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Realvolve Podcast Ep. 3: Kendyl Young, on building a real estate team

For episode 3 of the Realvolve Podcast, I chatted with our good friend Kendyl Young. Kendyl is the founder and CEO of DIGGS Real Estate in Glendale, California—and she's also the Director of Excitement here at Realvolve!

Here's what you'll learn in this episode:

  • What it was like when Kendyl brought on her first agent
  • How she built an authentic real estate brand
  • How Kendyl chooses the right agents for her team

Check it out, and enjoy!

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Dale Warner: What's up, Kendyl?

Kendyl Young: Hey, not much. What's up Dale?

Dale: I caught you in the middle of database time, which is why you were actually available via Skype. So I'm curious to know about more about this. Tell me about database time.

Kendyl: Well, look, the only way that we can sell houses is if we talk to people, right? I mean, that's what we know. But it's kind of hot outside, and while I could be out door knocking, I would sweat and it would make my makeup run. I don't wanna do that. So instead, what I've chosen to do today is go through all of these contacts that I have been accumulating over many years. I’m looking at the people I haven't been in contact with for a while and deciding, first of all, whether I’m going to keep them or delete them. And if I am going to keep them, how am I going to contact them? Am I gonna call them? Am I gonna send an email? Am I going to send a handwritten note? What am I gonna do? When I'm feeling brave, I make those phone calls. When I'm not feeling brave (like today), I go through my database and leave myself notes as to what I'm gonna talk to them about when I do make those phone calls.

Dale: So I have more questions, but first, tell us a little bit about you. You are a real estate agent from, like, real estate royalty, like a long lineage of real estate agents—

Kendyl: No, no. I'm just second gen.

Dale: Okay, second gen. And you're a team leader and a broker/owner.

Kendyl: Yes, those are some of my titles, yes.  Yeah, I am second generation real estate agent. I spent most of my career saying I would never ever manage other real estate agents, and so of course, now I own a brokerage and it's my job to develop talents of the people in my business—yay!—which sometimes feels a little bit like being a nanny. And sometimes we get to celebrate great wins. This has been a week of great wins.

Dale: You told yourself you would never be managing other real estate agents. So how did this happen then?

Kendyl: I'm old. I got bored (laughs).The assistant thing happened 12 or 15 years ago, when I discovered that my personal limit is 10 transactions running all at once. I can't do more than that, and I don't have a life when that's happening, so I hired my first assistant, a high school student. Anyway, I've learned a lot since then. Hiring my first agent was me saying, "Look, I've accepted that listing properties is something that I'm pretty good at and that I'd actually rather do that." Some people listening to this podcast are going to laugh, but I actually spent most of the first part of my career (I've been doing this for 31 years, so maybe the first 16 or 17 years) thinking that I wouldn't want to list property. I thought that working with buyers was more suited to me because listing seemed like an adult responsibility and since I'm still not an adult, I certainly wasn't 15 years ago. But when I decided to start listing property, I got good at it and then working with buyers seemed like a distraction from developing listings. And what I really truly believe is that the skill sets are very different. The skill set to work with a buyer well is a different skill set than working with a seller. So my first real estate agent was hired simply because I didn't want to work with buyers anymore. Not from an arrogant, ‘They're beneath me’ point of view, but more from a, ‘This is what I'm good at now and let me teach somebody to do what I was good at before.’

Dale: How long do you feel like that process was for you—from the little inkling that, "Hey, maybe I could be more efficient if I had somebody else handling my buyer clients," to actually actively looking for a buyer's agent? What was the timeframe? Was it like, "You know what, I wanna get a buyer's agent," and then you just started going out and looking for people?

Kendyl: No.

Dale: You're talking to coaches, talking to your broker at the time? What was that whole evolution like?

