The Real Estate Dish: 20 Minutes with Michael McKenna of Weichert Realtors - McKenna & Vane
Join QuantumDigital’s EVP and CMO Eric Cosway as he gets the latest dish on real estate trends and technology with Michael McKenna, President and Co-founder of Weichert, REALTORS® McKenna & Vane, an independently-owned Weichert affiliate that specializes in properties located in Columbia and throughout the Howard County are in Maryland. In Michael’s role as President, he’s responsible for managing the company’s operations.
Eric: Michael, welcome to the podcast.
Michael:Thanks so much. I appreciate being here, Eric. Thank you for the invitation.
Eric: It’s long overdue. I know you and I talked about this, I think, at the Weichert event last fall, and finally got you on the radar.
Michael:Yeah, that was The Bahamas, right?
Eric: It was. Atlantis—I had a really good time there. I didn’t realize, traveling to the airport on a Friday morning, that there’s rush hour in The Bahamas.
Michael:Yeah, it’s hard to believe that people are rushing to get anywhere there. Everything is so beautiful.
Eric: Yeah, it is. So, maybe you can tell our audience a little bit of a brief overview of your background and your current role at McKenna & Vane.
Michael:I guess I started in sales at the young age of 14. I started in the sports and nutrition business, after college. I ran a sales organization with protein supplements. And then, a good friend of mine that I’ve known pretty much I guess 75 percent of my life, had gotten his real estate license and thought it would be a great idea. I agreed, so we joined forces. We started as a team. We quickly had success in the boom of the market. We opened up our brokerage in 2004, and never really looked back. Now, I serve as our president, and really just oversee the operations of our organization—everything from systems, team accountability, leading, motivating, mentoring, coaching, you name it.
Eric: So, when I first met you, it was definitely probably five, six, seven years ago. You’re up to 70 agents now, correct?
Michael:Yeah, close to that.
Eric: Wow, you guys have really grown. And I know you do a lot of recruiting. Tell me about the new agent coming in—you’re obviously a great coach and facilitator—what are the expectations you want new agents to understand when they’re coming into the industry and working for someone like you?
Michael:Well, our foundation is built on, really, a 90-day trek for them to get started. The first 30 days is to be acclimated to a brand new suite of tools and systems. And to really get comfortable with, “You’re now your own boss.” Yes, we coach and motivate and lead and guide you, your first 30 days is understanding what the term SOI (sphere of influence) means, how to capitalize on that and, from the next 60 days, we try to get you really understanding the idea of prospecting, understanding the focus of open houses and the strategies that are within, so we can put you in front of buyers and sellers that hopefully, and our goal is to put you under contract, with a commission, in those first 90 days.
Eric: You know, that’s really smart. Because you’re right. You can’t be too patient in this industry because everyone’s an individual contractor. What frustrates you? Are people asking for the assistance they need within those 90 days? Or are you having to reach out to them and provide it?
Michael:It’s a little bit of give and take. You can tell, really, what someone’s long term… I guess, longevity will be based on their first 90 days. When they’re brand new, we have the most influence over them at that time. They’re interested, so they want to engage and they want to learn all that they can as quickly as they can, because we all know that we don’t get paid until we sell a house or lease a property. So, it’s a give and take of we’re reaching out to them to make sure that they’re still involved and motivated, and they’re coming into the office really trying to get that water cooler language, I guess, understood.
Eric: Yup. And it’s not an easy industry to understand. There’s a lot of little subtleties that make it extremely complex. So, this whole new wave of disruption coming. Talk a little bit about that. You know, real estate agents are an important part of the fabric of a very complex industry, yet there’s a lot of tools and technologies coming. How do you view disruption? What’s your take on it?
Michael:The disruption has always been there. It just changes its color, its shield, its mechanism of introduction into the work environment. Now, we have the iBuyer phenomenon. But, they’ve always kind of been there. It's just changing the medium to create another level of distraction. Our focus is to stay steadfast in creating value, understanding what the consumer wants, they buyer’s and the seller’s needs, and do the assessments up front, explain our value proposition, talk about what it is that we’re going to offer, every single time without fail. And it seems to work. We all have goals, and then we hit them and then we try to get a loftier goal the next season or the next quarter, whatever you’re working towards. So, the distractors are out there. I really try to not pay them as much mind as they want me to, because I know the core of this business is in the community of people that I want to service, and that’s where I like to stay.
