Debra Beagle always had a knack for solving problems.
As a former chemist and corporate environmental consultant and current co-owner and Managing Broker of the #1 RE/MAX team in the world, she’s used to juggling a variety of tasks. Whether it’s solving an issue with a crawl space or a sticky due diligence hurdle in a high-stakes commercial transaction, Debra will figure it out.
But it wasn’t until her mother (a retired Michigan-based Realtor) urged her to try her hand at residential real estate that Debra found her passion. In fact, the day after she got her license her broker took Debra and her team out on a caravan to see the listed properties in her area — and Debra found one that she loved. She told the listing agent she wanted to do an open house on it and after some role-playing with her broker, she was ready.
An older couple came in and stayed at Debra’s open house for an hour and half. “They ended up writing an offer on the house that day. And they had a house to sell. So I got my first listing and my first sale on my first day on the job, which never really happens, but you never know, so always be ready and have great resources to get the job done.”
Her instant success earned Debra the nickname, “the house whisperer”. And the rest, as they say, is history. We sat down with Debra to find out exactly how she went from solo agent to co-leader of the highest-producing RE/MAX team in the world.
From residential Realtor to co-owner of #1 RE/MAX team in the world
In 2011, Debra found herself with a ton of listings, the vast majority from SOI marketing. Then, she met Gary Ashton.
“When Gary and I met, it was almost a yin and yang. I’ve always been very passionate about Realtor development and education and when I looked at it, I was like, ‘Wow. I have 20 to 30 listings and you have a ton of buyers. What if we merged our styles?'”
With Gary’s internet genius and small but fierce team, and Debra’s stellar lineup of listings and passion for mentoring, the business just “exploded.”
At the time, Debra was at about $8-9 million in revenue as a solo agent, and Gary and his team were at about $79 million. Gary’s marketing acumen was bringing in a steady flow of leads (his website’s been generating leads since 2004), but most importantly, the two were aligned on one critical factor:
Training agents to be the very best in the market.
Today, their rockstar team is on track to hit an annual revenue goal of over $400 million.
Debra has left her open house days behind and is now responsible for managing the operations for their entire team of 120 agents based in Nashville.
How to develop a team of high-converting real estate agents
So how does one hit the top spot? According to Debra, a main factor is who you hire.
“We’re very selective. We want motivated agents who want to succeed in this business and are very intentional about their business,” she says.
And with 10-15 agents knocking down the door every week, she can certainly afford to be choosy. But ambitious agents wouldn’t be so eager to join the team if there weren’t something in it for them. “It’s about making sure you’re bringing in the right agents and making sure you have the right systems, support and processes in place for them to succeed. Because in the end, our agents want to thrive, sell and make money. We’re helping them do that,” Debra explains.
Agents at The Ashton Real Estate Group have the opportunity to grow their personal business, but they also have the opportunity to use — and profit from — the team’s proven process.
“We rolled out Follow Up Boss in October and it’s been a game-changer for us in terms of accountability and having everything synced in through the phone. It makes it easy for us to help our agents monitor how they are following up.”
Agents on the team can choose to work for themselves, but if they follow the team system’s that have been put in place, they can guarantee success. “It used to take about 90-120 days for a new agent to write a contract, now with our training and process systems agents are successfully writing contracts within 30 days,” says Debra.
Hire agents who are ready to work and learn
“When I interview a potential agent I want to know all about them. Where they grew up, where they went to high school. What types of jobs they’ve had. There’s a lot you can learn about a person based on their past work history. Were they entrepreneurial? Were they strictly 9-5? I also want to know their “WHY”, what motivates them.”
Debra also makes sure to ask candidates why they chose real estate. “It’s more than just selling houses and looking at houses. Sure, you love houses. But can you project manage? Are you good with people? Are you good on the phone and client follow up? How do you handle stressful situations”
Debra speaks with all potential team hires on the phone first. “With us, the phone call is very important. They’ve got to be good on the phone; and making a connection with people” And with up to 15 people calling for jobs every week, she also likes to see a little persistence. “Persistence is big in real estate. There’s nobody there to tell you when to get up in the morning and how to schedule your day.”
