A real estate team is only as good as its members, and brokers are constantly on the hunt for the best. The task of finding and recruiting those top agents can be a hit-and-miss process though, consuming time, energy and resources.

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When I first sat down with AJ Plant, regional owner of Exit Realty Eastern Ontario, and Duncan MacDonald, a former Toronto Blue Jays scout hired to find franchise prospects and recruit agents for the region’s brokerages, I was eager to explore the connection between scouting for talent in the baseball world and seeking the best in the real estate industry.

Minutes into speaking with Duncan, his passion for discovering diamonds in the rough became clear. As he explained his process of seeking talent, his dynamic gestures and words made the room crackle with energy.

“The most exciting part,” he says, “was never knowing if I was assisting the next great.” He described with excitement how his role was essentially to be a treasure hunter, searching for the next champion whose raw talent he would help develop into professional-grade excellence.

Recognizing MacDonald’s unique talent and passion, Plant reached out, inviting MacDonald to train his eye for talent within the real estate industry instead. The two agree there are many similar characteristics found in top performers in both industries. Here they share five ways that brokers can focus their search for top talent for their own companies and identify good, coachable agents and make them great agents.

Plant says when scouting a salesperson who is already working in the industry, “we’re looking for certain characteristics.” In particular, “Work ethic, integrity and coachability” are the most important, he says.

1. Ask effective questions:

Much of what makes a person excel has less to do with financial resources, appearance or even their success in building up impressive sales statistics, and more to do with invisible qualities like integrity, empathy and their personal motivation for doing the work they do. A person’s potential is determined more by who they are than by what they do, and this is a key starting point for discovering excellent talent.

When asked how they discover these invisible aspects of a real estate agent, Plant says, “We ask effective questions.”

A critical element in sorting out what kind of person you’re dealing with is to explore their “why”.  The most powerful “why,” he says, is rooted in a desire to help others. “That’s what we look for.”

Ask questions that get to the heart of the agent’s motivations, and then “you know if you have someone or you don’t.”

2. Evaluate statistics, yes, but more importantly, their context:

When wondering where to find top producers, many look to statistics. It’s a good place to start – the 20-80 per cent rule applies in both baseball and real estate to help identify top producers. Relying heavily on statistics, though, can be misleading as to true talent.

For example, if an agent claims to be a million-dollar producer, what does that mean? Do they mean they did $1 million worth of transactions in the last year, or that they made $1 million? And if it was $1 million worth of sales, was it from two $500,000 sales, or five $200,000 ones? And how does any of that compare with the region and economy in which they’re working?

Straight-up statistics don’t tell the whole story, regardless of their source, so it’s critical not only to look at the numbers, but to understand their context.

3. Look for these habits:

“Habits predict results,” says MacDonald. To find the best performers, or those who will likely become top performers, evaluate their habits. Are they developing their skills? Are they practicing the things they need to develop in order to be among the best?

In baseball, Duncan would look at whether or not a pitcher is doing things like honing his curveball, perfecting the spin, upping revolutions and spending hours each week developing his accuracy or strengthening his throwing arm. By that aspect alone, he says, “you can predict who will be in that line up.”

In real estate, the principle holds. If an agent is practicing – and what particular skill isn’t as important as that they are intentionally developing – you can predict the ones who will do well.

4. Look for leadership qualities:

The best agents to have on board contribute not just to the company’s bottom line, but also intentionally empower other agents in the firm who they see not as competition, but as their teammates. This is a leader, and a priceless asset to any company. “We believe leadership accelerates growth and enriches lives,” says Plant, “and who doesn’t want that?”

Everyone thinks they’re a leader, says MacDonald, “but they’re not.”

Often, when thinking of what makes a leader, we think of someone who excels, the best of the bunch. Both men would disagree, however.

“You don’t have to be the best player on the team to be the captain,” Plant says, speaking from experience as a baseball team captain. Sometimes it’s putting a smile on when you’re personally having a bad game and cheering others on so they can excel, he says.

