways. Demographic shifts, changing population centers, new market centers, new niches — all of these can generate faster responses from indie brokerages than from franchise brokerages burdened with high overhead, long-term contracts, and expensive infrastructure.

The literal sense of ownership at an independent brokerage is what makes the culture different.

Above all, indie brokerages have a sense that we are all in this together. There’s a sense of family, community and collaboration.

For me, culture is one of the most important parts of the conversation. And as the bigger indies start to transition and become franchisors, there might be new opportunities to align with indie franchises that manage to retain a strong sense of culture, nimbleness and responsiveness.

It will be interesting to see how well today’s indies are able to retain their culture as they grow.