Eric: Have you had any listing sellers talk to you about “Hey, do you guys have an iBuyer option?” or, “Do you have a cash option?” Has that come up yet? Or, probably, it’s always come up. But, tell me more about that.
Michael:Yeah, it’s always been there, kind of in the background. There are some competitors in our marketplace that have, I guess you call them, “guaranteed sale programs.” But, I guess because of what it brings to the table and how it’s packaged, for us it’s a really easy obstacle to overcome just going through our value proposition. Being affiliated with a national franchise, and having the tools that we do, it doesn’t really seem to be an insurmountable focus point, and the sellers understand… we address their concerns, and then we just started continuing the process of how we operate, and our success is in the numbers.
Eric: Okay, well let’s focus on your local community for a sec. I’ve known you guys for a while. I understand a big portion of your DNA is your volunteer work, and inspires you to serve your community. Can you give our audience a bit more color on those types of events and activities?
Michael:Yeah. We’ve had some pretty good success with national organizations from St. Jude’s to Wounded Warrior projects from time to time. But, our core is finding out what our—and when I say “our community,” our agents are heavily vested in—we have some grassroots programs in the Howard County market where we are in Columbia, and food drive and banks we work with in the Carroll County market organization called, “The Sober Truth.” I believe that’s what they call themselves. We have constant collections, whether it’s coat drives, or linens and towels, and things of that nature, on an ongoing basis to try to continue our community efforts, and give back to the community that we serve.
Eric: Yeah, that’s fantastic. And I have to believe that it is part of that social fabric that makes you guys unique, and allows you to make really strong connections locally, I would think.
Michael:No, absolutely. I mean, a real-time example is this Saturday, we are supporting the the Mainstreet Association for Mount Airy—they’re putting on a glow run in the evening, and the weather seems to be really perfect for this. But, it starts at 8:30 in the evening. It’s a 5K, and we’re raising awareness and funds for the Mainstreet Association because they’re going through a complete master plan redevelopment process right now. So, anything we can bring to the attention and the forefront of our local community in that regard is great. And the bonus is, the kids are allowed to participate, we get the little bit of exercise, and some late night walking and running, so I’m looking forward to it.
Eric: Yeah, I know. That’s fantastic. So, let’s shift gears a little bit. Lots of technology out there—and you mentioned it, a little while back, about getting your new recruits and your realtors engaged in technology early—what do you see are some of the biggest opportunities of the marriage between a good agent and technology?
Michael:I think, as we like to put it in our 90-day campaign when they first get started, is, “The fortune is in the follow up.” And technology now gives us the ability to have dashboards and information available at the fingertip-ready. So, it’s always in our pocket. It’s there to be completed, whether it’s first name, last name, email, phone number, along with what are their kids names? What are their real hobbies? What do they like to do? All of that is now a part of the daily dashboard maintenance or management with our follow-up. So, that technology—and it being so readily available—I think is underutilized by the agent. And they kind of miss that. And they have a hard time really understanding how to best utilize it. So, those are some of the things that we focus on is… CRM is that, but now it’s just crazy.
Eric: I want to ask a question about that because there’s many CRM tools—you guys have great tools as well, you know there’s the seller visualize, the listing tools that agents seem to gravitate to fairly easy—but when it comes to the back end, the contact management system, the CRM system, why is it so difficult for agents to engage and really use that as part of their day-to-day activities?
Michael:I think they take it for granted. I was just having a conversation this morning with one of my top agents. She is very dynamic. She’s extremely intelligent. And I think there’s a little bit of that overthinking that is involved in the process. And it’s something that—we all have a daily task list, and some of us live and die by them, and we put the hardest things at the top, and the easiest things at the bottom—but, we all tend to stay away from the things that we don’t like doing. So, keeping in contact with our SOI, trying to marry the information into a computer system or platform. To a lot of folks in today’s world, it’s daunting. Maybe they’re afraid of it, or they don’t want to bother their friends or family, is another thing that we get a lot.
