Do You Swim With The Sharks?


Are you in a shark tank right now?  Do you have arrows in your back from fellow agents always meddling in your business?  Do you lock your desk or your private office when you leave for the day?  Do you turn papers over on your desk when certain colleagues approach?  Has someone stolen something off the printer that belonged to you?

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Many outside our industry hear about the worst side of it.  I frequently get asked about the culture in my office from friends and family in unrelated fields.  Time and again I explain to them in detail how our industry is different than most and how it works.  They almost always are predisposed to have a negative view about the industry.  Unfortunately, what they hear on the street is often true, especially in New York City, the most competitive real estate market in the country. 

Many times these negative cultures develop due to the lack of management of the sales team.  Sometimes it is due to no management at all or inept office managers that don’t enforce a code of conduct among their people or have questionable ethics themselves.  Often there is what we call a player coach, someone who is in charge of the sales team but also acts as an agent and does their own deals.  Usually this management style leads to conflict and distrust among the sales people.  Across the industry, the better cultures that have developed in some firms can usually be attributed to strong non-competing management.  In the absence of a strong leader willing to enforce a code of conduct, salespeople with questionable ethics will often not do the right thing when faced with a decision that they understand will have no negative consequences.

Unfortunately, for many of us, when we showed up in the Big Apple we were just trying to catch a break, and we really had no clue about the office culture where we had accepted our first job in real estate. We just jumped at the first thing that sounded like a good offer.  Some of us got lucky—like me. I had a good non-competing manager and a great mentor that showed me the ropes, but all too often that is the opposite of what I hear happens to new agents trying to enter the market. 

When interviewing for an opportunity at any firm, I would ask about the management structure and also about the office culture.  Is it collaborative?  What is the code of conduct?  How are the sales people managed?  How is conflict handled?  I would ask to meet with both existing senior agents and also newer recruits that are about one to two years into the firm.  Between meeting with the manager and meeting with some of their existing team, you should be able to get a sense of the culture in the office.

A positive culture is very important to your mental state and your client relationships.  If you are in a negative culture, I would recommend leaving, it will eat you up and it’s not worth it trying to ride it out, it usually never gets better unless there is change with the management and firm’s policies.  It’s hard enough to make a deal in the city. You don’t need the added pressure of a negative office culture where you’re looking over your shoulder constantly to see if you are swimming with the sharks.