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Liz Smith on the 2021 RealTrends 1000

This week, HousingWire’s Editor in Chief Sarah Wheeler interviews Liz Smith, client services manager at RealTrends.  In this episode, Smith examines the 2021 RealTrends + Tom Ferry the Thousand and America’s Best Real Estate Professionals rankings.

Here is a small preview of the interview, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity:

Sarah Wheeler:  I would think because RealTrends has been doing this for years and years now, that some of the greatest insights are not just from what happened this year but in comparison to previous years. So, can you tell us a little bit about what you found when you were looking at the numbers this year and how that compared to other years?

Liz Smith: We grew in the RealTrends’ rankings by over 4000 agents and teams, which is just crazy. The year before, I think we grew, maybe by 1000. I think it was just shy of that. So, to jump that significantly is just huge. It really goes to show that in 2020, volume was just out of control and bonkers, and people could hit that volume number a lot easier. RealTrends also did see that while sides were about the same, we definitely saw that volume uptick. And for some of the areas where transaction uptick did happen, we saw new homes being built. So, it was really interesting to see that data.

The Housing News podcast explores the most important topics happening in mortgage, real estate, and fintech. Each week a new mortgage or real estate executive joins the show to add perspective to the top stories crossing HousingWire’s news desk. Hosted by Sarah Wheeler and produced by Alcynna Lloyd.

Below is the transcription of the interview. These transcriptions, powered by Speechpad, have been lightly edited and may contain small errors from reproduction:

Sarah Wheeler: Welcome, everyone. This is Sarah Wheeler, Editor-in-Chief of HousingWire, with the latest episode of the “Housing News Podcast.” I’m very excited to introduce our guest today, Liz Smith, who’s the Manager of Ranking Programs at RealTrends, a HousingWire sister company. Today we’re going to be discussing the RealTrends + Tom Ferry The Thousand List of America’s top 1000 real estate sales professionals and teams. Liz, we’re so excited to have you.

Liz Smith: So great to be here. Thank you, Sarah. Well, our America’s best ranking is our main large rankings that breaks down by state. So this is the rankings that you can qualify for, if you make 50 million in volume as an independent agent, or 50 transaction sides. And for teams, it’s 30 million or 75 million in volume. And we take that and we had 18,200 submissions to that rankings. And we take the literal 1000. So the top 500 agents, 500 teams, and we create The Thousand. So there isn’t any minimum qualifications for The Thousand, because we don’t know what they are. They change every year. This year, the numbers are really, really high. We all know that 2020 was crazy. And this report shows it. So that is the main difference between the two rankings. Both are really prestigious and shows the top of the agents and teams in the nation. But The Thousand is just the top of the top.

Sarah Wheeler: Well, thanks for clarifying that. I know because this is such a prestigious award to be on either of those lists, when you think about how many, to your point, how many there are. And the fact that there are, like, 1.4 million real estate agents, you know, doing deals all over the country. Like, there are way more real estate agents than there are houses for sale, and actually more than many professions. So, to be ranked at the top like that is just really impressive. And so, for The Thousand, you guys have been doing that for a lot… How many years has The Thousand list been going?

Liz Smith: For 16 years. This is the 16th year we’ve been doing it. We started with the broker rankings, which came out in March. And then we heard just a lot of feedback from the industry about ranking these agents and teams that are high producing. So we started that, 16 years ago.

Sarah Wheeler: Wow, that’s crazy. How long have you been with RealTrends?

Liz Smith: About a year and a half. So this is my second rankings, living through the cycle. And it just got even better than last year. I mean, last year was crazy, and the pandemic, and at home, and trying to get everything done. But, you know, we did. And then this year was even better. So, it was really fun.

Sarah Wheeler: Wow, that is so impressive. I know it’s just a really huge lift. And the fact that you guys were able to compile that, you know, through all the challenges of the last year is really impressive. So tell us a little bit about how that works. What does that look like as far as what your methodology is and how you gather that information?

Liz Smith: Yeah, all really good questions. So we work with most of the national brands. They submit in bulk to us. So they verify all of the information on the front end, and we only accept residential numbers. So we don’t count land, lots, leases, rentals, referrals, or commercial. So they comb through all of their data and make sure that what they’re submitting to us is correct, and they bulk submit. But then we also allow individual agents and teams to submit through our portal on the website, and supply verification. And a lot of these are the independent brokerages and people that just own their own company or are running their own business. And so we do verify. That’s one of the biggest things that we have about these rankings is, it’s not just a pay for play to say. We do verify everything. And even on the top 1000, we triple verify. We want to make sure what we’re giving out into the public is correct. So we definitely do our due diligence on that.

And so that’s pretty much how we collect the data, and bringing it all in is a chore. It’s a lot of spreadsheets. And this year, we built our own system so that it uploaded into a database to hold it all, which was amazing and lovely. And we were able to manipulate the data much easier.