Here are a few other interview questions Debra likes to ask to help make sure a candidate has what it takes:
- What’s a day like in your life?
- Do you have a system?
- How do you schedule your time throughout your week?
- How do you plan?
“In real estate, you’ve got to structure yourself. There isn’t anyone telling you what to do with your day but you” explains Debra. However, she believes an element of flexibility, and the ability to put out fires, are crucial characteristics for finding success in real estate.
“We’ve had some very successful newly-licensed agents who came from service industry jobs. I’ll ask them questions like, ‘Did you have customers come back and ask for you repeatedly? Did you ever have someone who came in who was angry or mad? How did you deal with and handle the situation?'”
“In real estate, there’s almost always a major life event happening at the time of the home purchase. Your client might be going through downsizing, upsizing, divorce, getting married, having a baby, etc. Things can get challenging and even for the nicest clients when they’re put in a stressful situation struggle. Not only do you have to manage the project, you also have to keep everybody calm. We look for business minded agents who are learning-based, motivated and problem solvers. If you want to learn and want to work, you’re the type of agent we’re looking for.”
Debra once hired a former server who is now a top real estate agent that showed promise. He was able to diffuse a difficult situation, created by something out of his control, and win the heart of an unhappy customer by simply caring and bringing them a slice of apple pie. In real estate, creative problem solving is a major asset.
“You find great people that come from all types of different backgrounds but I think it all comes down to them not being afraid to meet people, having a strong work ethic, and having the heart to want to help people.” Once you have that, all you have to do is hand them the right tools,” says Debra.
A day in the life of a world-leading real estate agent
As you might expect, agents who work for Debra’s rockstar team are task management experts.
Every Sunday they plan their time for the upcoming week, just like they would at any other job. They block time for follow ups, showings and learning. They even schedule their personal and family time so that their week is almost completely blocked out. “You can make adjustments as needed, especially because our market is pretty competitive at certain price points, so if a listing comes up you may need to be flexible. The beauty of our team is that you have agents who can fill in for you and help if you need it,” explains Debra.
“The biggest thing is structuring your day so that you do follow up. So if you have a block of time Thursday from 9-11am to follow up and something urgent comes up with a deal, you’ve got to get those 2 hours back in the schedule.”
Falling behind on follow up is a common problem. And one that Debra sees all too often. “Agents get 6 or 7 deals under contract and they get so caught up in the contract part of it that the follow up is the first thing to go.”
Debra recommends using Saturday mornings to make up for lost follow up time during the week. She also believes agents should get a little help managing their time once they’re under contract. At the Ashton Real Estate Group, rockstar agents get access to an in-house assistant to help them with closing details, so they can keep selling. “We need agents to be smart with their time. It’s super important,” explains Debra.
Which brings us to to the inevitable question.
How can you help your agents achieve work-life balance?
Work-life balance is a big issue for everyone these days, especially Realtors. Debra knows because she’s been there.
Debra’s kids are now both in college, but they were around when she was knee-deep in the business as a solo agent. “I scheduled everything. I dedicated the time blocked for my kids to truly being there with my kids. I was also very conscious of the phone because I was on the phone a lot. When I was with the kids I would actually turn the ringer off. I really tried hard to be present. I worked while they were at school and in the evenings after they went to bed.”
Debra also created a schedule where she did only 3 open house weekends per month (Sundays from 1-3pm). The fourth weekend was exclusively for family, and that went right into her schedule.
“Our team is 65% women and we have a lot of top-producing six-figure moms on our team. I have one mom that has 5 kids under the age of 11. These moms are hugely successful. Early on my career, my first broker was a woman and she was a great leader and a big inspiration to me. I’ve been fortunate to have met a lot of really strong women in leadership roles in real estate that have inspired me.”
Debra was not shy about listing off her female role models in the business, including, Elizabeth Mendenhall, RE/MAX owner and president of NAR, Daisy Lopez-Cid, president of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, Leigh Brown, president of the Residential Real Estate Council (formerly known as CRS) and Sherry Chris, president and CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate.
“These ladies all inspired me to be the best that I can be in real estate. This is a great career opportunity. There’s no ceiling. You make the business what you want to make it. If you want to make $50K per year, $100K per year or a quarter million, or a million per year, in this business as a female, there’s no one telling you you can’t. It goes back to systems, process and working your business as a business.”
