Should you leave or stay in production? 13 team leaders weigh in

Mindset & Motivation
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Should you stay or should you go? For top producers, this question is so much more than the title of a chart-topping hit from the early ‘80s.

Leaving sales production is a goal for many real estate agents and leaders, but it’s also one of the most difficult things you can do. And it certainly isn’t for everyone.

In the spirit of boldly doing what works for you, we’ve rounded up insights from 13 inspiring team owners and leaders on why they decided to stay in or leave active sales production.

Team “stay”: Why you don’t have to leave sales production if you don’t want to

One of the great and hard things about real estate is that there’s no wrong or right way to do it. 

Deciding whether to leave or stay in production is just one of many major crossroads you’ll face. And the truth is, there are so many more answers than simply “stay” or “go”.

In our conversations with leading teams and brokers, we found that many get stuck in the middle or end up flipping back and forth. To kick off our discussion, let’s start by diving into the argument against leaving production.


1. Maximize your personal productivity first

In the early days of his real estate career, Suneet Agarwal saw leaving production as a “merit badge”.

Not anymore. As the CEO and Owner of Big Block Realty North and Best Sac Homes Group, he now believes in leveraging your own potential first. 

And even though he is no longer in active production, he’s still a card-carrying member of “team stay”. That is, at least until you’re really ready to make the switch.

Here are some of the biggest tips he’s picked up on the way to building the #1 team in Sacramento:

  • Get an admin - “Everyone should have an admin,” says Suneet in a recent episode of Real Estate Team OS. He even suggests giving your admin a ‘manager’ title to more accurately reflect the critical role they play.
  • Take splits like an agent - Work in the team and take splits like an agent until you reach a point where you no longer need to.
  • Know your profits - Including your margins and cost of goods sold. When Suneet’s bookkeeper at Reside brought this concept to life, it was a game-changer for comparing the health of the business when in vs. out of production.
  • Level up your productivity - Suneet is an avid user of task boards. He spends one day per week delegating action items across multiple teams to stay in touch with the wider business.

Whether you choose to stay in or come out of production, maximize your own personal productivity before taking on the commitment of holding other people responsible for theirs.

2. Let your strengths and self-awareness guide your decision

Phil Gerdes left production for the wrong reasons — and he’s the first to admit it.

“For me it was a test, like can I leave production? Ultimately, I could but what I found was I left production for the wrong reasons. I left production because it seemed cool. It seemed like what everyone was doing … but again that wasn't where my strengths lay.”

In his role as the Associate Broker and Team Leader of The Gerdes Team in Annapolis, Maryland, he’s determined to stay active. And he believes the entire team is better for it.

“As soon as I got back into production, guess what my agents did? They got back into production.”

Rather than trying to convince agents to follow his processes, returning to active production enabled Phil to model the behavior he wanted to see. And because he was getting results, agents were only too happy to follow his lead.

By having the self-awareness to play to his own strengths, he was able to uplift the entire team. And for Phil, that meant staying in active production.

3. Support your vision through active production

Melissa Sofia is another big believer in being the change you want to see in your team. 

As the Broker at The Avenue Home Collective serving all of San Diego County, she is proudly in production and sees it as crucial to maintaining a thriving team ethos.

“A lot of people in my position typically step very quickly out of active production, but there’s a need that I feel is very important,” she explains.

“When as leaders we start to separate ourselves … it can hurt our agents because we can't guide them as closely. You better have somebody who is very good, as good as you are to guide your agents in that area if you're not going to be the one to do it.”

Melissa is still doing a lot of the same things she was always doing, just on a bigger and higher level than before.

She’s now reached the point where she’s actively bringing on new team members to take on some of the responsibilities she simply doesn’t have time for. And she’s not cutting any corners on recruitment.

“I just make sure the people I'm bringing in have high-caliber integrity and will maintain the same quality level of service that I provide,” Melissa explains.

4. Stay in production to stay in the know

Markets shift. Conversations shift. Training shifts.

Experts like Ben Bluemle should know. The Broker and Owner of Seaport Real Estate in Savannah, Georgia went from seven days on market during the Covid era to 62 days on market today.