Kendyl: God, we're going in the wayback machine and it wasn't that long ago, but life has been so jammed up since I did that. Honestly, I think that it was less about finding a buyer's agent and more about accepting that I was ready to manage somebody else. And it was also accepting that I was able to create enough business to not only keep myself busy and pay my bills, but also that I was able to create enough business for another human being.To me, it felt like an enormous responsibility and I'm kind of genetically and culturally coded for more of a “lack mentality” than an “abundance mentality.” My people are not well known for taking huge risks. Now I'm gonna get a whole bunch of hate emails from Chinese people (laughs).  Okay, maybe I'll just own it for me and not all of my people. But that was a huge thing for me, and I think that accepting the responsibility for a buyer's agent was fairly close on the heels of accepting the responsibility, or accepting the challenge, of opening up an entire brokerage. I think it's all wrapped up in one and it had a lot to do with just getting outside of my own self imposed limits.

Dale: And so what was that process [of bringing on your first agent] like then?  Was it a success? Was that first person the right fit for you?

Kendyl: Yeah. It was. I had put out an email to my sphere of influence, literally a friend of a friend said, "You gotta meet this gal. She doesn't even have her license yet, she's just doing licensing classes." I met her, and I didn't know anything about what I wanted from a buyer's agent at all. I just fell in love with who she was, which is a truly good human being, and started training her. Took her on rounds when I went door knocking. I was by her side for a lot of open houses. She watched how I communicate with people, how I create trust in relationships. She modeled me probably for a lot longer than is normal, but my normal is not geared to be the industry normal anyway. And she probably didn't fly on her own for a good three to six months, but I tell ya, she would take my people and she would be able to seamlessly move in ... We're talking people who are my past clients, who have known me forever, and she was able to take over and make them feel comfortable, make them trust her, and to get them into homes that they really wanted to be in, and she just ... Man, in two years she just converted, and sold, and serviced, and made my clients happy like a charm.

Dale: Let's fast forward a little bit. When did you launch your brokerage, DIGGS?

Kendyl: I launched the brand in 2013. June 2nd, 2013. Facebook just helpfully sent me a little reminder that said, "By the way, on this date you launched DIGGS," which was pretty fun. I did not launch it as a brokerage, it was just a brand. I housed it under another brokerage because, you know, I was never going to have a brokerage.

Dale: So then when did you step out and launch it as a brokerage?

Kendyl: 2014. About a year and some change later.

Dale: What spurred that decision? You were potentially growing a team at this point, so why start a brokerage?

Kendyl: Well, I didn't wanna do the things that I perceived a brokerage did. I didn't wanna deal compliance, I didn't wanna deal with operations and a bunch of stuff that I didn't-

Dale: Oh, come on, all the fun stuff?

Kendyl: I didn't wanna deal with any of that because I didn't know what it entailed. I just wanted to sell homes in the coolest way possible. I picked the best brokerage and the best human being that I could find in my area to align DIGGS with. Unfortunately, that brokerage was really married to a lot of super old fashioned stuff. Their pace of evolution, their pace of meeting the customer's expectations and providing a better real estate experience, I knew it was really slow. I knew that it wasn't me. I didn't know how much it was gonna hold me back. So despite the best of intentions, I wasn't able to make it work with them.

Dale: This is really interesting, because last week I was just thinking about this a lot. I posted a little video on Facebook talking about cut day, and saying I wanna start doing this once a month where I spend a little bit of time evaluating everything that I'm doing day to day, and what I have my team doing day to day, and figure out something that should be cut. Maybe I might stumble upon a month here or there where I don't feel like we have any fat that we need to trim, but I've spent a lot of time thinking about cut day because it's really hard. I'm kind of attached to a lot of these things that I do. And going through this exercise, I thought a lot about patience, and I thought a lot about how maybe sometimes I'm too patient with certain things, with certain people, and maybe it doesn't help me and maybe it doesn't help them. So while I wanna maintain a soft heart as much as I possibly can, I don't wanna compromise my hardheadedness for success, and I think that's something you and I have in common, why I think we get along—

Kendyl: We get along?

Dale: Usually. Ninety percent of the time.

Kendyl: Alright.

Dale: So you have a hard head for certain things, and a soft heart for other things. How much do you think that played into the decision? Or do you even think about that?