Sarah Wheeler: I would think because we’ve been doing this for years and years now that some of the greatest insights is not just what happened this year, but comparing it to previous years. So can you tell us a little bit about what you found when you were looking at the numbers this year, and how that compared to other years.

Liz Smith: So we grew in the rankings by over 4000 agents and teams, which is just crazy. The year before, I think we grew, maybe by a 1000. I think it was just shy of that. So to jump that significantly is just huge. And it really goes to show what happened in 2020, that volume numbers were just out of control and bonkers. And people could hit that volume number a lot easier. We did see that sides were about the same. But we definitely saw that volume uptick. And for some of the areas, the transaction uptick did happen as well, with new homes being built, and all of the things that happened in 2020. So, it was really interesting to see that data.

Sarah Wheeler: As you said that, I mean that really puts some stats behind what we know was just an incredible year for everyone. And it’ll be interesting to see what happens when we look at the numbers next year, when you think about how many real estate deals aren’t being done just because there’s no inventory. So you’ll have, you know, 25 offers on a house. Well, only one house went through. Meanwhile, you’ve got all that, you know, pent up demand. So, I think that’s the most interesting thing to me, is just to look at historically and see what’s going on with these. Well, why don’t you give us the highlights? Like, what is the… When you look at the people who are at the top of this list, are there any things that you can say, “Oh, this is why or this is what we’re noticing in the top 5 or the top 10?”

Liz Smith: Well, I think it’s interesting, the top states. And they’re kind of who you think they would be. Texas, Florida, California, Washington, all had huge numbers in 2020. To your point, I’ll be so curious in 2021, does the count fall even… Do we lose agents and teams based off of inventory and what is happening this year? We definitely saw an increase in Compass agents, and their overall number was definitely higher. Let’s see, some of the other big jumps, independent brands grew a lot as well. So I think it’s showing that things are spreading out. And it’s not over just the big brands, RE/MAX, Keller. Most of them all increased in numbers.

Sarah Wheeler: That is really interesting. You know, I know then when you’re looking at one of the stories that we wrote about it on “HousingWire” was that, you know, the big growth, but it was talking about there were huge boosts in transaction sides and volume, yet productivity didn’t increase year to year, if you look at from 2019 to 2020. How do you look at that and how can you see that?

Liz Smith: You know, we do an average by the teams and individuals. And this year we did change up the rankings from last year. So that is something to note. Last year we had categories for what we called agent-owned brokerages and team-owned brokerages. And those were for independent brokerages or agents who owned their own business. And we tried to separate them out to highlight what they had done, and that their business was in this ranking. We got feedback, and trying to get it all done was a little bit harder than we had anticipated. So we did remove those categories this year. So this year, we went back to basics. We are individual and teams. But we did continue to break out the teams. And this year, we broke them out into four categories. Last year, they were in three categories. This year, we have small, medium, large, and mega. And I think it just better allows the teams across the nation to show and to be valued for what they are. Our small teams, their production is huge. It’s really high. The mega teams are obviously really high as well. Sometimes those medium teams get a little lost. And is it worth having a couple extra agents if the small team can get it done? So I think that there’s different ways to look at all of the data. And it is, like I said, a little bit harder this year from last year, just because it’s not a straight comparison.

Sarah Wheeler: Yeah, that’s really interesting. So how are you categorizing small, medium, mega? What do all those categories look like?

Liz Smith: Great question. So we do it by licensed team members. So if they have two to five licensed members, they’re a small team. Six to 10 is medium. Eleven to 20 is large. And anything above 21 is considered a mega team.

Sarah Wheeler: Liz, as we get in into the specifics of the list, I know it’s going to, you know, make people want to go and look it up. So, of course, they can find it on realtrends.com. Where else is this list available?

Liz Smith: Well, our Thousand Rankings is in partnership with the “Wall Street Journal.” They do advertise it for us. So, on the June 11th date of our release, they did do a print ad, printing out the top few in each category. And they do have it online as well, so that you can see it there.

Sarah Wheeler: Awesome. Yeah. We love that partnership. Now, let’s look at volume. Let’s look at the, you know, just picking the small teams by volume. Let’s talk about that a little bit, and who’s at the top there.

Liz Smith: Yeah, we have Branden and Rayni Williams from the Beverly Hills estates, which seems like, yes, it would be expensive. So, their volume was huge. Their average home price was also huge. So, no surprise there, but they did a great job. After that, we have another California team. We have quite a few in the top four California, in volume, on all the rankings. California volume is just skyrocketing. So, that’s really interesting to see.