Eric: I have tried to look at each of the personas of realtors, you know a lot of people in the industry are just great networkers and they’re fantastic at it. And, when it comes to networking via systematic approach and machines, maybe there’s a disconnect there. Because they feel they’re doing it as part of their overall social way of conducting their business, and conducting themselves on a day-to-day business.
Michael:Yeah, I think they might think that because they did something on social, that’s enough. But, it really isn’t. And, what I’m starting to see is, everything. We preach in this business the idea of a hub, and then we have spokes that reach out to enlarge our networks. But, you have to take the consumer and your SOI from your website, if you have one, to your Facebook page, to your email account, to your Facebook Messenger, and then back around. And, it’s got to be a full circle approach. You’re not going to just find one on email, and you’re not going to find one, say, in Messenger through Facebook or social media platforms. You have to create that full circle. And, as I said, it’s daunting, it’s scary. I’m not sure if I’ve really captured what the fear is, or why. But, I’m going to keep working on it. I’m not going to give up.
Eric: No question. I think you said you’ve been around since 2004. Is there a major milestone or a proud moment of achievement that you look back on?
Michael:Yeah, actually two. We were, I guess, opening up our first office in a major space. It was January of 2008. And within, I guess, just two short years, we went from 15 agents to over 80. And we hit the $2 million GCI (gross commission income) mark, I think it was 2010. That seems to be, you know, everybody gauges “What is your GCI?” and I’ve learned different as I grow older in this business. But, that one. And then, we had some expansion opportunities. And we went into three locations—we now are down to two—but, the third location didn’t work as we had intended it to do. And our ability to be agile, and quickly close it down. We didn’t let it linger, and we didn’t let it destroy the rest of the business, or at least get down that road. So, I’m really proud of that. It doesn’t sound like I should be proud of that, but we tried something, it didn’t quite work to our desirability, and we pulled back on it right away, making a quick, good business decision.
Eric: What’s the real world reality? Do the agents need offices today? I mean, has anything suffered as a result of not having that third office?
Michael:No. And they’re all within 15 miles of each other, and that seems like a lot. But it really isn’t. And, when we closed the office down, we didn’t lose one agent from a transfer perspective. And, to answer your question initially, square footage of our spaces are becoming less and less. It’s meeting spaces for our clients, big open training setup, and that’s about it. The agents can work from pretty much anywhere. Our entire office setup, from document to communication, is all paperless. It’s all in the cloud, with two and three server logins and safety, all meet the standards of today’s requirements. But, I can do everything from my phone, pretty much anywhere in the world, on a milk crate.
Eric: Isn’t that true. We’re in this new world, and I think the office spaces will continue to adapt and change. And I look at the realtors out there now that are virtual. So, the business models are changing and pretty innovative. So, if you look back at your professional career, can you share maybe a challenging, or a formative experience, or lesson learned that you carry with you every day?
Michael:Yeah, I can. And it was said in one of the Facebook groups or social media groups that I’m a part of. When David and I—my business partner, David Vane, he’s our broker, he’s been my close and dear friend for almost 25 years now—we were a team at a different brokerage before we opened ours, and we were doing very well. One of the things that really hit home is running a team or selling real estate, and then running a business as a real estate brokerage, is two separate things. And it really can be done, if you do it right. It presents its own challenges, but the idea of your personal business and the business that you earned and kept, and keep in contact with, is separate from the real estate brokerage. And working with great personalities and people that want to grow in that same space. So, that was the biggest “a-ha” like light bulb moment for me is yes it can be done, in my humble opinion, but it is two separate businesses. It’s the idea of separation of your personal business, and the business that you’ve done prior to starting the brokerage. And then the brokerage is another one, altogether.
Eric: So, I think I understand it now. In your role, obviously, you mentioned it, managing company operations, and David is the broker. Correct?
Eric: So, how would someone describe your leadership style? Are there tips you’d give our audience about leadership and managing company operations?
