When it comes to working at odds versus working together, the distinction isn’t always as clear as you might think. Competition and collaboration both have their place at work — especially in real estate. You just have to know when to use them. Put simply, collaboration is a win-win mentality. In practice, positive collaboration between agents generally ends with the contract being signed and the transaction closing in 30-45 days. Though there’s certainly a time and a place in the industry for competition, I find that it’s usually a win-lose mentality.
The Time and Place
Collaborative agents generally facilitate easy showings on their properties; in fact, they’re willing to share anything that will help put deals together without jeopardizing their client relationships. They return calls promptly, talk through issues openly, and look for multiple options. And when it’s time to wrap things up, they also let their clients make decisions on their own — pressure-free. As a result, I’ve found that collaborative agents enjoy their work more, foster better working relationships, and generate enough business to take care of themselves and their families.
Competitive agents, on the other hand, tend to try too hard to prove their value to clients. They won’t hesitate to interject their opinions or push clients to respond in certain ways. They tend to return calls late (if ever), withhold information, and react defensively to questions. If you’re working with an agent who’s constantly aloof or focused on maintaining the upper hand, he or she probably has a competitive nature. In those instances, you’ll probably have to “check” the agent by matching his or her level of competition.
Similarly, you should respond in a collaborative way to collaborative agents. When both parties work together well, it will be a fun, win-win experience for everyone. It is important, however, not to put your own personal interests above those of the client. Sometimes, when two agents are collaborative, they go out of their way to make the transaction enjoyable, but as a result, the client may not be getting the best representation.
That’s where a bit of healthy competition can be beneficial. The key is not crossing the line into toxicity. When agents are more concerned with jockeying for power, the deal may never reach an agreement. And even if the deal does go through, there’s a good chance it will die during inspections.
If you notice toxic competition among your agents, it’s critical to correct it before it damages the individual or agency’s reputation. I witnessed one case of anxiety-fueled competitiveness where an agent presented an offer substantially lower than the asking price. That same agent then offered to “help” the listing agent understand why he overpriced the home. Eventually, the buyer and seller each fired the overly competitive agents, preferring to work out a deal without them.
Maintaining a Healthy Balance
Once, a mentor shared a core philosophy that’s always stuck with me: “Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.” When finding the healthy balance between collaboration and competition, remember that working with someone else doesn’t mean you’re weak or unable to advocate for your clients. In fact, it takes a stronger agent to work collaboratively than to work competitively.
I always teach my agents to work toward a collaborative atmosphere tinged with healthy competition. Here are a few best practices to do just that:
1. Get out of the way. I’ve had buyers approach me because their current agents were overcomplicating the contract process. Too much back and forth might be a sign that one party is crossing into toxic competitive territory. The goal is to guide your clients with good intentions — and understand when to stop pushing. After all, if you can’t ultimately negotiate a successful contract, the time spent throughout the transaction has been a waste — period.
2. Keep score. This sounds inherently competitive, but I simply mean that you should know how other agents work and keep a record on them. When I played baseball, for example, we kept track of which types of pitches the other players hit, who was most likely to try to steal a base, who would bunt for a base hit, and who would swing for the fences. This information is a valuable tool for gaining a better understanding of your competitors.
3. Negotiate for — not against — the client. When negotiating with other agents, take a step back and ask yourself: Am I negotiating for or against my client? Is everyone walking away from the transaction feeling pleased, or did I have to get down and dirty to negotiate a win-lose? Successful agents will always prioritize clients’ wishes are over potential commissions to avoid falling into toxic competition.
If you can let clients make their own decisions, recognize and understand how the agents around you work, and position clients’ goals above your own monetary gains, you’ll be well on your way to establishing the perfect balance of competition and collaboration.
Jeff Thompson is managing partner at Windermere Group One. WGO is a member of Windermere Real Estate, a real estate network comprised of 300 offices and more than 6,000 agents throughout the western United States. Jeff is truly passionate about helping build companies by building their people. He leverages his 25-plus years of experience in real estate to coach other managers and brokers. Jeff credits much of his success to hard work and a willingness to partner with good people.