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48 hours with...the largest estate agency in the world

'It's a recipe, not a menu' is a mantra championed by a host of Keller Williams' millionaire estate agents.

But what are the ingredients and method to success for this agency powerhouse, which now lays claim to almost 200,000 agents and operates in 44 countries?

Estate Agent Today was invited to Keller Williams' recent two-day Family Reunion in Lyon, France, as a guest of its London Bridge Market Centre, to find out how the agency ticks and whether it has the potential to really take off in the UK.


How does the model work?

If you didn't already know, the Keller Williams (KW) model is markedly different from the one used by most UK agencies. It's a brokerage which takes on agents as associates.

These agents can then operate directly under the Keller Williams banner or from their own brand, which is then 'powered by Keller Williams'.

Keller Williams was founded by Gary Keller in 1983 and now has 1,053 Market Centres - its alternative to a high street branch - across the globe.

The company opened in seven new countries during 2019 and now has 226 market centres outside the US and Canada.

Agency entrepreneurs working for Keller Williams pay a monthly fee for access to training and desk space, as well as software and technology support.

Each Market Centre is run by an Operating Principal, who is supported by a Team Leader and Market Centre Administrator. In some Market Centres there is also a Director of First Impressions.

Agents working for Keller Williams UK, for example, retain 63% of their commissions, with the remainder covering costs. Once they reach a 'cap', they retain 90% of their commission fees with the remainder going to Keller Williams.

"Having been tried and tested since 1983, the structure is designed to offer huge value to agents, as well as substantial Return on Investment for both the agents and the leadership - it's win, win," says Chris Buckler, Operating Principal (OP) of Keller Williams London Bridge and a former independent agent in the Midlands.

Buckler (above right) says that in order to run a Market Centre, the OP must pass stringent due diligence and have a 'first-class record in estate agency,' designed to ensure that their agents provide a 'world-class' service.

Agents working for a technology firm?

Gary Keller made waves in 2018 when he announced that Keller Williams is 'not a real estate company anymore' and it is in fact a technology company.

And the company's focus on providing its agents with cutting-edge technology is on full display at the Lyon Family Reunion.

Gilles Plourde, Keller Williams' Canadian Technology Program Director, is on-hand to demonstrate the firm's powerful new platform 'Command'.

Command is a one-stop shop for all KW agents and they can access it for free. It's already being used for referrals, with agents able to use its Facebook-like interface to share business.

The platform also has a range of features to help agents customise marketing campaigns, automate tasks, manage databases and plug-in to other PropTech.

Plourde says that Keller Williams invested approximately $1 billion in technology in 2019, with the idea of keeping everything in-house and allowing its agents to grow further.

He says there is an 'arms race' and a subsequent need to move away from cheaper operators and portals that want to harvest agents' data.

Training is the key to success

Alongside technology, Keller Williams' principal focus is training. Gary Keller has written numerous books, the best-known arguably being ‘The Millionaire Real Estate Agent’, while there are also various Keller Williams training programmes available to agents, including 'Bold' and 'Ignite'.

And, as you might expect, there is no shortage of training opportunities at the Family Reunion. The various sessions over the weekend are in-depth and intense (particularly for non-agent journalists) and delivered by some of the company's most successful agents.

There are breakout sessions on win-win negotiations, how to thrive in a shifting market and how to become a millionaire real estate agent.

Trainees are provided with a wealth of anecdotes and solutions - with the 'recipe, not a menu' quote reappearing in numerous sessions. Andrew Barbar, the OP of the Palm Beach East Market Centre in Florida, goes as far as to say that agents need to 'submit and surrender to the model' in order to be successful.

But what value does this training formulated in the US have for a UK agent?

“One part of the training which was excellent was the win-win negotiations,” says Michael Bailey, one of the London Bridge Market Centre’s top-performing agents.

“There were bits in there that I've never been introduced to - I'd like to think being in the business 14 years and being learning-based, that I would have come across a lot of that before.”

“A lot of it was down to culture, and stuff that you don't normally get trained on. One key thing that keeps coming out is that 'culture is the glue that keeps us all together’,” he says.

As for the KW training in general, Bailey (left) says it’s the most he’s ever been involved in and helps to keep him at the top of his game.

“Training is pretty much non-existent [in the UK] - there's a full-on training programme at KW and I would put a lot of my success down to following the models.”

