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The Real Deal Los Angeles

Coaching the resi game

Motivational speakers and mentors are busier than ever training L.A.’s agents, but some doubt their effectiveness — and some see a poaching play
By Natalie Hoberman | October 16, 2017 07:00AM

Tami Pardee, founder of Halton Pardee + Partners, kicks off an in-house group coaching session at her firm’s Santa Monica office.

“Today we’re talking about power, strength and flexibility and the discipline and practice of yoga, and how we can apply it to your everyday business,” Peter Hernandez, president of Teles Properties, soothingly intoned as he introduced a podcast episode of “Practice & Discipline,” guest co-hosted by yogi Justine Yang.

Every Monday through Friday at 9 a.m., the executives at Teles — which was recently acquired by Douglas Elliman — release a roughly 30-minute podcast discussing strategies for success and different ways to improve the lives of real estate professionals.

“I’m a big believer in this holistic style of life, and this way of approaching the real estate business where we can be superproductive and operating at the highest performance possible and not burning out at the same time. It’s not easy to do,” said Hernandez.

Tuesday and Thursday podcasts are devoted to “Broker Brilliance,” with Teles brokers Jon Butler and Karen Greensweig. These are a bit more practical in nature, with the brokers offering guidance, for example, on the ways in which agents can manage off-market selling through pocket listings while protecting sellers’ identities and property details along
the way.

“We do a lot of coaching, and one of our big things is daily calls,” Hernandez told The Real Deal. Those calls often involve prominent guest speakers from the business sector, such as venture capitalist Fred Wilson. Or they feature nutritionists and other holistic-living experts who offer advice to agents wanting to improve their mental health.

For the early birds, Teles also hosts a 5 a.m. 10-minute “wake-up” call led by the firm’s president, Sharran Srivatsaa. Roughly 300 people tune in to hear motivational tidbits and practical skills every morning, Hernandez said.

Welcome to the wild world of real estate coaching. Teles Properties is just one of the brokerages in Los Angeles that has made the practice a part of its daily routine.

While the phenomenon of coaching isn’t exactly new, the process has come to the forefront in recent years as real estate professionals seek to improve their practice and differentiate themselves in the overwhelmingly agent-saturated
LA. market.

Firms like Teles, Halton Pardee + Partners and Compass offer coaching in-house, but more often, independent real estate coaches are employed to help agents bring their “A-game,” offering everything from selling strategies to meditation tips.

From left: Peter Hernandez, Robert Lehman and Jason Oppenheim

But the burgeoning field is not without its controversies. As TRD explores (later in this piece), there have been rumblings that some coaches may have ulterior motives in building relationships with clients, such as recruiting agents for other firms. And some industry insiders question the real impact of coaching on broker performance and whether bringing outsiders into a firm is the right route to take.

Even so, the practice is clearly flourishing in L.A. “The huge rise and proliferation in real estate coaching is actually a reflection of the fact that agents have not been able to traditionally receive this type of support from their brokerage, and therefore they’ve had to seek it elsewhere. I think it’s a pretty big indicator that there is this gap in the market,” Rob Lehman, chief revenue officer at Compass, told TRD.

The brass tacks of coaching

Firms can hire independent coaches to help their brokers, or treatment can be sought independently without any referral from a superior. Either way, the coaches seem to be raking in pretty big bucks.

Coaches can charge rates anywhere in the range of $100 to $1,500 per hour, said coach Peter Gandolfo of Gandolfo Group, who recently partnered with Tami Pardee, founder of Halton, Pardee + Partners, to offer training sessions to the firm’s brokers.

Others, such as Coldwell Banker’s Steve Mathis, will take a cut from his mentee’s commission on the first three deals after the coaching sessions, as long as it doesn’t exceed $20,000. A yearlong phone coaching program with industry leader Mike Ferry, which entails 40 one-on-one coaching calls, will cost roughly $1,000 a month. Rates for weekends —  which often involve a retreat with a coach — can reach the $7,000 mark.

“[Most coaches] want to position it as an investment instead of a fee. We want the fees to be in line with the value to [clients] tackling these challenges … as opposed to thinking about what would make sense in an hourly rate,” said Gandolfo.

After working in various marketing gigs at Mattel and Ford Motor Co., Gandolfo received an opportunity to work as the senior director of client engagement for the Drucker Institute, which offers business and leadership consulting based around the late Peter Drucker’s management philosophies. Shortly after being introduced to the world of coaching, Gandolfo discovered his passion in the practice itself and went on to receive formal training at the Hudson Institute of Coaching in Santa Barbara, where individuals and corporations alike can go to receive coaching training and, ultimately, certification. Programs bearing trademarked titles such as “LifeForward” and “Spot Coaching Approach” are meant to help professionals with their self-development and leadership strategies.