Sarah Wheeler: Yeah, I think we counted, and we’ve got like 11 out of the top 20, you know, of the small teams by volume are in California. And then you’ve got Florida, you know, which also makes sense, Bellevue Washington, New Jersey in there, Wyoming. So there’s a lot of the usual suspects. When we get to the transaction sides, we see some different things there. So, let’s talk a little bit about the transaction sides.

Liz Smith: Yeah, so that will show completely different states. There’s not a lot of houses in California. So that shows… The transaction sides show that these states are doing higher number of houses at just a lower volume, which everybody does lower volume than California. So, you see the Kentuckys, and the Georgias, and the Tennessees, there in our transactions sides.

Sarah Wheeler: Right. So on the small teams on the transaction sides, we have number 12, Georgetown, Kentucky. So, you know, it surprised me in one way. This whole year, starting about last October, November. We started doing a series… Actually in September, I think. …a series of some of the housing markets that were becoming hot across the country, that were just very unusual. And we were like, “What? Pueblo, Colorado, why is that a huge…” You know, there were five…at one point, there were five of the top 25 MSAs were all in Idaho. I mean, there’s just been this real, you know, as people have been able to work from home, and as people are looking for more space, we’ve definitely… That’s, to me, the story of that, like, late 2020, early 2021, which is, you know, a lot of metros that you’ve never heard of, or I hadn’t heard of, or smaller towns, are really blowing it out. So to look at that and see that the KB Realty Group in Georgetown, Kentucky had 335, right, by transaction sides. That’s just incredible.

Liz Smith: Yeah. I mean, I think that what you’re saying is completely true. Everybody isn’t stuck in our house, so we were leaving large cities. And this shows it.

Sarah Wheeler: It is going to be so interesting to see the volume number for next year when, you know, home prices have appreciated so fast, and you have bidding wars, and what actually… You know, the final sales price of some of these houses is going to be very interesting.

Liz Smith: It’s crazy. I mean, they’re listing houses, and then they actually sell for $100,000 more. It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen. But yes, I’m so excited for next year. We’re also going to keep the categories the same, so that our year to year data is going to be very similar and more accurate. So that’ll be nice as well.

Sarah Wheeler: You know, when we look at the individual agents, it says that, you know, of the over 8000 individual agents who qualified, as you said, 97% were associated with a well known national or regional brand. And that just seems really interesting to me. For the teams on the study, over 8200 teams, 96% of them were associated with a well known regional or national branded brokerage firm. So that really feels like an overwhelming number of the, you know, the brokerages and individuals who are getting the most volume, the most sides, are associated with a national brand.

Liz Smith: Yeah. I mean, they’re really gobbling that up, which is great. They’re also able to do those marketings and those pivoting from 2020, that every brokerage had to do. And I think that that shows that as well. So, for the top sides by brands, the top transactions by brand, the independents do lead that list, though. So, that’s also interesting. And they lead it by quite a bit, almost 20,000 transactions. So there’s a lot of independents still doing a lot of work.

Sarah Wheeler: That’s great insight.

Liz Smith:
One goal that we definitely have is to grow the list. And we know that it’s not 100% accurate. We know there’s agents who either don’t know about the rankings or choose not to be on the rankings. So we do know that there’s missing agents and teams, and we want to find them. We want to get them on our rankings. We do want to have, hopefully, the most complete rankings available. So that is definitely our goal.

Sarah Wheeler: And what kind of outreach do you do to gather in…you know, to reach out to people and be like, “Hey, you know, submit here.” Like, what does that look like?

Liz Smith: Yeah, so there’s a lot of different avenues that we use. We use social to try to get out to the agents and teams. As I said, Tom Ferry is a big advocate on that. He advertises to all of his coaches, and trying to get them to reach the numbers to be on the rankings. And we work, again, with all of the national brands. So it’s kind of exciting when you get to hear from agents who are like, “Oh, my goodness. I didn’t even know. I’m so excited.” Because when we do send them the email that they’ve made the rankings, they may not even know that their brand submitted for them. So even that recognition, we know that agents and teams can move around and change their companies all the time. So we want them to change and be with whoever they want to be with, but always submit to our rankings. That’s what’s important.

Sarah Wheeler: Yeah, that’s a great point, especially because it’d be interesting to see them as individuals and where they move to, and what difference that makes in their volume or their transaction sides. Right? There’s a lot of data there that would be very interesting to see.

Liz Smith: Definitely. Yeah.

Sarah Wheeler: You know, looking now at the mega teams by volume. You know, so top of that list was PLACE Inc. which is with Keller Williams Realty. And they’re in, again, Bellingham Washington. So, you know, no surprise in some ways. We’ve got the Robert Slack team in Orlando, Florida. That’s an independent, or I mean, you know, Robert Slack LLC. We’ve got Northrop Realty. And so I see, like, what you’re saying there. And some of these mega teams, these are… You know, Keller’s the only one that’s really up there in that top 10 group. And they have three in that top 10. You do have RE/MAX and Coldwell, you know, 9 and 10. But just so interesting to see some of those independents in there.