In a recent Real Estate Team OS episode, Ben describes his “stay in touch” approach, always remaining active in some way, shape or form, depending on the market and his personal goals. But how does that impact his recruitment strategy?

Ben admits a lot of agents don’t want to come to a firm that has a “competing broker”, but his agent-up approach makes it clear he’s here to support them.

Here’s a how he does it:

  • Stay present - Know what’s happening in the market so you can support your team in actively achieving their own goals. Ben tells new hires straight up: “I will never be a competing broker, but I promise you I will always be active in some capacity.”
  • Put big decisions to a vote - Ben’s a big believer in taking a bottom-up approach by asking his team directly for their input on big decisions like which new roles to hire for and more.
  • Delegate incrementally - By working in close collaboration with his team, Ben’s been able to remove tasks from his and his agents’ plates at a steady and organic pace.
  • Meet regularly - Every month Ben and his team meet outside the office to discuss ways that can be more productive and get creative about solutions.

5. Define what “out of production” means to you

Renee Funk, Team Leader of The Funk Collection in Orlando, Florida has a bone to pick with the term “out of production”.

For years, she and her husband Jeff worked in a model where the team leaders did most of the production. They thought about leaving production for three years, carefully considering not just the financial implications, but also who they are as individuals, the work they want to do, and what it would mean as a next step for the business.

“The phrase ‘out of production’ has been sitting uncomfortably to me … because the reality is we’re not really out of production,” Renee explained during an exclusive FUBCON session. Renee is grateful to receive stellar referrals from past clients and other agents and team leaders. When those opportunities arise, she’s going to step up and serve. 

For her, the benefit of this “light stay” approach is twofold:

“Number one, we keep our toes in the pond. We're relevant. We can walk the walk and understand what it takes from having the agent hat on as compared to the team leader hat. The other benefit is that sometimes the customer wants to work with the team leader and we understand that.”

As her role has evolved, Renee has redefined what it means to be “out of production”. And while she’ll gladly take personal referrals in neighborhoods she knows and loves, there is a limit.

Of all their incoming leads, she and Jeff keep only about five transactions per year. This allows them to maintain relevance, while making it clear that their primary mission is to uplift agents.

6. Let the numbers be your guide

Katie Day was at a crossroads. She had heard all the hype about team building. And she knew it was time to scale — she just didn’t know how much.

“People talk about how great it is to leave production and the math seems very simple. But realistically, if you do 30 deals a year, you probably need 90 deals from team agents to make up that amount of money, depending on what your split is,” she says.

She decided to stay small, focused and active, with a “SEAL team” of motivated agents. “We knew we could probably make the same amount of money with eight agents as opposed to 30.”

Rather than taking the time to build out an infrastructure capable of supporting a 50-person team, Katie focuses her energy on listings, which dramatically reduces her time spent on showings.

“I continue to sell homes to understand what's happening in the market, to understand what's working and not working for getting offers accepted, and to be able to coach my agents."

Katie adds, "As time goes on, I'll probably sell fewer and fewer homes to provide more opportunity to the team, but from a bandwidth perspective, 20 to 30 homes is a doable amount."

Team “go”: Leaving sales production for full-time team leadership

For some team leaders, the question isn’t whether to stay or go. It’s knowing when it’s time to leave.

As with a few of our experts on “team stay”, some of the following leaders chose to leave production only to go back in, then leave again. Whether they’ve left and stayed out, or taken more of a boomerang approach, there’s something to learn from each one of their stories.

1. Transitioning from a personal to a team mindset

Lauren Bowen has experienced multiple “leaps” in her career — from working in an operating room to becoming a real estate agent, agent to team leader, team leader to leader of multiple team leaders, and finally Chief Operating Officer (COO).

In her current role as COO for Florida-based mega team Robert Slack LLC, Lauren serves over 800 agents.

With thousands of leads coming in every month, she’s trained her brain to be constantly thinking about ways she can take some of the burden off her agents so they can stay focused on providing the best experience for buyers and sellers.