Leadership is about having a mindset of a team goal, they agreed, and it’s one of the top qualities they seek in their agents.

5. Find people who smile in the face of failure:

“Successful hitters fail seven out of 10 times,” says MacDonald.

“That’s easy,” says Plant. “The failure rate (in real estate) is 10 times that.” He says it’s common to have to approach 49 different people to get one person who may buy or sell in the next 12 months. It takes someone able to handle rejection and failure to thrive in those conditions.

One of the ways Plant sets out to discover an agent’s fortitude in the face of failure is to take them door knocking. “If you get seven doors slammed in your face, one “maybe” and two requests to call back, you want the person who says, “Yay! We got a maybe!” The person who focuses on the seven hard no’s is the person who won’t likely do well.

Also, it’s a chance to evaluate the agent’s coachability. “If someone was grumpy at the door, I’ll say, ‘How did you feel about that?’ Then I’ll say, ‘You know what you did wrong that time? You didn’t smile!’ If they take that advice to heart and adapt their approach, he says, “I know they’re willing (to learn).”


  1. Carolyne:
    I started in real estate in the 70’s. Almost every real estate company started their sales associates on a 50/50 split. Broker paid 100% of all the costs. At say 50000 gross commissions sales associate went to a 60/40 split. Few made the 60/40 split. However, if a top agent had a great personality and brought in the sales then they were given most of the good leads and business transfers. So it was easy for the top agents to succeed since the brokers depended on them to close the sales and bring in the commissions. The other less successful agents got some leads but few compared to the top 10 or 20 percent of sales associates. Was this fair. Life is not fair as we all know. Success brings success. The brokers depended on the few good agents so the bills could be paid and they made a profit. The good agents supported the average agents. Why else today would a brokerage hire 5000 agents knowing upfront 4000 will fail. Waste of time, but with a small monthly fee they can make a profit even if 4000 agents out of 5000 only sell 1 house a year. However, the few good agents will still get the leads and be able to get their picture in the paper as one of the top 100 agents in the company for the month. Are things any different today with agents paying a monthly desk fee to their broker?

    • David
      Well, I can only speak from my own experience of course, sir. I started in the business in 1980 and quickly became a top producer. I spent hours attending supplementary education courses and training programs. But as I have said previously, most were American-produced. Yes, I was on a 50:50 split. The intense hatred that evolved around my success was palpable. The manager was threatened, agents called head office to complain that a person completely new to the business simply could not generate the amount of business I was producing, therefore accused of “feeding” me. He wasn’t. The regional manager (now the founder of a giant North American franchise) was called in to quell the office melee. I had only been there less than a year. It is vital to maintain dignity and speak soto voce. No temper tantrums.

      Before the end of the first year I had had enough. Was I going to stay in the business or not. Several agents had left the company, blaming my success attached to having been fed leads (not one!). I walked out, knowing I had seven brand new listings on the white board. The next day a meeting was called and a draw was held to divide up my listings among the remaining agents and all those listings sold right away. I was paid not a penny. Because listings were “owned” by the company. I knew the listings would be lost income to me. But I simply couldn’t stay.

      A couple of years later, one of the hate-agents who had done awful things showed one of my listings and brought an offer COF for five biz days. On day three she called to say her so-called pre-approved buyer actually couldn’t get a mortgage and wanted a release. I thanked her for trying, and suggested she call my mortgage broker. She was gobsmacked that I would suggest such a thing after how she had treated me. However, she really wanted that (sub-agency) deal, did call and my mortgage broker saved the transaction. She said she never would have believed I would help her after how she had treated me. In truth I was helping my seller who was buying another house from me. Of course I got to put up the sold sign. I have always been heard to say: nothing sells like a sold sign. Almost immediately I got three new listings in that subdivision.