Liz Smith: Definitely. I think the mega teams really shows that, that these teams are working with so many agents and making things work as this team. And some of these teams have so many members. It’s amazing. And the numbers that they pull in are fantastic.

Sarah Wheeler: Really good. And so, as you guys were compiling it, you know, what kind of conversation did you have about, wow, look at this, or like, what are the things that stood out to you?

Liz Smith: Red flags are when people would, you know, submit these numbers that seemed unreal. And then you’d look at their verification, and we would go to their website, often, Steve Murray or myself would call them just to get more information and their real numbers. And you see these houses, I would get lost for hours on these websites looking at these houses, just dreaming about the day that I win the lottery. But they’re fabulous. And so that was really fun to just kind of go down those rabbit holes.

Sarah Wheeler: Well, and I can imagine. I mean, like, when I look at the volume of the number one, you know, mega team, so we’re talking about almost a billion dollars in volume. I mean, even for expensive houses, that’s a lot.

Liz Smith: It’s a lot. Yeah. I mean, they’re clearly owning, Bellingham, Washington.

Sarah Wheeler: I see what you’re saying, as far as, you know, Compass making a huge…having a huge footprint here. Did you see anything any change in some of those big brokerages from year to year?

Liz Smith: Yes, definitely. I think because Compass went up so high, others lost agents, which is to be expected. I think there’s always something new and flashy that agents go towards. Compass is doing a great job. So, we shall see there. But I know that these brands are doing great things to keep their agents too, with their marketing, and all of their communications, and the tools that they give these agents. So, it’s all very interesting. So, a breakdown by brand. Independents grew quite a bit. They had 163 individual agents and teams on The Thousand last year. And this year, they had 207. So that’s a pretty big jump there. RE/MAX grew and Compass grew. A couple that fell, though, were [inaudible 00:23:18] and Keller Williams. They still have a huge presence in our rankings, but they did fall from the previous year. So, you know, it’s interesting to break that data down. Another one is, let’s see, Sotheby’s grew by almost 20 agents that added to The Thousand, this year, from last year. So, I do think that that’s also showing a volume. Typically, Sotheby’s has higher volume houses. Aspen and more…

Sarah Wheeler: More luxury.

Liz Smith: Yeah, the luxury brands. Thank you. So that makes sense.

Sarah Wheeler: Yeah, no, I think that’s really interesting. You know, a few minutes ago, I said that the mega teams by volume had, like, [crosstalk 00:24:10].

Liz Smith:
Two billion people. It’s crazy.

Sarah Wheeler: And then 1.4, and then 1.47, and then 1.44. I mean, it really is just a striking number.

Liz Smith: And like you keep saying, I’m now more excited for next year, because do these numbers hold? Is it something that we can recreate?

Sarah Wheeler: I can see the transaction sides go way down, but volume not go up as much because just, you know, each individual house was more expensive than maybe it was. We will have to see.

Liz Smith: Yeah, that’s going to be a fun one.

Sarah Wheeler: That’s so exciting. What else can you tell us about… If I’m an agent, and I’m like, “Oh, I want to be on this list. I didn’t know about this. I really want to do it.” Where would they go?

Liz Smith: Well, it’s pretty easy. They can submit straight to our website, at realtrends.com. And we have rankings section. We’re typically open for submissions mid January through at least the end of March. And that just allows people to get their year before numbers together, because like I said, they do need to provide verification. And a lot of times, it just takes a little bit to get the accounting all together. So, we allow for that. And then we’ll release, hopefully, around this same time next year.

Sarah Wheeler: That’s exciting. You know, with a lot of our award programs, we see people come in at the very last minute. Is that the case here as well?

Liz Smith: You know, we’ve had quite a few that have reached out today confused why they’re not on there. And it’s, they just didn’t submit. So, just the learning process that… We don’t have the data if you don’t supply it to us. We don’t have access to that. So they do need to submit through the portal or through their brand, and make sure that we have that verification. Otherwise, we would not be able to put them on the rankings.

Sarah Wheeler: Well, that makes sense that, you know, you don’t have access to their numbers. But it’s a great thing to point out because we’ve had the same thing where people are like, “Why am I not on the list?” And I think we’ve published the list of a week ago. So, it was like, well, you had to submit, like, a couple months ago or [crosstalk 00:26:21].

Liz Smith: Yeah.

Sarah Wheeler:
It’s so funny. Well, thank you so much, Liz. I so appreciate it. And we will look forward to next year’s list. And also, you know, I know as HousingWire, we’re going to be mining this data for different stories over the next couple of months, because there’s so much here, and it’s just great information to have. So thank you so much.

Liz Smith: Yes, thank you so much. It was great to be with you.

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