Transitioning from a personal to a team mindset has been one of Lauren’s biggest professional milestones to date. By making that crucial perspective shift, she’s been able to establish new agent training and lead distribution strategies to elevate the business. And she’s trained their team leaders to do the same.

“My team leaders have to be consistent because when they are leading a team, their team has to know that through all these changes, they have a constant. They have someone who is gonna be consistently there for them,” explains Lauren. Leadership isn’t for everyone. But it is one of the things she’s most proud of.

2. Finding the right people is hard, but you’ll figure it out

As the Team Leader at Virginia Beach based The Gelzinis Group, Tiffany Gelzinis knows exactly how hard it is to use both sides of your real estate brain at work every day.

“One of the biggest challenges in running a team is going from being a high-performing agent … to a team leader and trying to balance being in production and running a business at the same time. It’s a hard transition,” says Tiffany.

After taking a good look at the numbers, it was clear she couldn’t continue carrying the team. It was time ask herself the tough questions:

  • How do I get agents productive without too much hand holding?
  • What tasks do I actually enjoy? 
  • What don’t I enjoy?
  • Is having a team really worth it?

That last one is especially hard. But for leaders like Tiffany, the real estate journey is a whole lot easier if you dare to ask it early.

Instead of recruiting brand new agents like she used to, Tiffany focused on finding experienced agents, starting with an apprentice who would work alongside her so she could ground the training more deeply in her own proven ways of working.

“I was able to greatly increase production in that year...Recruiting my apprentice was what I needed to prove that it wasn’t my leads, it wasn’t my system, and it wasn’t me. I just didn’t have the right people yet.”

3. You don’t have to double your team to leave production

When Daniel Dixon realized he wasn’t being the father and husband he wanted to be, he knew it was time to make a change. “I was trying to be the marketing guy, the internet guy, service my clients at a high level, help with transaction support, coach agents, and it just became clear that something was going to break,” he explains in a recent episode of the Real Estate Team OS podcast.

But leaving production meant finding new ways to make money. He would either need more agents for more transactions or more money per transaction.

Daniel didn’t want to double his headcount. Instead, he developed a three-pronged strategy focused on leveraging the things that mattered most to his business:

  • Control the transaction - After being let down by several lenders, Daniel built his own mortgage company to assist clients.
  • Control the experience - With control over the transaction, Daniel was also in control of the client experience and in a much better position to scale that experience across the team.
  • Control the growth - By developing a portfolio of ancillary businesses while elevating the client experience, Daniel could continue to grow without the burden of additional headcount and the increased lead costs that come along with it.

“If I can control my client experience, I can get five-star reviews for the service we deliver,” Daniel explains. “I’m able to start focusing on scaling that growth and really increase our revenue per transaction number as commission compression and lead cost expenses become more of an issue.”

With over 500 five-star reviews on Google and a thriving network of referral partners to support his businesses, Daniel no longer has to worry about how many listings he sells on his own. He has a scalable strategy he can take far into the future.

4. Think bigger than sales volume

A decade ago, Kris Lindahl spent his final year in full-time production closing 175 homes — that’s one home every two days with the help of just one assistant. This was back in 2014, before the rise of paid leads. 

Even if he wanted to, Kris had no way to simply purchase leads, pass them to agents, and collect the arbitrage. “That's what most teams have done over the last seven years and now they find themselves in a position where they're not really in a good place financially,” he explains.

When Kris started his team, he was completely capped out. Here are some of his biggest lessons learned on the way to becoming the founder and CEO of Kris Lindahl Real Estate, one of Canada’s largest teams:

  • Start with a foundation of strong relationships - Whether you call them your advocates, your evangelists or simply your sphere, find the people who are going to support you no matter what and tell them about your mission.
  • Build systems you can scale - You’ve got to take the time to document your processes and create established systems you can scale as you distribute leads to new agents.
  • Provide ongoing training - You can’t hold agents accountable if you don’t give them the tools they need to succeed. As your approach evolves, update and develop your training and education to rewire both your own and your team’s mindsets.

And the idea of maintaining an “always learning” philosophy absolutely applies to Kris himself. “Looking back now, I didn’t have any of the skills or education in how to build a business and lead other people. No wonder I had such a hard time getting out of production."