Kendyl: Actually, this particular decision was clear to me very early on. I stayed with that brokerage for maybe 8 months total, but I knew that it wasn't gonna work within 3 months.

Dale: It was just biding your time then for-

Kendyl: I needed to get my brokerage license is what I needed to do, 'cause I didn't have it.

Dale: Got it.

Kendyl: And I was super clear that the people were the right people. It was just the environment—it was a paradigm that they'd created that didn't work.

Dale: So there are definitely different styles in brokerages.

Kendyl: Yeah, yeah.

Dale: So we're seeing this emergence now of very consumer-focused brokerages. There is certainly still plenty of room on the market for agent-focused brokerages. How did you think about that and your positioning in the market, and how did that whole strategy play into what you wanted to do with DIGGS?

Kendyl: That's a huge part of it. So I'm gonna go really big, and then I'm gonna get smaller.

Dale: Please do.

Kendyl: So as a huge industry, we're terrible at consumer focus and consumer experience. We're just terrible. In fact, I'm working on an essay right now on the concept that, as an industry, it never occurred to us to tell consumers what we do to be worth our commission. We just don't do it. We talk about how we're number one, we're luxury, we're global, we're best, we're lifestyle, fill in the blank—but none of these buzzwords actually say, "This is what we do to be worth any commission whatsoever," right? So that's bad as an industry.

At a brokerage level, we've become an industry that has brokerages that warehouse bodies. We call them body shops—an office that has maybe 50 desks, but 300 people on the roster. And of the 300 people on their roster, 20 of them sold enough homes to actually make a living wage, and of those 20 only 5 of them are making good money, right? So five people out of 300. This is not delivering a good customer experience at a brokerage level.

There are a lot of real estate agents that do a good job of delivering a great customer experience, but many of them are doing it on instinct and hard work, not forethought and strategy. Some of them just work harder than anybody else—they're constantly thinking about what their client needs and rushing to deliver that—and those are the people who are by and large working 24/7, right? And then there are very few (and I like to count myself among these few) who are looking at the customer and realizing the customer's expectation has changed. We understand that technology allows us to deliver a different customer experience at scale without really damaging that face-to-face that is so important, right? And coding in a system that allows us to deliver that experience again and again and again and again. Right?

And I won't say despite our individual talents, but I would say that the individual talents are an addition to the foundation of the operation.

Dale: Sometimes I think people feel like the real estate industry exists in a vacuum. And we have to remember—real estate agents especially, and brokerages—we need to remember that there are so many other trends in the consumer's lives that are going to affect the way they look at us as real estate agents, and as brokerages, and as brands. We can't be so conceited and so self-aggrandizing that we don't recognize that these other things are going to impact the way our clients expect us to communicate with them.

Kendyl: An example would be the Amazon reviews. When Amazon started doing reviews, nobody knew about them, right? It was this new thing. And now, the consumer expects to be able to hear what other consumers have experienced when they did business with you, or when they bought your product, or what have you. And that has completely changed the way consumers make their decisions, right? Now they trust a peer review—somebody else—more than they trust in advertising. And you know, that makes sense. But they might even trust [a peer review] more than a celebrity who talks about it, because we all know the celebrity's testimonial is for sale. We all know that Barbara Corcoran is for sale. So what she says, maybe she believes it, maybe she doesn't. She just likes the $30,000 that she gets for the testimonial, right?

And another thing that's really impacted our industry—think about Four Seasons. The Four Seasons Hotel, the chain. They deliver a customer experience that is unparalleled, and they used to be the only ones that did it. But now, after people have talked about it on social media, people are beginning to say, "I want that kind of an experience in this other part of my life. Can you do that?”

Dale: It's interesting to make that distinction. The Four Seasons compared to other hotel chains, that isn't to say that other hotel chains—

Kendyl: Compared to me.

