Realty Group and others are fueling the growth of Minnesota’s independent real estate brokers

Long Doan will never forget the night he fled his home and family in Vietnam and crossed the ocean in a crowded boat before landing on a Malaysian beach filled with strangers – and uncertainty.

While the other refugees slept, he found a quiet spot on the beach and the reality of the situation set in. Just 13 at the time, he looked across the ocean to the home and family he had left behind and realized he might never see them again. to be never again.

As the sun rose, he made a decision: he was “a victor, not a victim”. And he decided to help others avoid that same feeling of helplessness, especially those looking to return home.

“I never wanted anyone to feel the way I felt that night,” he said.

For more than three decades in the real estate business, Doan said he’s been guided by that commitment. It’s one of the reasons why, after 15 years in the mortgage industry and then several years in bank-owned listings, he decided in 2009 to open Realty Group.

Today, the company is by at least one measure the largest independent brokerage in the state, according to RealTrends, which tracks real estate brokers and trends across the country. He said that in 2020, Realty Group recorded 4,155 transactions (sales in which one of its agents represented the buyer or the seller), making it the 74th largest independent brokerage in the country.

And the business is growing. Realty Group now has over 600 agents and seven offices, including new offices in White Bear Lake and Woodbury. Doan said he plans new offices in Rochester and St. Cloud and a national expansion that includes Florida and Arizona.

Unlike most traditional brokerages, Realty Group and other independents are generally locally owned and not affiliated with a franchise. And while these independents are growing rapidly, Real Trends ranks Edina Realty as the #1 brokerage based on both total volume and transactions in the Twin Cities. Edina Realty is owned by HomeServices of America, based in Twin Cities.

Steve Murray, founder and principal adviser of Real Trends, said Realty Group’s expansion comes as independent brokers across the country are rapidly gaining market share as buyers, sellers and their agents adopt new ways. to buy and sell homes, including ever-changing technology.

“My view is that the whole agent and team market is fragmenting,” Murray said. “There’s a brokerage for everyone’s production level style and personal preference.”

While most consumers may not know – or care – about the distinction between different brokerage models, it matters a lot to the agents who work for them. Their access to marketing, education and technological support is essential. Compensation is also a factor. While standard agent commissions can vary by region and brokerage, broker compensation varies significantly by business model.

Agents who work for traditional brokers generally share or split their commission in exchange for access to a full range of ancillary and support services, including office space, marketing, education and technology, as well as the power of a major regional or national brand.

Many independent brokers charge their agents a flat monthly fee, transaction fees with the ability to purchase other services a la carte. At Realty Group, agents pay a monthly fee of $100 and transaction fees, but they purchase additional services as needed. This approach, Doan said, allows agents to operate as independently — or dependently — as they choose.

According to Real Trends, independent brokers now account for about one in five transactions reported among the nation’s top 500 brokers and they are growing rapidly. Although the third-largest brokerage last year was an independent brokerage (eXp Realty in Bellingham, Wash.), HomeServices of America was the nation’s largest brokerage in 2020 based on transactions.

Murray said eXp and Compass, the country’s two largest independents, made the list of the top five brokers in the country in less than a decade after experiencing rapid growth.

“Agents now have more choice than ever among well-funded, well-capitalized companies,” he said. “What do they say [model] suits me best?'”

Realty Group co-owner Mike Bernier said the company tends to attract experienced agents who want to run their business independently and promote their own brand using whatever marketing tools they choose, including a suite of options. that they can buy from the company.

“We didn’t look to mark ourselves too heavily,” he said. “We always want agents to be the brand.”

Bernier worked with Doan when he specialized in bank-owned properties and has partnered with Doan at Realty Group since 2014. Unlike Doan, Bernier had worked for several real estate companies.

“Every brokerage I was at had things that were good and bad,” he said. “We took pieces of all the designs and picked out the pieces we liked and threw the rest away.”

Kris Lindahl Real Estate is considered independent, but is structured as a very large and growing “team”. This approach, said founder Kris Lindahl, allows agents to focus on the customer rather than having to promote their own brand.

Lindahl is known for his social media marketing campaigns and billboards that promote his name and image.

“Our agents are associated with the best known person in the industry locally,” he said.

It’s an approach that pays off, Lindahl said. Last year, according to Real Trends, KLRE was the largest real estate team in the Twin Cities last year and the 120th largest independent brokerage in the country. The company now has more than 400 agents and plans to expand beyond the metro and into other states. The company now has two offices, but Lindahl plans to have a dozen by the end of the year and is on track to add 50 to 60 agents to its team each month.

Doan said the dizzying array of options for agents, buyers and sellers is a sign of how quickly the industry is changing. The pandemic, for example, was just another reminder that in the real estate industry, nothing lasts forever, he said. And her experience as a refugee has taught her to always embrace change.

“This business changes by the hours and minutes and anything can go wrong,” he said. “I’m not only the real American dream, but owning a home is an American dream and I want to help people do a better job.”

Kristan F. Talley