Why some of the Bay Area’s top agents swear by the “super team” model

Compass evangelists of the network-based approach target long-term connections

The Network

The Network (Photo by Kathleen Harrison)

San Francisco Compass agent Butch Haze said he can remember when he first thought of the concept he calls the “super team.” 

It was 2018 and inventory was so tight for his high-end clientele that buyers often had one agent looking for homes for them in San Francisco, another in Marin and another on the Peninsula. 

It didn’t help the brokerage was buying up agencies around the Bay Area and Haze suddenly found himself competing against five other Compass agents for the same listing. 

“All our marketing is going to look identical,” he recalled thinking at the time.

His answer: a regional approach to real estate with a team of agents focused on collaboration and long-term relationships with buyers. 

In a company as large as Compass, Haze posed the model as a way for agents to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack, as well as keep up with clients even if they change markets. 

This is not the kind of “super team” where one or two star agents provide the face and brand to lead a battalion of underlings into different markets. It’s a communal arrangement, where agents on similar levels in different but interconnected markets are invited to become part of a collective.

Membership involves regular meetings, an initial buy-in and kick backs from a percentage of each sale made through a network connection to the referring agent as well as the team’s budget for events and marketing. Group contracts can also help cut costs for brokers on photography, videography and stagers.

The idea has worked well for Haze, who’s now a self-proclaimed evangelist of the concept, and his Network Group, whose agents cover the entire Bay Area from Carmel to Napa, San Francisco to Lake Tahoe. The team claimed 13th in RealTrends’ nationwide ranking of “mega teams” by volume in 2022. With over $1 billion in sales, was the fifth-highest-ranking team in the state and first in the Bay Area last year. 

Spreading the Word

Mara Ingram, a Brooklyn-based broker and co-founder of the East Coast Network, said she took notice of the Network Group’s branding and marketing after she joined Compass five years ago.

The team was unique in targeting buyers and sellers’ “lifecycle transactions.” 

“Second homes and ski homes and beach homes. Leaving the city. Downsizing, upsizing, all that kind of stuff,” she said. 

She put the idea in the back of her mind but didn’t move ahead with the project until she connected with Laura Kottler, a Compass agent in Connecticut, in Fall 2021. The network progressed from theory to reality and now has more than a dozen agents, they said, with a concentration in the tri-state area, as well as Boston, Atlanta, Newport and Florida. 

The goal of the group is partly referrals but partly building “almost like a family” of like-minded agents who have twice monthly meetings where they discuss the latest trends and sometimes one member of the team will interview another to learn more about each other and their markets.

“It’s as much about referrals as it is a getting-better-at-real-estate think tank,” she said. 

Like the Network Group, the East Coast Network collects an initial buy-in from founding members, plus monthly dues and a percentage of sales made through ECN connections back to the initiating agent and toward team expenses. There’s also an interview process to pick out proactive agents with complementary skill sets who “have their hands up, not out,” Kottler said, with mandatory subgroup assignments on subjects like marketing, financing or administration. 

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“It’s not just, ‘Sign on the dotted line and when I have someone to refer to you in Boston, I’ll do so,’” she said.

Hell Yeah or Hell No

Haze said picking proactive collaborators is key to a successful “super team,” but equally important is a personality match. As part of the interview process to join the Network Group, each member is asked if they would want to spend a weekend in a remote location with a prospective new team member and, if they did, would they be sad at the end of the weekend to be parting ways. The decision must be unanimous.

“Everyone is either all in, and it’s a hell yeah,” he said. “Or it’s a hell no.” 

When Alicia Sanguinetti and Andrew Greenman put themselves up for consideration to be the Peninsula representatives for the Network Group, “we literally pitched ourselves to the group,” Greenman said, through a series of one-on-one interviews as well as a “financial inventory.” 

Peter Colbert, a broker representing wine country and the latest member to join, said the high bar to entry was part of the appeal. Real estate agents are often members of various associations and groups, but this one “has more meat to it,” he said. 

Once you make it past the entry gauntlet, the rewards can be considerable. Jamie and Nicole Blair switched from a family-run agency in Lake Tahoe to join Compass a few years ago, drawn in part by the possibility of more referrals from the Bay Area. 

Their business doubled when they made the leap, and doubled again when they joined the Network Group, they said, going from just a handful of referrals a year to having 70 percent of their business come from Bay Area agents. Their sales volume has also lept from about $50 million a year to over $230 million in sales last year.

Many of those referrals don’t even come from other Network agents. According to the group, plenty of other Compass agents ask for referrals through the company’s internal messaging system and Network agents are always quick to refer their partners.

“If another agent is looking for a Tahoe agent to refer to and they hear it from all of us, they’re only going to refer to the Blair team,” said Danville-based Network agent Julie Whitmer. “And it goes both ways.” 

Compass Only Need Apply

Whitmer replaced founding member Khrista Jarvis after Jarvis left Compass to go to Coldwell Banker in early 2022, and Colbert replaced Hillary Ryan when she moved to Sotheby’s. The chain of succession comes with one of the main drawbacks to “super teams”: agents are sharing proprietary information and tools with one another, they must stay within the same agency. 

It can be hard to convince some top agents to join because they are concerned that they might be cutting down their referral options, Haze said. It’s also a considerable administrative undertaking to get such a team started: the Network Group had to get its own license number from the Department of Real Estate and its own tax ID. 

Despite the quirks of the process, Compass said several similar teams are forming in the Network’s footsteps. Haze said he isn’t concerned about the rise in similar team networks inspired by his own, whether in the Bay Area or outside Compass. 

“This isn’t like, ‘Butch did this in San Francisco and no one else can do it in San Francisco,’” he said. “I share all this stuff with everybody all the time because I want to see how they evolve. I would love to see “super teams” be created all over.” 

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