Dale: Well, but I'm saying other hotel chains can do well against the Four Seasons, because there's a market for a different type of a service, at a different price point, at a different whatever. So I think if there's somebody that wants to have a celebrity endorse their brand, if they're somebody that spends a lot of money on billboards, if they have this lead machine that can take in a bunch of leads and digest it, that can really work for some people. You've made a conscious decision, ‘I'm gonna focus on building a brand that is “this” for my customers, for the people that are important to me. This is how we're gonna treat them, this is how we're gonna present ourselves to them, this is how much time we're gonna make for them, etc.’

I love how you've done that, because The DIGGS brand feels very, very integrated into the imagery, the feeling, the experience, and Kendyl's personality. I think you've done a beautiful job with all of those things kind of meshing together and I would say it's probably because you understand how all of those things tie in together with what you're trying to do with your mission. You have this cohesive strategy that works really well. It wasn't haphazard, disjointed, fly by the seat of your pants. It was a very purposeful delivery of this brand to consumers in your neighborhood.

So how do you go about doing that? I've never built a brand like that before. Is that something you have built in? Do you hire a bunch of marketing people for that?

Kendyl: I did hire a web designer. They're crazy. I love them. They're crazy.

It starts with your customer. You have to really think about who your customer is. Now, some people are going to discover that by thinking first about who they are, and what they're good at, and who they attract, and why. Some people will look at it in terms of who do they want to serve? It's kind of the chicken/egg thing. One or the other, they go together, right? But I've been doing real estate for a really long time so it was a little bit easier for me to look at who has been attracted to me, and what they look like, and what they believe.

So the foundational thing that I was looking at was what is the customer thinking, what is it they're feeling, what do they believe about real estate, about themselves, about their community, about me, about my company? So I did a really deep thinking session about that, a lot of writing, rewriting, rewriting again. This is not an easy thing to do. It didn't happen like in five minutes, it wasn’t like, "Oh look, I think we're gonna do DIGGS, and we'll be super cool and add a second G," and, "Look, I think we'll do-" I mean, it's just not like that. Right?

So [the first step is] really getting to know what your customer is—since like I said, when I started DIGGS, it was never gonna be a brokerage. It was just gonna be me and it was gonna be my ecosystem. I just wanted to know what my ecosystem should look like, feel like, and represent, because a brand is not a logo, it's not a set of colors, it's a promise of what it's gonna be like if you do business with me. So I just wanted to know what the people who have been doing business with me, what do they expect?

And everything fell from that.

Dale: And you really knew from day one what it was gonna be about. It was gonna be very much a consumer-facing brand, and then a consumer-facing brokerage.

Kendyl: Yeah, like I said, I never expected to have agents, I wasn't interested in attracting agents with my awesome splits and my phenomenal marketing package, and all the other things that agents want. I don't—I'm gonna get hate mail for this one too—I really don't give a rip what the agents want necessarily. I only care about what the agents want in so far as it allows them to do a better job for their customers. Right? I care about that. I care about that a lot, but all the rest of the stuff that the industry focuses on as a way of attracting and retaining superstar agents, maybe I'll never be a brokerage that has that.

Dale: Well, that's right. That's the beautiful thing about what you're doing I think, because it's really easy for us to get sucked into what other people's goals are, what their priorities are, what they're chasing. And when we start chasing behind those who are chasing something, it doesn't necessarily make sense with our personality or the lifestyle that we want. And from day one you said, "Well, I don't wanna be like some of these other brokers that make a lot of money. I don't wanna do that, I don't wanna have this lifestyle. This is what I want."

Kendyl: Nice to pay the bills, but yeah. I wanna see if I can build a brokerage that is 100% dedicated to a better customer experience, period.

Dale: So now you're recruiting new agents. I was talking to you on the phone last week, and you had to cut me off because you had an agent coming in for a training session. What are the things you're looking for now? So, to contrast, your first agent you hired was a good fit for you, you spent about four months having them shadow you, and that's just how it worked out. What do you do now? Is it a process? Is it individually tailored to each agent?

