Unrestricted Free Agency

Unrestricted Free Agent

This year is an interesting year for our brokerage: it’s the first time in 19 years that we will be unrestricted free agents. In our industry some agents change companies like kids change clothes. Every Monday morning I get the latest sheet from RECA showing the agents that changed brokerages that week, and each week it's a very long list.

In 1993, we took an unprecedented step of buying a franchise. Having been a successful independent real estate company in Edmonton since 1977, I saw the need for change. At that time we excitedly chose to go with the franchise we chose based on our years of going to Hawaii and other places in the U.S., where we saw the strength of that brand.

Well 19 years have come and gone and our company has undergone a myriad of changes in that time, just as the ownership of the master franchisor has changed a number of times. What’s exciting for us is the possibility to revisit whether we should go back to our roots as an independent, stay with our existing franchisor, or look at other franchises and what they bring to the table. You just can’t do this everyday. We have had talks with one other franchisor that has basically said before you make a decision “let us pitch you one last time.” Their enthusiasm is encouraging as we believe they are a very respectable option for us.

Our situation is unique in that we have zero reliance on the franchisor to deliver us business or promotional materials. Our materials are created in house by our marketing director (who actually held a similar job with our Canadian head office during the 5 years she worked there). Our online presence which is pretty dominant in the Edmonton area is also her responsibility and she has been instrumental in making us a technology company introducing us to tablets over 6 years ago and probably making us the first transactional paperless office in Alberta. For certain we were the first office to have 100% of our agents using tablet PCs for which she has custom created presentation and marketing materials for our agents. In addition she has created a program whereby she assists our agents in the marketing of their clients' properties in order to increase the likelihood that they will sell.

She has taken us to the top of search engine rankings in just about every real estate related short and long tail search term in our marketplace. Consumers find her philosophy on marketing their homes very refreshing every time I meet with a potential seller they are impressed. She has taken us to other new heights as we were the top team for our franchise in Canada for 2010 and 2011 for total units sold.  Throughout 2010 and 2011 our company consistently placed in the top 5 for offices in our size category of 1-10 agents worldwide (out of 900 offices on average in this size category).

I certainly have all kinds of love for  some of the phenomenal people who have been great mentors and collaborators on deals, projects and ideas. In fact that is the one thing and the only thing that we would truly miss if we left. However, many of those great friends have gone elsewhere as well and we still collaborate no matter what brand is on their business cards.

I could go on about the innovations and leading edge stuff she has done for our company, and the great stuff that’s happening in our group, but that's not the point. We are so excited because chances to make operational strategic decisions like this don’t come around everyday. I think about it in terms of a great hockey player who’d like to play for the team he is with, but is also excited about what potential is unknown to him. All I know is the next six months are going to be extremely exciting as we peer in to our future.


Sheldon is very familiar with the ins and outs of real estate; he has been licensed to sell Real Estate in Alberta for over 20 years. Sheldon has served on the Real Estate Council of Alberta, the Real Estate Insurance Exchange and the REALTORS® Association of Edmonton. Find Sheldon on Twitter @edmontonsheldon.

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9 Responses to “Unrestricted Free Agency”

  1. TaraNo Gravatar 17. Apr, 2012 at 9:01 pm #

    It doesn’t really seem like they would bring a lot to the table. If I’m looking for a place, I browse the mls (like most people), the realtor’s brand makes no difference (although the photos definitely do). Maybe you should see if they will pay you to keep their brand instead of you paying them (like an anchor store). I imagine they benefit more from the arrangement than you do.

    • Sheldon JohnstonNo Gravatar 18. Apr, 2012 at 9:31 am #

      I agree with you. With over 1 million page views per month on http://www.EdmontonRealEstate.pro (one of our websites) it raises the question of how we provide value to our buyers and our agents.

  2. rnsNo Gravatar 18. Apr, 2012 at 9:12 am #

    If it’s helping clients to bring transaction cost less then it’s great.

    • Sheldon JohnstonNo Gravatar 18. Apr, 2012 at 9:29 am #

      lower Cost does not always equal higher Net to the seller.

  3. SpudNo Gravatar 18. Apr, 2012 at 8:53 pm #

    So you sound fairly certain of your place in the edmonton market. Why exactly would you join any franchise and not go independent?

    • Sheldon JohnstonNo Gravatar 18. Apr, 2012 at 9:30 pm #

      Nothing in life is certain but death and taxes but we have worked hard and I can say with certainty that we are fairly dominant in the online marketing of real estate which generates alot of business for our other agents. The benefit of having a full time marketing director. We joined a franchise mainly because in the early 90s relocation work was a big part of our companies business. At the time we were dealing with a company called All Points relocations which only dealt with independant companies like us and Spencer real estate. At that time though relocation companies were consolidating and All Points was absorbed by a company that dealt with an existing National company that was not franchised. At that time as well Coldwell Banker had a strong relocation component and was growing that business. So it was a great opportunity to get in on the ground floor in Canada and for a long time that strategy worked very well. Not only did they aquire Canada Trust Relocations but they were bought by Sears which brought new opportunities. In addition my network of agents who would refer their clients to me grew over the years I was with the network. Now however relocation work is just not profitable and those same agents who still send me business regularly will likely continue to send their clients to me as agents who have left the Coldwell Banker network do. Many people in my network have spread to other companies. Will their be a drop off in business in referrals from Coldwell Banker agents? sure, but less than 5% of our business. Take out a couple of agents who send us business religiously then that number from the greater network is less than 1%. So that’s why we joined but as I pointed out those motivating factors have changed.

  4. SpudNo Gravatar 19. Apr, 2012 at 9:27 pm #

    Yep, so my question still stands – why join any franchise if you are standing on your own two feet? Maybe I misread your original post but it seemed you were seriously considering joining another franchise.

    • Sheldon JohnstonNo Gravatar 19. Apr, 2012 at 10:45 pm #

      Sorry I get your question now. Simply put we are doing Research. If somebody floors us or is working on something innovative we’d be very interested. Plus its an opportunity to see what other companies offer and see what they think is important for the future. We are also doing research on branding and looking at some small innovative marketing companies to see what they’d propose if we did transition to independant company.

  5. EdNo Gravatar 19. Apr, 2012 at 11:46 pm #

    It sounds as if you are ready to go independent, and this web site is evidence of that, but don’t make any decisions until things settle down at home with the new kids.