Location: Michigan | Launched: 2010 | Number of agents: 7
Building a team-oriented brokerage in Detroit
For Austin Black II, the transition from real estate development to a real estate career was a natural progression. A graduate of Cornell who studied urban planning, Austin found Detroit jobs were hard to come by in his field after completing his education. His real estate development career brought him to the suburbs, where he handled the management of high-end properties. When a layoff forced him to regroup, he decided to take a chance on getting his real estate license.
This choice proved to be the right one. Six years into his real estate profession, he saw an opportunity and launched City Living Detroit to address what he saw as a void in the market. “There was a real need for brokerages that specialize in the city since there were so few options,” Austin said.
Now with seven affiliated agents, City Living Detroit has made its mark as the go-to expert for not only real estate deals, but city living as well.
In the news and on the web
Austin has built up a solid reputation for his knowledge of the real estate industry and the media has taken note. He is regularly approached by local media, including newspaper and television outlets, significantly reducing the need to advertise City Living Detroit. “The coverage creates a lot of buzz and I don’t have to do a lot of PR for the brokerage,” he said.
In addition to media coverage, City Living Detroit connects with clients and prospects in other ways. The brokerage has more than 20,000 followers on Facebook and they are very active on social media. What City Living Detroit does differently is focus on the city and its lifestyle over covering real estate.
Austin is keen on developing long-term relationships as well. “A follower might come to our page and be in the market for real estate four to five years later,” he said. “We’ll be top of mind because they already go to our social media.”
With a brokerage where agents work in a highly competitive local market, the culture of the office is important. Austin shared the firm’s most important ideologies:
- Ethical practices are expected
- Acquire market knowledge
- Make clients a priority before commissions
- Create consistent quality always
Team-oriented: It’s important to Austin that every agent works together without competing with each other. Having harmony within the company is a clear priority over bringing in a top producer who isn’t a good fit for the dynamics of the brokerage.
Ethical practices: The expectation is for each agent to conduct their transactions with clients in a professional manner. When a client approached Austin with evidence showing an agent had acted unethically, he made the difficult but necessary decision to let that agent go. In doing so, he was able to change the client’s negative impression of the brokerage to a positive one.
Acquire market knowledge: In order to serve clients well, the brokerage focuses on being well-informed and educated in the market. Austin consistently seeks ongoing educational outlets and passes along the opportunities to his agents. Most agents in the office will take those classes.
Make clients a priority: Clients are always put first, before the possibility of a commission. Austin believes it’s more important to advise a client to walk away from a deal that’s not good for them in the long run than to push a sale. “Our clients sense we’re trying to get them the right house and do what’s best for them,” he said.
Create consistent quality: City Living Detroit handles a range of properties from entry-level to the luxury market and everything in between. But whether it’s a $150,000 property or four times that, the brokerage showcases each listing in the best way possible. “We’ll photograph and brand each one with the same level of care regardless of price,” he said.
A new Detroit on the horizon
One thing agents have in common is that they all currently live within the city of Detroit. Because of this they’re privy to specific knowledge brokerages located elsewhere wouldn’t be. “The perception of Detroit over the last 10 years has been changing,” Austin said. “Now it’s becoming a place where there’s a lot of activity and demand to live here.”
Because City Living Detroit is local, they’re able to provide clients with knowledge about everything from tax incentives in various neighborhoods to specifics on how to navigate the city. “Other agents from brokerages, especially outside of Detroit don’t necessarily have all the information clients need,” Austin said.
Rather than growing significantly in size, City Living Detroit is looking to emphasize increasing productivity. Austin sees the possibility of doubling their agent size. The brokerage has a preference for full-time agents who are committed to closing more than just a few deals a year.
On the flip side, part-time agents aren’t out of the question. “I’d take it on a case by case basis,” said Austin, who allows for the possibility of a part-time agent who can work on enough real estate transactions in a given year.
Looking forward, Austin sees his brokerage successfully navigating the challenges of inventory in Detroit’s real estate market while being at the forefront as it develops.