Kendyl: Still individually tailored to each agent. We're still small enough that I can do that. So you asked a bunch of questions in that. First question that I heard was what am I looking for now in an agent. I'm looking for somebody who's really smart. I've decided that I am ill equipped to develop someone who's stupid. I just don't have the patience or the graciousness necessary for that. And when I say stupid, I don't necessarily mean that everybody in my company is a genius, although we did do a little pissing match by trading IQ scores the other day and the IQ factor in this office is kinda scary high, but that's beside the point. I mostly mean someone who is just slow to learn, or maybe is not curious. I don't have the graciousness factor for that.

So they gotta be smart, they need to have a thirst for learning. They need to have a servant's heart, which is a very cliched term in the Christian world but what I mean by that is that they're more interested in making a difference in somebody else's life than they are looking like they're super different and awesome, and I dunno...their eyes are not so much on themselves, but on who they can help and who they can serve.

Dale: Yeah, I had a friend in here recently, David Behr, and he was just talking about how some agents walk in the door and you can smell the commission breath on them right away.

Kendyl: Yes, if they have that it's really tough. Very, very difficult. And I have a guy in my business that is just so not a salesperson. He's awkward, he's dorky, we both—he and I—suspect that he might even be a little bit on the Asperger's Spectrum, and it's been really tough for him because he's not slick, and he doesn't have a huge sphere of influence. I said to him, "Look, I believe in you. I believe that you're gonna be able to learn and find your way, but you have to be patient with yourself because none of the stuff for salespeople is gonna work for you." And so he's been with me for about a year and it's just starting to click for him.

Dale: You’re really needing for him to have his own style that presents itself.

Kendyl: Yeah, and I told him, I said, "I can't teach you your style because I don't know what it is."

We're gonna have to discover it together. So yeah, a brokerage like mine is the only place for somebody like him, because in your average mega-brokerage, he'd be lost in a heartbeat.

Dale: So typically, when I ask Realvolve customers on a scale of 1 to 10 how tech savvy they are, I usually get like a 4 or a 5. What would you say, on a scale of 1 to 10, your level of tech savviness is?

Kendyl: For a muggle, I'm probably an 11.

Dale: Yeah, I suspect—

Kendyl: Like Spinal Tap, "Turn it up to eleven, yeah?"

Dale: So, how much do you delegate? And how much are you doing yourself, because you just can't give it away? Because getting back to the opening of our conversation today, it’s database time. You're doing it yourself, you're sitting here for—

Kendyl: Yeah, almost no brokers and no agents do what I do. It's not reasonable.

Dale: Right, and for hours. You've blocked out hours of time to go through your database, make sure everything is up to date, plan out what you're gonna do next with individual people in your database, etc. What are you delegating, what are you not delegating, just because of you? And not necessarily that this is advice for somebody else, but for you, what are you not delegating? What do you enjoy doing yourself? What do you do simply because you want the control still?

Kendyl: My goal—and I'm doing pretty well with this—my goal is to delegate anything that doesn't depend 100% on me. So going through the database, it has to be me, because I'm the only person who knows why that person is in the database to begin with.

Dale: Right. It's a relationship that goes back a decade or something.

Kendyl: Right, I'm the only person who can fill in the gaps. I mean, there are lots of people in that database that we collected because they came into one of our open houses, so theoretically I don't need to do that, but how do you separate them? So 5,685 contacts, that all has to be me going through it, yay!

So I keep what has to be me, which is that kind of stuff. Making prospecting phone calls to my personal sphere has to be me. What else has to be me? The training of the agents has to be me because I'm the one with all the experience right now. But as much as possible, anything that doesn't have to be me, I'm giving it away even though it's painful. So the Instagram account, I had to give that away. I loved doing that, that's so much fun, but I had to give that away, right?

Dale: Are you kidding me? I'm like, "Oh please, social media, take it." I want nothing to do with that.

Kendyl: Yeah. Writing blog posts. I mean, I still write blog posts, but I'm not responsible for regular generation of content. I write blog posts when I get a hair up my butt and I need to write about something, but the regular content production is not me. Events, I never loved doing events, but I hired somebody to do that. Bookkeeping...just as much as I can give away, I have.

Dale: And you said you're getting better all the time?

