When a real estate agent across the country needed to let someone go, Ashley Lunn’s half-hour call with the agent revolved around how to do it well, and how to help that person find a new opportunity elsewhere.
During another phone call, Lunn heard from an agent who went on five appointments in one week but did not get any sales or clients, and she coached the agent on what to do next.
As a real estate coach for years, Lunn has been paired with at least 600 agents -- people who are based around the country, with different markets and different needs, and who are paying Keller Williams MAPS Coaching up to $1,000 per month for Lunn to hold them accountable as they grow their business.
“Real estate has a very, very low bar of entry,” Lunn said. “People who get in it tend to really value their freedom, so they get in for financial freedom, freedom of a boss, and freedom of really having to have a schedule. And that sets you up for failure.”
Humans are not wired for personal accountability -- Lunn herself has three coaches who push her to be a better coach, a better business owner for Coronado Luxury Living, and to best prioritize her time between the many hats she wears -- making coaches an attractive choice for individuals working for themselves.
The decision to hire a coach comes with a significant financial investment, but coaching companies tell potential clients the rewards can be high. Depending on the company and the model, not only will agents speak with a coach on a regular basis, but they may have group meetings, attend seminars and motivational sessions, and receive marketing and other business materials.
Coaches can steer an agent according to their needs, such as how to achieve certain numbers of transactions, and how to best spend time and energy. Some agents may want to close on just a handful of transactions, such as for supplemental income, while others strive for dozens of closings. A coach can help set and fine-tune business plans for different needs.
There is no regulation of or license requirement for coaches.
National companies take different approaches toward steering their participants to success: Buffini & Company focuses on referrals; Tom Ferry – Your Coach emphasizes prospecting and cold calls; MAPS includes a little bit of everything.
“Our company is very much a humanistic company,” Lunn said about MAPS, or Mega Achievement Productivity Systems, a division of Austin, Texas-based Keller Williams. “We want to invest as much time and energy into the employees as we possibly can because we believe if they’re getting everything they need, our success is a byproduct.”
MAPS is highly model-oriented, Lunn explained, standing in her Coronado office, where the walls reflect the pages of Gary Keller’s 2004 book, "The Millionaire Real Estate Agent," which sets the foundation for the coaching programs.
While she turns often to her well-loved copy, with its colorful page flags and coffee stains, wall-mounted flow charts and pyramid charts are handy references for Lunn during her calls, which she takes at her standing-level desk. Systems and models underlie business decisions and are chosen based on agent behaviors and preferences.
For instance, when Lunn first starts with a new client, they’ll select four lead sources that the agent will focus on, and they’ll track results and adjust as needed.
Prior to weekly calls, agents send written updates so Lunn can prepare and ensure she also does her job well. Lunn, who was a mentor with Buffini in the past, receives regular training, as well.
“I know myself, and I know I won’t do all the things I’m supposed to do if I don’t have to answer to somebody,” said Lunn, who became an in-person coach with Keller Williams in 2005, and joined MAPS as an independent phone-based coach last October.
She likens business coaching to sports coaching -- if you have a coach telling you how to improve your golf swing, you most likely will get better. Businesses succeed likewise.
KW MAPS Coaching was founded in 2002 and now has 124 coaches with more than 15,000 clients. Of those, 2,801 associates are part of the individual coaching program, a 63 percent increase over the last year. All coaches have coaches themselves.
The company said that last year KW MAPS Coaching clients earned 315 percent more gross commission income than agents not working with a KW MAPS coach, and that clients sold 287 percent more units, and saw 335 percent more sales volume.
Fredy Garcia is one of Lunn’s newest agents. He just got his real estate license in October and is now busy designing marketing materials, updating his social media, going to listing appointments and holding open houses to try and push through his first three transactions. KW offers coaching for new agents during those initial deals, an attractive option for a real estate newcomer.
“Every time I leave a session, it’s almost like my battery is recharged,” Garcia said about his coaching sessions with Lunn. Showing houses during the low inventory climate can be disheartening, so coaching sessions make him feel pumped and ready to push harder.
Once he builds his business -- and if he can afford the investment -- Garcia said he hopes to continue with further coaching sessions.
Likewise, Chris Anderson, now the president of the Greater San Diego Association of Realtors, said the kickstart she received from coaching when she entered the real estate business in the 1980s was perhaps the best decision of her career.
“A lot of people, when they get into real estate, they're not used to being self-disciplined,” said Anderson, speaking from her personal opinion. “When you have a coach, it helps you be a lot more self-disciplined because you're accountable to somebody.”
While she just had one for her first year in the business, Anderson said other agents will hire coaches at various points in their career, or if they’re in a rut. Anderson, of Town & Country Real Estate in Ramona, has been considering the investment again.
Among the first big names in coaching was Mike Ferry; his son, Tom Ferry, founded Tom Ferry – Your Coach in 2004 in Irvine. The company currently has 60 coaches and is growing; its niche is top-producing luxury agents.
The company doesn’t disclose membership but said that it has doubled in size annually, and is on track to do so again this year. A success summit will be set in San Diego in August.
Buffini & Company says members of its one-on-one coaching program earn eight times the national average income; the national average gross income was $47,700 in 2013, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Membership tiers range from $129 per month for online training to $439 for one-on-one coaching. Buffini has 42 coaches who receive months of training, the company said, along with weekly ongoing training.
The company currently has 11,600 people in its membership programs, and has been growing strongly since the recession, when the company was forced to cut staff.
“Work by Referral, Live the Good Life!” is founder Brian Buffini’s motto, and also the title of one of his books.
“You set the goals you want and work the system to get there,” explained Mike Riley, director of marketing. “He’s put together a system that works if you really follow it.”
The foundation of the program rests on referrals and advocates personal gestures like Pop-Bys (stop by a client’s home with a gift), handwritten notecards and client parties.
Like other big-name coaches, Buffini takes on a rock star-like persona and fills convention centers with his own high level of vigor, personal stories and inspirational messages in hopes of producing motivated and successful Realtors.
At the San Diego Convention Center in mid-February, during the first stop on Buffini’s six-city Success Tour, nearly 2,000 agents who flew in from around the U.S. received an annual jolt of energy as Buffini explained how to use untapped potential.
“How many of you believe you could have greater days ahead of you than you’ve already had?” Buffini said, his Irish accent captivating the crowd. “Are you all in 100 percent in every area of your life? ... Yes, there is undeveloped power in all of us.”
Buffini made himself relatable -- sharing comic stories of his six athletic children whose names start with A, and how he has pushed them to always be their best, but to remain grounded and grateful.
“I’m in the potential business,” Buffini said. “I started a company to do this for a living, and I do this daily as a dad.”
Meanwhile, employees stood ready at the back of the Convention Center room to help attendees sign up for a coaching membership.