How to create a winning team culture to attract and retain rockstar agents
“We’ve built a diverse team where everyone is supportive of everyone, regardless of age, color, gender, whatever. It’s about what each individual can contribute and how hard they’re willing to work. Plus, we have a lot of fun.”
She’s not kidding. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the awesome perks of working on the team.
- Lake Day – For this event, the entire team goes out on boats and pontoons and chills out on the lake.
- Team Tailgate – As the official Real Estate Team of the Titans, the Ashton Real Estate Group has an acre of land on the south end of the stadium. They park a big RV and grill out with clients for every home game.
- Trolley Day – Every June, Debra and the team hop into a big open trolley and ride around town learning about all the new developments in Nashville.
- Preds Day – In February, Debra hosts the monthly team meeting at a Predators game at Bridgestone arena.
And of course, their annual holiday party is a must-attend event.
The team usually gets together for at least one activity per month. That’s important, especially when you consider that 55% of the team is made up of millennials, a unique group of workers known for valuing purpose and experience, over money.
How to keep agents (especially millennials) motivated
The brick-and-mortar aspects of the business have evolved over the years, right alongside the rest of her business.
“We went from a traditional office 7 years ago, to smaller “office areas”, before finally discovering our new work space, a 3,000 square foot cafe style office. With most agents working from home offices.” Since making the move however, they’ve noticed more and more team members coming into the office. They also noticed that the team members who come in are much more productive.
“They’re getting together in groups to inspire and motivate each other. We’ve definitely seen more millennials wanting to come back into the office which has been interesting. We’ll come in in the morning and see groups of them in different sort of ‘pockets’. They’re definitely excited to be here.”
But more than any cutting-edge office design, Debra credits their above average level of passion to the group’s rock-solid hiring and development process. “These are millennials. They want to be a part of something big. The sky’s the limit and they’re ready to work, but they also want to have fun. It’s all about the experiences.”
Debra also supports her team with in-depth training and development programs, as well as quarterly check-ins to help keep agents inspired and accountable.
New agents are partnered with a mentor who offers individualized coaching and shares updates on how the mentoree is progressing. “The phone calls are challenging for some agents. They’d rather text or email, and those are good forms of communication too, but getting someone on the phone is critical. We look to see how they’re doing with their follow up calls and check in on their activities with their clients. We also do goal planning when they first start and then again annually. We want to do what we can to keep them on track to hitting those goals.”
A healthy dose of empowerment and accountability
Agents on the team have to make 10 calls a day to be eligible for receiving more leads.
“With Follow Up Boss, it’s easy to track. With us, it’s not one or the other. They can work personal business and team. But if they want to take leads from the company, they have to be making their calls and follow up through Follow Up Boss.”
If they’re not hitting their targets, our Director of Development Donovan Degelau or one of our team experts will make sure they have all the tools and training they need to get back on track. “We have agents that have been with us 10 years and we’ve got some really strong agents on the team, even some who have their broker designations,” says Debra.
Debra utilizes her in-house experts — a group of pros who cover everything from land sales to new constructions and commercial real estate — to provide learning and development opportunities to the rest of the team through roundtables, masterminds and activities management training. The goal is to bring the entire team to reach a level of mastery in the real estate business.
Every month there’s a new class from either an in-house or in-field expert for agents to take advantage of. For agents at the Ashton Real Estate Group, it’s easy to stay completely up to date on insurance-related issues, changes in Nashville’s short-term rental markets, even feng shui. Next week, they’re hosting a CPA-led session to help the 1099 agents stay on track with their taxes (and avoid any big surprises come April).
Scott Hull, the team’s Director of Sales, has also started a voluntary accountability group where agents pair up to make sure they make progress on their goals. And for that, he uses Follow Up Boss to keep everyone on track.
“It’s a great system,” says Debra. “Real estate is an evergreen. The longer you’re in the business, the more it grows, so work smarter and leverage your time. With the right systems in place you can get as much done as possible, and still have a life. Follow Up Boss has made our agents more productive and put more money in their pockets.”