Location: California | Launched: 2008 | Number of agents: 20
A brokerage built around deviating from the status quo
During her tenure as an agent at a big real estate brand, Kris Berg Gomez noticed the lack of a hardened focus on competency and ethics, and especially the absence of real innovation.
“Among some large brokerages and franchises I have seen locally, deviation from status quo is discouraged and independent thinking is considered disloyal,” Kris said. “New ideas require approval by committee. The culture fosters a brand power struggle between agent and broker, with little or no regard for what is best for the consumer.”
These things served as the core building blocks for San Diego Castles.
Attracting and retaining the right agents
San Diego Castles agents are entrepreneurially-focused self-starters who are digitally connected. They serve the customer and maximize efficiency by embracing new technology.
The brokerage initially set out to hire only experienced agents, but that’s changed a bit. “We were recently reminded that there are exceptions to every rule, and we’re now willing to make exceptions to this one under the right circumstances,” Kris said. “When we see someone who is talented, motivated, ethical and possesses the right skills to succeed, we welcome them – even though the mentoring and training required to ensure they are successful and live up to our high standards is enormous.”
When it comes to tech, the motto at San Diego Castles is to keep it simple. They use an online transaction management system for filing, reviewing and sharing transaction documents with clients, and they use electronic signing whenever possible.
Company referrals are usually delivered as a blast to all agents. Theirs is a best-agent-wins approach. “We do this as a reminder of the importance of response speed to today’s customer, and to encourage our agents to remain responsive and connected,” Kris said.
For marketing, things are kept to what works. They focus on their blog and website, tried-and-true print marketing, and community events and sponsorships. When done right, with class, flair and creativity, these things work.
Their financial model is simple, with a generous commission split, no franchise fee or other add-ons, capped company dollar. They are nearly virtual, with a small executive suite space. Agents pay for a share of the office and their own per-transaction E&O insurance.
The brokerage has grown to 20 agents, which Kris describes as slow growth, but says that excellence takes precedence in their strategy.
One of the great lessons learned in the last few years for Kris was that sticking to the brokerage’s core philosophies and values has paid off. The company’s longevity and growth have helped reinforce Kris’s belief that a small, well-managed brokerage of excellent agents can thrive despite not having a national brand affiliation.
“The lesson was more a reinforcement of what we always held to be true: buyers and sellers hire agents, not brokers. Surround yourself with talent and the business will follow,” Kris said.
Brokerage is still a local business, as Kris points out, and consumers ultimately pick their agent for local knowledge and reputation. Because of that, she says, the vast majority of business at San Diego Castles comes from their brand and agent marketing in the neighborhood.
“I’ve always said that yard signs – ‘sticks in the ground’ – trump all else every time. That has never been truer than it is today,” Kris said.