“I want to be the best of the best and to be that you've got to train daily, weekly.”

“From what I understand, the training that you get at the big corporates is a couple of times a year, if that, whereas every day there's some formal training at Keller Williams,” Bailey adds.

The family connection

There is certainly a family feel to the weekend, something welcome at all family reunions no matter how large.

The firm's commitment to coaching and helping each other is hard to ignore. Between sessions there are plenty of instances of established millionaire agents offering advice to agents from different countries who are just starting out.

One of these agents is Alex Brandau from Nashville, who has been in the real estate business for 19 years. He tells Estate Agent Today what a Family Reunion means to him.

“It’s a unique opportunity to connect and mastermind with agents from all over the world.”

“Our company has a plan and path to the success each agent wants. Whether your goals are large or small, we have the blueprint to help agents get there. Sharing it with agent partners across borders and languages is still relevant and inspiring,” he says.

It's all in the culture

Keller Williams is also eager to showcase its unwavering company culture. From inspiring human stories and live charitable donations during the event's 'Cultural Summit', to some of the company's quirkier traits such as hugging seven people a day, Keller Williams' commitment to its identity is impressive.

Something else that is very noticeable is the energy from the Reunion's 800+ guests. There's enthusiastic dancing to an acoustic cover of Bruno Mars' ‘Treasure’ at 9am, bolstered by shouts of 'Energie!' and Mexican Waves from the multi-national crowd - something we don't expect to see at the upcoming NAEA Propertymark Conference.

Throughout the two days, the level of emotion and gratitude shown by agents is genuinely staggering, demonstrating just how deeply many hugely successful professionals have fallen for the company's ethos and model.

Keller Williams' culture also focuses strongly on agent mindset - encouraging them to 'think like a CEO', with one of Gary Keller's many famous quotes being: 'leadership is teaching people how to think'.

This kind of mindset has already trickled through to one of KW London Bridge's agents, Josh Smith, who now runs his own agency after moving over from Spicerhaart’s Felicity J. Lord lettings department a few months ago.

“The freedom I get with Keller Williams is great. We are never told what to do, just guided in the right direction,” Smith tells EAT.

“I’m enjoying the chance to build a business, taking the same steps as others have done before me using the clear steps provided.”

Smith (left) says he is benefitting from ‘world-class training’ from people who want to see him succeed.

“The flexibility of the structure means that I can get a haircut, go to the bank, go to the gym around my diary. It is allowing me to spend more time with loved ones,” he adds.

“I work harder than I did before but have the freedom to choose when and where I work.” 

“It means that my motivation levels and productivity levels are always high.”

France leading the way

One of the key takeaways from the Family Reunion is how incredibly successful the Keller Williams model has been in France over a short period of time.

Despite officially launching in the country a few years ago, Keller Williams France now has 1,400 agents. It is on course to be operating 44 Market Centres by the end of this year, with plans already in place to have 60 Market Centres by the end of 2021.

The French have shown their commitment to the Keller Williams brand by hiring two full-time translators to convert all the training courses and books to French, while many American English phrases are used interchangeably in Market Centres and in conversation.

London Bridge's Chris Buckler points out that the French are operating an almost identical system to the UK, praising their current national recruitment rate of approximately 150 agents per month.

He says that those in France have successfully gone through the 'mindset shift' and it's hard for us to disagree that the 'penny has dropped' across the channel.

Will it be a success in the UK?

And so to home shores, where the prospect of long-term success for Keller Williams' UK operation has often been questioned by industry insiders.

Keller Williams UK now operates seven Market Centres, located in London Bridge, Prime Central London, Glasgow, Leeds, Weybridge and Bromley, with the newest in Essex recently celebrating its official opening.

Its CEO, Ben Taylor, the highly-respected former managing director of John D Wood, tells EAT that the agency is currently recruiting approximately 25 new agents per month.

Meanwhile, Buckler says his Market Centre is committed to teaching agents to become business owners and that the risk is ultimately all on Keller Williams as they can 'leave at any point with their own database'.

"We need to make sure we empower our agents and we upskill them, so they know that it is possible," he says.

Everything required for the UK to replicate the huge growth in France is certainly there, but whether the Keller Williams recipe becomes an industry staple here remains down to those agents on the ground and the management teams providing the ingredients.