Coaching works best when it’s structured as a six- to eight-month engagement with periodic check-ins, Gandolfo said. Those check-ins usually start off with an assessment of how the client is feeling when he or she shows up to a session and whether the client is riding high on energy or drained by pressures, followed by a discussion of what topics they would like to explore that day. At the end of every session, Gandolfo will ask his client what stood out during the session and what they’d like to see change before the next time they meet.

“It’s the client’s job to pick the agenda; it’s my job as the coach to help see how that fits in with their long-term goals,” Gandolfo explained, adding that those goals could include transitioning into retirement or finding a new job.

But coaching doesn’t necessarily have to take place during one-on-one sessions.

Coaches also get some extra pocket money from conferences, such as the Mike Ferry events that take place around the country.

Ferry is revered as one of the pioneers of the real estate coaching industry. He got his start in sales at Nightingale-Conant — another personal-development-oriented company — before eventually switching over to residential real estate. After a four-decade career in real estate, he launched the Mike Ferry Organization, a coaching program solely focused on real estate professionals.

The man has since built an empire off coaching, offering his clients books, 30-minute motivational phone chats, conferences, clinics, workshops and “in-case-you-missed-it” live recordings of his presentations.

A glance at the company’s calendar shows that attendance at events like “The Ultimate Real Estate Sales Workshop” or “The Complete Listing Workshop” — that cost nearly $400 per ticket. If clients are looking for a year’s worth of training, they’ll have to pony up $1,000 per month for his “Premier Coaching,” which consists of 40 “high intensity” personal coaching calls, according to its website.

As often happens with successful enterprises, the coaching legacy is being carried on by his son, Tom Ferry, who is the chief executive of Tom Ferry International.

The younger Ferry recalled being in awe of his dad’s techniques when he began working for him. “I remember being in San Francisco when he was on stage and basically made this statement: ‘If I called you every week and said, do your job and helped you remove your excuses and held you accountable — every single one of you would grow your business by some amazing number,’” Tom Ferry said, explaining that by the end of the session, “80 people walked over and handed me a card and said, ‘sign me up for that.’”

Tom Ferry’s Irvine-based firm offers coaching sessions and conferences nationwide and has roughly 152 coaches under its wing. His “Elite +” program, which consists of 48 private coaching calls and 42 group training calls a year, costs roughly $1,100 per month, a representative with the firm confirmed.

Ferry’s methodology consists of evaluating a client’s goals and then “reverse-engineering” a plan based on that client’s industry.

Participants stand in a pose in order to “shift their energy and increase confidence”

Gandolfo, whose website says his clients can reach him through text, video calls, phone calls and in person, said he often likes to take walks or hikes with his clients.

“We’re so accustomed to conversations in office settings, and even the whole option of being face to face can make you feel adversary, but when you’re going on a walk or hike, you get to move physically in the same direction and it reinforces that you’re both working on the same goals,” he explained.

Corporate coaching

Not to be left behind, companies have started upping their offerings for in-house coaching to their agents.

In perhaps the best example of a hands-on boss, Pardee provides coaching to her own employees at the brokerage, people she refers to as “life changers.”

“I coach in a more spiritual way,” she explained. “I teach them to truly get into themselves and be happy with themselves, because if they’re happy and connected to themselves, that’s going to come across to the client, and then the client is going to want to be with them and work with them.”

At the brokerage, these “life-changers” all partake in a 28-day gratitude challenge, weekly meetings, vision boards and the “Life Change Warrior” program, a company-wide weekend retreat with Pardee as well as coaches like Gandolfo.

At the year’s end, senior management executives receive $2,500 for reaching their “bucket list” goals, while other employees receive $500. Bucket list goals can range anywhere from wanting to start a community softball team to increasing one’s business by 30 percent.

“It’s teaching everyone around me what lights them up, because if they’re lit up, then our clients are going to want to be with them,” Pardee said.

For New York-based brokerage Compass, which expanded into L.A. in 2015, the process appears to be working as well.

“We really obsess about this notion of adding value to our agents and helping them grow their business, and that’s fundamentally what coaching is all about for us,” said Compass’ Lehman.

Trained and certified sales managers at the firm provide personalized coaching (at no cost) to every agent.

Generally, the coaching process at Compass is composed of six modules: technology, business planning, team construction, brand development, practice development and personal leadership.

Compass also relies on external coaches, such as Steve Shull, for additional coaching, including motivational speeches and more personalized sessions with agents.

The founder of coaching firm Performance Coaching, Shull charges a monthly fee of $1,500 on a month-to-month contract. The former linebacker with the Miami Dolphins got his start in the industry in 1991, when he was introduced to Mike Ferry’s seminars.

Before launching a real estate coaching practice of his own, however, he experimented with selling homes. Shull said he sold 53 homes the first year he was in the  real estate businesses — sometime in the early ’90s — and that he was on track to sell 100 homes by his second year in the field.

