The ART of Real Estate was founded with one question: What if buying and selling real estate could be a great experience? Today, Bill Risser sits down with the firm’s Broker-in-Charge and owner, Brad Allen. Brad shares how his experience in the service industry has shaped his business and philosophies, where he learned how hard work and determination could keep you ahead of the game. Tune in for some great real estate advice.
Brad Allen, Broker/Owner of The Art of Real Estate
Thank you so much for tuning in and telling a friend. That's how we continue to grow this little program in our little corner of the internet. We are going to South Carolina. One of the South, deep South, we are going to talk to Brad Allen. He is the broker-owner of The ART of Real Estate Brokerage. We are going to talk about that name because it's awesome.We are going to talk a lot about South Carolina and how Brad got into the business, his views, look at culture, and what the customer experience should be is important. For any broker-owner reading, he's got some great advice on how to roll out some of the things he was able to do in Columbia, South Carolina. Let's get this thing started. Brad, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me. I'm glad to be on your show finally.
We connected through Inman and like a lot of the people that I talked to on the show, maybe it wasn't a direct connection for some and was through other channels but this was direct. You and I both worked as ambassadors and it's a fun job. It was sometimes harrowing. Is that a good word? First of all, I like to start at the beginning with my guests. I audibly gasped when I was looking through your stuff online and saw that you were raised in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. For golfers out there, it's 1, 2 or 3 of the meccas in the United States. Tell me it was awesome growing up in Myrtle Beach.
It was okay at best. It's the place where there's everything to do if you are a tourist and you feel like there's nothing to do as a local. A year and a half in high school, I didn't even go to the beach and I lived 0.5-mile from the beach. It's one of those things that doesn't resonate. Looking back, it's fun to take my kids but growing up. It's one of those places that is okay.
My guess is that a lot of the locals there probably are employed by the resorts because there's so much going on there. I can't remember the number. It's 30, 40, and 50 golf courses within a short drive in that area.
It used to be 90 golf courses in 30 square miles several years ago. A lot of them closed and became developed. It was a lot.
You had a couple of different gigs in there. I'm guessing. You probably worked in the service industry but did you work on the golf side too? Let's talk about some of the things you did living in Myrtle Beach.
It's a tourist town. There's not an industry in Myrtle Beach. It is all catering to tourism. The service industry is how you come up. That is why most of the high schools there have bad sports teams because we didn't have first waits, we went to work. My waits were growing up. In college, I can't share those stories online. They are too graphic.
I did some landscaping as well but I grew up in restaurants and it was impactful for me. It's one of the few experiences that has shaped my business and my mentality, knowing that the consumer is always right, which we want to tell people that's the case but let's be honest, they are not. It allows me to play chess because when somebody is upset, I know I can make them happy but I also don't have to give up my move firstborn to do it.
It's impactful growing up on the beach where you see people sometimes driving 8, 9, 10 to 11 hours. A lot of Canadians come down there in March and spend their entire year’s savings going on vacation. How awesome is it that you are able to serve these people, knowing that this is where they want to go? It has helped me to learn the value of a dollar, how people spend their dollars and how you need to make sure they come back.
There's one restaurant I worked at. We would go on three and a half-hour waits. People had come there religiously for many years. The food was okay at best but it was the experience. It was the memories. It's how they felt when they were there. They were clients for life. That is something I strive to do in our business. Even though I don't fry oysters, we do have some little different.
We are going to talk about that as we get deeper into what you are doing, the fact that you have taken that and created a brokerage that's built around those same philosophies, which is super cool. Did you do something on the golf side ever? I know the golfer in me. I'm always checking it out.
I wanted to go to school to be a golf course architect. I did a trade school for half a day and two years in high school to do golf course landscape management. I was the President of our FFA chapter, which was a joke because we were pretty boys. I drove golf carts and stuff. Everybody was tractor pulling and hog racing. Golfing is a big part of it. I'm a horrible golfer but I love to get out there and dig a trench from the tee box to the hole.
FFA can apply to golf courses. I did not know that. I got to rethink my FFA thoughts. Give me the biggest misconception about South Carolina.
We are one of the top moves through destinations now and your dollar does go a long way in South Carolina. One of the biggest misconceptions is people think that they can bring their way of life to South Carolina and that we are so grateful that you are here. Let's be honest, we are a don't-tread-on-me state. Everybody gets along. Everyone wants to be left alone. People can bring their money but if they can leave some of their idiosyncrasies behind that, they will have a lot better time in the South. We are polite. We would be nice to your face but don't look twice at a Southerner. In spite of them, they will get you back. I promise.
That's good advice for all the readers up in the Northeast. Take it easy when you get there. Let's move on. You are out of high school. You are thinking about college. There had to be a career path you were thinking about.