      I went on to spend years as a top producer and became the office number one Western Ontario Region agent out of 3000 reps, and the how did she get so much business interpretation never changed. I simply had to learn to ignore it, especially when a male agent one day told me I needed to go home where I belonged because I was taking food out of the mouths of his children by doing business he otherwise should have had. I carried the financial weight of the 26-agent office all the years on a 60:40 split. In all the years I received two referrals. TWO. One in year two with the company and one the month I left and the closing cheque arrived at my new boutique office.

      I kept hearing stories like you note, but it never happened for me. In fact I was accused of bringing in too much business, and told I would never get a referral; too much paperwork already in my name for the administrator; (guess no one saw the practicality of hiring more office staff might have prevented my exit), so much so that the manager devised a plan unbeknownst to me to divide up my incoming sign calls and ad calls among the other agents in the office. He had had the calls and office walk-Ins redirected to agents of his choosing. I spent very little time in the office and took my name off the duty roster. I never missed a weekly office meeting and new listing inspections.

      THAT was what led to my leaving when a past client had been told I was too busy to list their house and notified me, privately, saying the manager would immediately send someone else to list; the straw that broke the camel’s back, and led to opening my own boutique office in 1991 in the midst of a dreadful recession, at the point I was 10 years in the business, and a brand new broker with no one to look to for advice. I had a helpful lawyer who had been a 1985 client buyer and seller, and a beyond fabulous banker who also was a client who helped me connect with a chartered accountant (who also became a buyer/seller) that I am still with after all the years. I am intensely loyal and still would have been with the nationwide wonderful company.

      I loved the company, and never considered leaving even so I was recruited often, loved the folks at head office but no one seemed to care what went on at the branch level until after I left. Head office VIP’s asked me to return and later asked me to co-manage. I was honoured but felt sad. And I didn’t have the confidence that it would be a good career move. I enjoyed the direct public interaction. Didn’t think I’d make a good recruiter or agent babysitter. Some agents were happy that now they would have ALL my clients. Waiting for my new company to disappear, since 1991. Didn’t happen.

      Right from the get-go working alone as I had always done, I managed to retain the 24% market share I had built. The rest, as the world says, is history. When I left, ten years an agent and as a brand new broker I was still on a 60:40 split. Soon the company would join the franchise world in the 1990s recession as the local four offices of 26 agents closed completely, and diminished to 13 agents and one office in a new location, and began the process of rebuilding using the franchise team structure. I have no idea how referrals are structured in franchise agent contracts: incoming unsourced-related phone calls and walk-in business when the public doesn’t ask for an agent by name, at any company. How is that business allocated? Maybe you know, David where the leads go.

      I was beyond blessed operating on my own with strong support admin staff, and never looked back. I made the choice recently to put my license on hold due to medical situation. No one knows what the future holds.

      Thanks for your comment. Perhaps read some of my older posts where again I had addressed your comment topics. You can Google – REM Carolyne L – and locate a host of my old comments.

      Stay safe.

      Carolyne L ?

  2. Just a thought… top producers typically stand on their own legs, wherever they are, and often there’s no recruiting to be done. The logistics often aren’t practical. Top agents often stay put. They often already have negotiated the best contract that’s doable on their favour.

    The ones you want to recruit are the steady better than average in it for the long term type agent who is a regular steady solid producer who is just waiting for a gentle nudge in the right direction; one who feels that he/she is not appreciated, with no chance where they currently are to become a top producer. So close and yet so far. Ones you can lead into becoming one of your own top producers. Those agents who actually have what it takes but feel they have no support where they currently are.

    Like trolling for fish, it’s all about timing, and being there when the mood of the moment is right and the fruit is ripe for the picking.

    The mood is ripe for brokers/owners who want to find the new normal is in offering the old 60:40 split and charges no rent and pays all fixed costs like board fees, signs, and such a simple thing as business cards; a little promo advertising that goes a long way in the current new normal. It could just be that building the new normal in recruiting is: everything old really is new again. Labeling it “survival mode.” And of course it is all tax deductible as a cost of doing business.

    Carolyne L ?


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