However, he said, that only helped his coaching career a smidgen. “Just because you sold real estate doesn’t make you, in my opinion, into a real estate coach or give you the ability to coach other people,” Shull told TRD. “I think there’s a lot of companies out there who are great at putting on seminars and workshops; however, coaching is a real skill.”

Coach Peter Gandolfo looks on as participants select images for their “life change” boards.

One piece of advice he offers clients is to take some time out of their day to connect emotionally with themselves. A five-minute walk, meditation or journal entry would suffice, he said. But there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

“I think people really have to do their homework,” Shull said. “Coaching is not a magic pill, and I think too many agents get into the idea that somehow a coach is going to increase their business without them having to work harder. It doesn’t work that way; they’ve got to be willing to do the work.”

A wolf in sheep’s clothing?

In 2007, Shull solidified his presence in the industry when he helped launch Teles with industry veterans Louis Piatt and Hernandez.

Although the partnership ended in 2012, some say Shull’s close relationship with the firm dealt a blow to his credibility — and ability — as an external, unbiased coach in the business.

“I left simply because of the direction the company wanted to go in, and decided I would go back to my coaching full-time,” Shull said. Teles declined to comment.

But more recently, there have been renewed concerns about the coach’s ability to remain impartial. Shull’s clients often include professionals from competing brokerages, such as Compass and Hilton & Hyland. And lately, there have been whispers that the real estate coach has started using his position to help recruit L.A.’s top agents for Compass, which has already faced sharp criticism from L.A. firms for its poaching practices.

Several industry insiders told TRD that Shull had contacted several brokers at L.A.’s most prominent firms, asking if they would take a meeting with Compass executives, including CEO Robert Reffkin, to consider joining the firm.

Shull denied the allegations. “I put a lot of my clients there because I think it’s a great company, but I’m not part of Compass. I’m not on their payroll, and I don’t recruit for them,” Shull said. “I’ve never affiliated with one firm specifically. I’ve done work with specific firms over
the years.”

Lehman also defended Shull. “Steve, he’s one of the most prolific coaches in Southern California … We have close relationships with various coaches because we think that there is a lot to mutually learn from each other as you’re thinking through this piece,” Lehman told TRD.

Tom Ferry said that because independent coaches typically work with clients from rival firms, it’s extremely important to remain neutral. “As a coach, you have to be Geneva,” Ferry said. “We don’t train, teach or coach recruiting because I would be telling brand X’s managers to go get brand Y’s managers and I might be working with both companies.”  

Shull’s work with Compass has left a mark on his reputation, said one source, who wished to remain anonymous. “A coach is supposed to fulfill that neutral party that all they’re there to do is to help you grow your business,” the insider said. “But when you’re affiliated with a company, you’re trying to actually financially benefit in an additional way, which may not be in your client’s best interest.”

Eschewing the trend

Some companies, particularly the smaller ones, avoid formal coaching altogether.

Jason Oppenheim, a former lawyer and the founder of West Hollywood-based Oppenheim Group, said coaching has not been relevant to his firm because he often takes an active role in training his agents himself.

“We have team meetings where we all mention concepts we need to work around more and recommend going over,” Oppenheim said. “We all support each other, and I’m always available.”

The Agency, another boutique residential firm in Los Angeles, also doesn’t use external coaches.

Co-founder and former lawyer Billy Rose said his firm often has “Lunch & Learns” and in-house training sessions led by managers and the partners themselves, in addition to mentorship programs.

Drawing from their legal backgrounds, The Agency’s two founders have adopted a system in which top-producing agents are paired with typically younger, less experienced agents for training. Then those big-shot agents typically receive a cut of the commission.

“When I was a lawyer, you would have a division of labor with people who are sort of [one] level, doing the right things, and each and every one of them is sort of being trained by or learning from others on the team,” Rose said. “We encourage that sort of collaboration and team participation so that we’re constantly elevating and escalating the level of those at the company.”

But the decision to refrain from hiring an external broker coach stems from The Agency’s chief philosophy of collaboration, Rose claimed. The listings at his firm are often shared with the big kahunas, and individual agents don’t have their own personal branding. In the broker world, according to Rose, that translates to not wanting to leave any training in the hands of a foreigner.

“We live or die by our weakest link — we are all identified as The Agency, so we all have to live up to the level of The Agency,” Rose said. “If any one of our agents succeed, we all succeed. If somebody fucks something up, we all fucked up.”

Michael Nourmand of Nourmand & Associates said he’s often in favor of his agents seeing a real estate coach, but whether it’s a necessity depends on the agent.

“Some agents need somebody to hold them accountable, to have a measured way for them to prospect and to make sure they understand that if they’re not going after new business, they’re not going to build a sustainable career,” Nourmand said. “Some people wake up in the morning and they’re hustlers and don’t need anybody to give them the ground rules. It’s just an innate thing that they know how to do.”

Additional reporting by Subrina Hudson