Kendyl: Yeah, I mean, I didn't think I'd ever give any of that away, and when I started filling up my dance card with really interesting things, that stuff got a lot easier to give away.

Dale: So, when it comes to bringing on new agents—and when I say “new,” I don't necessarily mean new new, I mean new to you—what are you—

Kendyl: Nope, they're new.

Dale: I guess for you it is new new, usually. You like to recruit new agents, at least new-ish.

Kendyl: Right, I'm starting to have conversations with established agents—and that's a huge deal for me—with the goal of bringing them to DIGGS.

Dale: But you haven't gone there that much yet.

Kendyl: Well, the agents that I want aren't gonna move just because they're moving people; they're not gonna break up with their brokerage. They would come to DIGGS because they really want what I have. That's a long conversation.

Dale: Right. So when you're bringing on agents, you have to put on your broker coach hat. And, being an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10, technology-wise, what are you wanting to make sure to instill in them as a new member of the DIGGS brand representing your brokerage?

Kendyl: Well, what I gave up is the idea that I would attract agents that are as technologically interested as I am. And we've coded everything, so they don't actually have to intersect with technology. They just need to go out and be good people. So that was a huge shift for me. I do have a reputation for being a major dork, a major geek.

Dale: No.

Kendyl: Yeah. So calming them down so they realize that they don't have to be a computer whiz to be a success at DIGGS is definitely part of it. I don't have any of the trappings of a normal office, so it's a little disconcerting for someone coming to work here. They're like, "Where's my cubby?" I don't have cubbies. "Where are my file folders?" I don't have those. "Where are my file drawers?" Don't have those either. "Where's my phone?" Yeah, we don't have those either.

Dale: You have your cell phone and your laptop, you're good.

Kendyl: Yeah, that's pretty much it. So that's another reason why I want new agents—they're easier to shift into that paradigm rather than the old model where basically people wasted a lot of time at their desk. And then the rest of it is getting them focused on what truly matters, and discovering their limitations and helping them bust through those.

Dale: So what's next for you then? What kinds of—

Kendyl: World domination.

Dale: Yeah. I mean, what is the future that you see look like, for you and for DIGGS? What are you looking at in terms of your next goals, milestones? How far out do you look?

Kendyl: My affirmation goal, if you will—the one that I write about every morning—is to have 10 active saleable listings for the company every day. A pretty big goal for a small brokerage. And to not get tangled up on how I'm gonna make that happen. It's a big deal here in California. Most agents will have maybe 1 listing active, because they sell so quickly. So to have 10 active all at once, it's a big, big deal, and that will only happen if I'm able to attract producing agents that are able to do that.

And there's a lot of stuff that falls from that, right? To make that happen, I need to attract producing agents, and I need to develop the agents that I have, and I need to further my community relationships so that we attract more people who need us.

So that's my immediate goal.

My not particularly far off in the future goal is to figure out how to get out of production. I don't want to sell houses anymore. I don't even wanna list houses. So there’s a lot of stuff that falls from that. I need to be able to either develop, or align, with an agent who can be that listing agent within DIGGS. I need to develop a system so that no matter what, the client will get a predictable experience from Transaction 1 to Transaction 10. Realvolve plays a huge part with that.

And then where we go from there—will I open additional offices? Will I do something really big? Will I go outside of my geographic area? Those are too far in the future for me to really chew on. I've got stuff nibbling in the back of my head and no real commitments.

Dale: Well, every time I get to chat with you, it's always invigorating. I really appreciate you taking a few minutes. We're out of time now. So generous of you to spend time with us, really, thank you so much Kendyl. It's fun to watch your brand grow and it's always a pleasure to rub shoulders with you. We'll talk to you soon.

Kendyl: Talk to you soon. Bye.

Dale: Bye.

Dale Warner

Dale Warner is the Chief Operating Officer at Realvolve and oversees daily operations, sales, and marketing strategy, as well as development and customer support initiatives. Dale joined Realvolve in August of 2016 as the VP of Sales and brings to the role a healthy background in managing startups toward sustainable and consistent growth.

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