Going through high school, I knew I wanted to go to college. I’m not sure what I wanted to do exactly. I attended the University of South Carolina and started a degree in Criminology. I wanted to go to law school or Federal Law Enforcement. That's the path I went down and took a lot of ologies. I was a Criminology major with enough credits. It is still in the paper to be a Southern Studies minor in an African American Women's Studies minor because I took all of those classes, so I didn't have to take a lot of math. I'm very well versed in the ologies.
I know exactly what you are talking about. I was the same kind of guy, the minimum math required to get through. Not an engineer, not a developer. You are not in that line of work and you did something different. What did you do right out of school?
Back in college, I worked at a law firm being a runner and there was a huge foreclosure law firm. One of the older attorneys pulled me aside one day when he gave me a $20 million check to take to a courthouse to buy some lands and said, “Son, don't be a dirt attorney.” I was like, “If I'm not going to be a dirt attorney, what can I do to make as much money but also the same realm?” I went straight into real estate. I took my final exams, took the 1st week of real estate school, graduated the 2nd week of real estate school, and was licensed on June 6th of ’06, straight in.
Did you stay in Columbia?
I did. That taught me a lot of lessons. The only thing I knew about Columbia was bars and restaurants in college. I decided to start a career offering networking but I didn't have one. That helped propel me on how I train and bring on younger agents in my company because real estate is not set up for somebody that's 22 to 27. It's not set up for people like that. It helped me instill in agents now. I went straight into real estate and hadn't looked back.
What was your first brokerage?
That’s Prudential. It is back when they were top four. They had a recruiter and I remember going in and coming out, going, “They want to give me a job.” My mom was like, “How much are they paying you?” I'm like, “Nothing.” I got to spend all this money, it was the dumbest. I was excited but quickly found out what it meant. It was hard.
[bctt tweet="Culture is a big pot of chili or stew, and each person you put in there can change the taste of that pot." username="billrisser"]
We talked about how quickly you connected with your partner now, Mary Lane Sloan. Let's talk about that meeting. It was important in your life. It changed the direction of where you were headed.
Mary Lane is 2 or 3 years older than I am. She was already a state-certified teacher. She was teaching fourth grade and decided to shadow our previous partner myself on spring break. She was like, “I'm going to sell houses while I'm not teaching.” Quickly it became relevant that she was good at it. We have meshed together and we have been partners for several years.
Usually, people say, “Partnerships don't work.” I agree with them but this one has been cool. It has changed the trajectory. We are not necessarily best friends. We don't talk a lot. We talk in the office. We see each other a lot and we run the company together but we're not hanging out on Friday nights, drinking beer in the garage. It's truly a cool dynamic. I have been very fortunate to have her in my life and help us grow this thing in the right way.
Were you at Prudential when you first built The ART of Real Estate team? Let's talk about that. First of all, I dig the name. I know there's a story in there. I'm hoping that you are going to share it with us. I know how you are, Brad, you had to be thinking, “We are going to be different than everybody else. This is why we are going to be different.” Let's talk about that.
We started a team before teams were cool. The way we did that is we had a previous partner. She was busy. She was in her late twenties at that point. She had kids in school and was a perfectionist in a good way. She would not take more than about six clients at a time because she wanted to give them an exceptional experience.
I get in there and I'm like, “Let me help you. You go find the business, I will handle it.” It helped me take people from sticky notes to a database. It helped me put processes in place. That's when Mary Lane came on. She started as a buyer's agent with us. We brought in another team member and put all these processes in place because we realized at that time it was about to be a recession.
We are in the early twenties. A lot of the people that were in their early 30s had gotten out because they had families to feed and it was tough for them. In reality, I feel like they weren't trained probably well in their early careers. When it got tough, they had to get on. We created a system and a team. That allowed us to give them exceptional experience and take on more clients. What dawned on me is that a lot of people can find the business but without the structure, they can't handle it. We started adding people and we added a lot of wrong people. We added some right people and a lot more wrong people. We finally started to find a rhythm and still working on that several years later.
How fast do you know you hired the wrong person?
Sometimes you know it when you are in the interview and you are like, “This could go 1 of 2 ways.” I never want to be the guy that doesn't hire a rock star because they had a bad interview or that is open to certain things. It can go the other way too very quickly. I fired an agent that was finding business left and right but could not explain the contract, even though he had been trained on it seventeen times. It's a liability and bad for our brand. I'm not a body shop. We do, we will let people go.
Let's come back to the name. How do you come up with that name?
Full transparency and it's funny that our previous partner, her name was Andrea Reynolds. She's still a b***** realtor. She sells a lot of houses. We worked underneath her as a team. We were the Andrea Reynolds team, The ART of Real Estate. As we had some legal changes, she had gone on to a different company and we retained the brands and everything else.
It was a tagline on to our previous team name, which helps me when I talk to other team leaders or owners going, “Don't name it after yourself. Here's why. Name that for something different.” We've always said that we have a philosophy, we have a way of doing things and there is an art to it. If we can continue to give that delivery, it works well.