Michael:I think it’s best described, two things. I hear a lot that I am one that can build the airplane from the sky, and in another tone, I’m a servient leader. I’m definitely the most vocal in my organization. Not much embarrasses me, from the public perspective. But, keeping everybody motivated, keeping the environment fun and energized, is something that I believe is an absolute must-have. Keeping them accountable to their daily and weekly responsibilities is another. And understanding that, yeah, we can have a heated moment where we may disagree—and that’s okay, that’s professional—but, after that’s over, we can have a continued professional relationship, and there’s no hard feelings. Very difficult to do at times, but I think it’s very doable. And then, changing with the landscape of our business. Our landscape has changed, just in my 16 years, it seems like 360 degrees—from the documents needed to write a contract, to the challenges of the consumer and, like you said, the disruptors, being nimble and agile, and yeah, we’re building the plane from the sky. Things are going to move, and what I’ve learned is the only constant in this business, is change.
Eric: So, if I were to ask you, “crystal ball” your business a couple of years down the road, maybe 24 months or 36 months down the road, what are the two or three things that you see would be changing as a result of all this noise around you?
Michael:I think our office space will shrink as far as square footage needs and requirements. More of a cafe model. I think our staff is going to be hyper-focused on continuing to service the customer. And I have this new phrase in my company now. It’s about three years old, but it’s, “success champion,” and it’s a success manager role. And it covers everything from helping deal, doctor, to following up and facilitating checkpoints with the consumers, whether buyer, seller, tenant or landlord, because we do have full-service property management in-house. That role, I think, is paramount, and it’s becoming more and more relevant in the space that we’re in.
Eric: How do you see that? Do you see that post-transaction as well? Going really long-term through the post-transaction, and being that success facilitator, and that success agent then?
Michael:It’s from the very start. It’s thanking them for the business. We know they have choices. I mean, I’ve worked in the restaurant business, I’ve worked in the fitness industry, and you know how many gyms are on the street corners, you know how many restaurants are available now. The consumer has almost too many choices. So, when the do select you to work with, you have to thank them right from the beginning, and you have to check in over and over again. And, I’ll be honest, the successful agent that’s doing business is too busy to do that. So, my role is to create this environment to where I have staff support, and our goal is to champion the effort—”Thank you for doing business with us.” “Thank you for doing business with our realtor partners,”—all the way through, start to finish. I don’t believe that, if you get it at the very end, you’ve earned the right to get the five-star testimonial. You have to do it from the very start.
Eric: Ah, very smart. You’re providing that consistent oversight, and that communication flow that locks that person into understanding, and keeping your brand top-of-mind. I like it.
Eric: What are your personal passions outside of real estate? Tell us more about what you do when you’re not working.
Michael:I spend as much time as I can with my family. I’ve got a beautiful wife. She’s a working mom, executive. She is an amazing woman. I have two beautiful kids, my daughter Logan and my son, Carter. Seven and a half and five and a half, and we can’t forget the halfs because it’s very important to them. They are very active in extracurricular activities and programs, from dance, to soccer, to baseball, and just being outside with them. We just moved into, I guess people call it the “forever home.” So, learning the new house, and getting back into the woods, and having some fun like I did when I grew up with my family as a kid. Spending time with my family, definitely, and getting together with some of my close friends to celebrate the moment. Because, as we all are told, we only get one of these things called life. So celebrate every moment you can.
Eric: I guess the most important question: Are you still drinking protein shakes?
Michael:Yeah, my wife and I do that. She’s more passionate about it than I am. Actually we met and got to know each other quite well in the gym environment. I actually proposed to her at the gym, believe it or not. Funny story, maybe for a different podcast, I guess. But, yeah, we’re fortunate enough and now have all the things that she likes to work out on in the home. So, she’s very, very active and passionate about health and fitness.
Eric: Yeah, I was visualizing you at Gold’s Gym, just after a massive leg workout. This has been fantastic. It’s really how I want these podcasts to go, it’s so people can get a better understanding of you, and how you conduct your business, and your personal life. And, wow, what a pleasure. It’s been fun.
Michael:It’s been great. Really appreciate the opportunity. Eric, thank you so much.
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