(Words by Conor Shilling, Head of Content, Angels Media)


  • Simon Shinerock

    The model is direct lift from the North American Life Assurance model, it works well in countries with high commissions and, or a strong realtor network. The difficulty with the UK for KW is they are up against low commissions, no regulatory hurdles and a strong high st culture. It’s an interesting play, to succeed it will need first class committed leadership and even then I’m not sure the juice will be worth the squeeze but we shall see

  • icon

    They are getting some momentum in the UK now but it has taken almost 6 years from the day Donald Morris brought the model in to the UK. A recently new CEO and appointment of Nicky Stevenson (now moved on) has certainly helped but can the Brit EA really ever buy into the culture. The above article mentions culture numerous times - Michael Bailey says "A lot of it was down to culture, and stuff that you don't normally get trained on. One key point that keeps coming out is that 'culture is the glue that keeps us all together’,” but this coin of phrase from Mo goes on to say “It’s very difficult to separate the culture and the systems, because the systems are written for the culture and the culture exists for the systems.” The company’s culture encourages interdependent relationships and achieving success through the efforts of others.
    However this EAT article doesn't mention their cult. They are very aware that their systems do not work without culture and I think this is why it has taken so long to take off in the UK.
    I could talk about this for days - their Stamford analysis of the KW Culture is made up of 40 points! Yes 40 and all are pretty relevant. But in my mind the key in the US is buying into 1. God. 2 Family and 3. Work. I won't go further but to say that I believe all 3 in that order is their greatest attribute to success so maybe that's why we have had slow lift off in the UK and some now trying to succeed where others may have failed or just decided to move on.
    I can freely say Gary Keller and his partner Jo are living genius but having changed in 2018 his former "we are a training company that happens to be in real estate" to "we are not a real estate company but a technology company" as stated in his 2018 Vision speech leaves me wondering if they may have turned the corner in the US, although I appreciate a successful biz has to change with innovation and the times - Sometimes it is harder to stay at the top than it is to get there especially as disrupters enter the market.
    Mo is the one that originally sided up with Gary and I believe it is her who drives the culture.
    Out of all the interviews in the UK esp the Chris Watkins ones they don't seem to have drilled down to the faith although I have tried to draw Chris on it via my personal involvement in what was a successful construction coy in the UK.
    To finish, an blog article with Mo headed Creating Corporate Culture the question was asked:
    How do you manage to deal with God and faith with such a large company like Keller Williams?
    Mo answered:
    We are a privately held company, and we respect each other. We respect the diverse faiths of all of our agents, and we pride ourselves on being able to talk about our faiths and learn from each other.

    The power of the Holy Spirit will convert some and lead them to Christ. Many agnostics have gone back to church after experiencing our cultural events or spending enough time as part of our Keller Williams family. I often receive letters from agents and employees saying that the environment of our company has helped them rediscover their Christian faith.

    It’s a matter of respect. There are no tensions if there is respect among all of the agents and employees.

    So, utilising their updated model, can this success be replicated in the UK - only time will tell. Whatever, personally, I can truly say my experience with Gary, Josh, Mo and a couple of their hierarchy was truly life changing - we hear people flippantly say this but I'm can assure you - they asked questions of me that I would never have thought to ask and I had to come up with the answers - I might add, all for a better me and my family

  • Chris Arnold

    "Submit and surrender to the model" - that phrase, from Andrew Barbar, leapt of the page.
    The model, in question, is fundamentally based on door-knocking, cold-calling and interruption marketing. The commitment takes the form of a 12 month intensive campaign (33 Touch / 8x8 ) that ultimately positions those agents as desperate beggars. "Overkill, over time" to quote their programme.

    The Bold training uses mindset exercises such as showering agents with fake dollar bills and colleagues chanting "you're a money magnet." One former agent described it thus:
    " I worked for KW for 1 year. No ethics, or morals. Whoever can get the listing in any way gets the deal, even from other sales agents."
    There is a very evident culture in my opinion. It attracts those that seek wealth, rather than those where wealth is a bi-product of contribution. Those agents that ignore social cues - because their needs are far more important than their reputation.
    It works, of course, but so does selling drugs and sex on the street corner.
    It has its converts, but so does the Church of Scientology.
    Transactional estate agency at its finest - guaranteed to further diminish the reputation of UK estate agents.
    Finally, the training offers little that isn't readily available for those of a curious mind.
    "Would they miss you if you were gone?" -Seth Godin The answer would be a resounding No for KW and their family.


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