If I'm an agent who's sitting there talking to you and trying to understand what it's like to work there and we will talk more about what culture means to you. I guarantee I know that there's a certain rhythm and way of you, laying out to somebody in 30 seconds what matters for people that work in that team?
A lot of times agents feel like they are the LeBron James of the deal. I'm like, “We are all a big circle. We all have points.” We have fifteen staff people. I was like, “You are a part of that circle. Your job is to deliver and handle the client. Give them an exceptional experience and be the quarterback. It's the listing coordinator's job to make sure this happens. It's my job to make sure that this happens. If everybody does their job, it's a smooth, fluid circle. It's like a wheel going down the road but there's a flat spot. Everybody is going to know it. It's going to be clunky and it's not going to be a great ride.”
I usually start with that and I tell them, “We are looking for people that are hungry, humble, and smart. That's it. You don't need to know real estate. I don't need you to have experience. We can help you but we need to know that you are those three things.” If they can agree to that and are open to learning, we have had some good success helping agents reach their potential.
It's 2013 or 2012. Maybe you start thinking, “We got to have our own brokerage.” I've talked to a lot of different broker-owners and there's always a story. It can be tough. It could have been, “They had a mentor that walked us through it.” What's your story about how you launched that brokerage?
We were fortunate in a couple of different aspects. In 2009, we changed Prudential Franchise to a new one. The recession got hot and heavy. The gentleman that owned our company, owned several different businesses building and was a wealthy guy. He said, “You are the least profitable. We are shutting it down.”
My previous partner and I, two other people said, “Give it to us. Make it look good. We will take it on.” I got my feet wet pretty quickly in 2009 by owning a company and quickly, I sold it back to our other partners because we were not going to get along through it. Those are all for a reason. We signed a non-compete and I stayed there for about three years. We did about 85% of the business, the entire company, just our team.
What happened at that point was, at the time, he was going to shut us down. We looked at all the companies. All the big names were interviewed with them. We thought about shutting it down and going to work with them. Fast forward, Brookfield bought Prudential and flipped us to HomeServices of America, which is brilliant. It was the coolest thing ever.
At that point, we are like, “We are spending a lot of money on brand recognition. We are going to have to spend a lot of money to turn all our stuff over to Berkshire Hathaway. Let's go down this rabbit trail one more time and see what's out there.” I think our franchise agreement was coming up. We hired a business coach and a real estate coach and said, “If we opened our own company, what do we need to do?”
It was three intensive days of mission and vision. We were like, “What do we want to do? Who are going to be owners?” There are 7 of us but only 3 of us came out as owners. We had some hard conversations. We were about a year before we jumped out of our current brokerage. We kept going through it and saying, “Should we open a market center for Keller Williams?” It was an option.
[caption id="attachment_4294" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Enhanced Consumer Experience: A lot of people can find the business, but without the structure, they can't handle it.[/caption]
We do this and this. We did our due diligence. It was not a quick decision. It was in-depth and we decided at the last moment, “Why fly somebody else's flag on our building if it's all our money and we can do it differently?” We took that money that we were given by Warren Buffett and put it into staff. It was a little different but it helped us know who we were. Opening a brokerage is not for everybody. It's not profitable half the time. If it's somebody's goal, they got to be into it because it's not easy and not the best route for a lot of people.
The word margins overtake your life.
It's a constant battle. Agents want as much money as possible. You've got to make much money to pay everybody. The staff wants more money. It's tough.
As you've grown the brokerage, affiliate operations have been a big part of what you are doing. The first one of all wasn't titled. I always expect to see. You went with insurance first. Why insurance? I don't know if I know another team that brought on insurance into the fold.
This was our pandemic response. Several years before the pandemic, we went down the rabbit trail and it wasn't going to work out for us. Insurance is hard. It's like a mafia. The way the carriers work, they control everything. I was fortunate when the pandemic happened. We did fund like every other real estate company.
My partner and I were like, “We've got people in place to help run the company, why don't you try and find other aspects for making money? If this happens again or the recession happens again, we have some other avenues.” We started the insurance company. We are fortunate that team up with a company that helped us get a lot of carriers. I was able to acquire a great producer that had the experience that wanted to come to help us.
The reason is we are doing 500 or 600 transactions and 60% of those are buyers. I started looking at it and when do most people get their insurance? It's when the lender goes, “You need it. I got a friend. Let me get you a quote.” You don't know if it's the best quote. Insurance is notorious for poor customer service.
If I can have a great insurance experience, which nobody wants to talk about insurance, it's not a fun thing to talk about but everybody has to have it. If I can give them a great experience that keeps them under the real estate umbrella as well but it only helps my agents, it helps me give our clients a good experience and helps me stay a part of the clients in a different manner. It, to us, went hand in hand. It's not as hard as most people think but it's a little bit to get going.