Even though he left, returned and ultimately left again, Kris wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. The empathy, strategy and patience he’s learned along the way have proven to be more than worth it.

“I had to remind myself, ‘I’m six years into doing this at a very high level’ … I have knowledge and experience that I can’t expect other people to have because of the volume I was doing."

5. Take your hats off slowly

Jenny Wemert was the proverbial “rainmaker trying to take the hats off”.

In her current role as Team Leader of Wemert Group Realty based in Orlando, Florida, she’s all about putting the right people in the right seats. And in the early stages of building a team, she followed all the correct first steps, like hiring an admin and bringing on a buyer’s agent.

But when it came to exiting production, “I was slow to give up the listing side of things because honestly, that's where the profit was,” says Jenny

Believe it or not, it was an invitation to serve as her daughter’s volunteer assistant cheer coach that finally swayed her decision. 

“People who are leading teams are probably superstar agents and have high capacity. Not everyone has the same capacity and we shouldn’t expect them to.”

One of her biggest lessons learned? Agents can only handle so many relationships at one time.

“If you're carrying 30 listings and you have a number of pendings, that's a lot of balls to keep in the air,” Jenny explains. With a team of support staff behind her to pick up the pieces, she ended up transitioning agents into a listings role with an unsustainable amount of leverage behind them.

“The cost is unsustainable. In hindsight, I should have let all my agents take over listings and not overload one or two agents and spoil them with a bunch of unsustainable leverage behind them. I needed agents to carry their five or 10, maintain the relationships, do the work, and not be so leveraged with all the admin behind them — because that became a house of cards,” she explains.

To keep morale (and productivity) high, she recommends bringing in two listing agents at once so that they learn to share early. She also recommends listening to agents when they say it’s time to bring on more help.

6. Set standards you can feel good about

Laurie Finkelstein Reader is leader of the Laurie Finkelstein Reader Team in South Florida, with nearly 8,000 families served and $3 billion in sales.

When the time came to exit production, she was nothing less than confident. With a small but mighty team of agents that she personally coached, trained, and mentored, she knew her team would be able to deliver the same level of service her clients were accustomed to getting. 

It’s been six years, and she hasn’t sold a single home since.

“If you’ve spent the time and effort to make sure your culture and standards are intact, and that you really poured into these people who are taking over your book of business, it should be pretty seamless.”

Laurie is as big on relationships with agents as she is with clients. As a major bonus, trusting other people with her business has also empowered Laurie to deepen her relationship with herself.

“As soon as I came out of production, the business exploded. Sometimes you need to step aside and let your people do what they want to do,” she says. “I had 20 years in the field and it was time for me to go work on growth and development, which I love.”

7. Go 100% all-in

Jeremy Larson loves being a leader. “That's where my passion is, so that's the path that I went down,” he explained during a recent FUBCON session. “I get just as excited when somebody else on the team gets a contract as I do when I get one in for myself.”

The CEO of the California-based Larson Real Estate Team always knew he wanted to become a team leader — but walking away from production still wasn’t easy. 

The first year running a team, Jeremy brought in 30% of the $100M in production generated as a 7-agent team. The load was simply too heavy to carry. However, Jeremy’s mentor pulled him aside and challenged him to make a real commitment to leaving production for full-time leadership.

“Something magical happens when you pull out of production and you tie 100% of your success to the success of others.”

And he’s never looked back.

“If you're still working with clients, you can probably carry a handful of agents on your back. But as that team grows, you can't truly focus on the team to the best of your ability when you're having to deal with a lot of clients,” he explains.

By going 100% all-in on leaving production, Jeremy has created much more clarity in his business. He knows exactly who’s during the work, who he wants on his team, and how to continue growing his business.

Create a business that takes you where you want to go

In the modern game of real estate, there’s no limit to the ways you can grow and scale your business. 

Whether you decide to leave production and fully commit to team leadership, remain in active production, or meet in the middle with a ‘stay in touch’ approach — the only “correct” answer is the one that works for you.


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