re:Think Real Estate is dedicated to bringing the best to you weekly. Erica Ramus leads a small brokerage that dominates her market all while demonstrating real leadership for women in the industry. Tune in to hear some great advice for how we can all work to develop more female leaders within our own companies.
Audio length 31:05
RTRE 36 – Erica Ramus on Promoting Women Leaders
[Chris] Welcome to re:Think Real Estate, your educational and hopefully entertaining source for all things real estate, business, news and tech.
[Christian]: I am Christian Harris in Seattle, Washington.
[Nathan]: Hi, I am Nathan White in Columbus, Ohio.
[Chris]: And I am Chris Lazarus in Atlanta, Georgia. Thanks for tuning in.
[Chris]: Hi everybody and welcome back to re:Think Real Estate. I am your host Chris Lazarus here with Nathan White, Christian Harris. Guys how are you?
[Nathan]: Hey, I am fantastic and beautiful.
[Chris]: Hey Nate how is that CRM going?
[Nathan]: I knew that was coming why didn’t I [inaudible] [laughter]. The think about my CRM. I am embarrassed. I swear people it is happening. It is going to get out of my head and…
[Christian]: We do know you swear a lot.
[Chris]: Yeah you do swear a lot.
[Nathan]: Yes I am going like…Man it’s gonna be bad. It’s gonna be bad in my office. I am gonna have to shut the door. There is going to be a lot of curse words probably. Probably. But you know I drink a lot of caffeine and I swear a lot people, if you don’t know. So yeah we’re getting there. It is process right. So I should…The episode after this hands down I will give you some feedback.
[Chris]: It’s OK. We’re gonna keep your feet to the fire.
[Christian]: Focus that caffeine and rage to getting your CRM up and running.
[Chris]: Definitely. So..
[Nathan]: Yeah I am going to.
[Chris]: For everybody tuning in if you get a chance, if you haven’t already. Go to and check out our website and our new newsletter at rtrepodcast.com. If you go there, you can click on the little box. Type in your name and email address and every week when we launch a new episode you will be notified. So this week we have an amazing guest. Her name is Erica Ramus. She is the broker owner and magic maker at Ramus Realty. Erica welcome.
[Erica]: Thanks guys.
[Chris]: It’s great to have you on. For our agents who are not in your neck of the woods, why don’t you tell us a bit about you and your company?
[Erica]: Sure. I am the broker of a small independent boutique company in rural Pennsylvania. I run the middle of the North East. And so most of the cities around. I am very, very wear off. And we have less than 10 agents. I have 8 agents and me and an apprentice in the office. And while we are small in boutique we are mighty. So, we have only 8 people in the office but we have 13% market share.
[Erica]: Yeah. The largest companies in the area have 15, 20 and 80 agents. And consistently we have…typically we have…I checked yesterday. We have 40 sites pending currently. And the biggest company has 75.
[Chris]: Wow. That is incredible.
[Erica]: So highly productive.
[Chris]: Very highly productive. So when we first met it was…You know it feels like this entire podcast is right around the Inman crowd because Erica and I we met out at Inman. Christian was there also when we were doing the…feeding the homeless. Before the conference started and we were at the same panel about being a broker and non-producing.
So you operate your brokerage a little bit different than I do. Which is you know I am the trainer right I don’t go and do really anything. I hope people build their own careers. Tell us a little bit about how your office is run. How are…how are you able to obtain 13% market share with only 8 agents under you?
[Erica]: I think of my office as running almost like a super team.
[Erica]: So my name is on the door and before I was in real estate I was a magazine publisher. And I had multiple magazines which…one was a local scoop living magazine. So you probably have Atlanta Life or Atlanta Living or Seattle Living. Something like that.
[Erica]: So I started that and everybody in town knew me. I was the magazine lady. I was selling ads. And hawking my magazine. And than I got into real estate so when I got in I was almost an immediate success because everybody already knew my face. And I used the magazine to my benefit as well. All of my houses of course were advertised in my own magazine.
[Erica]: So it as a great jump-start. But I built a team under me. I very quickly realized that I couldn’t service the leads that were coming in. And so than I left to go out on my own. I built a team up of people who just honestly want to be fed. I produce the leads. I state myself as the reign maker ruler. I do all the marketing on the back end. My face is on almost everything.
And when we’re agent advertising my name is on the door so I have very strict control over quality. I do all the marketing and produce all the materials myself. The leads come in, the get filtered through the agents and than I am to deal with after in the background if something goes wrong. But that is my role. I see it as feeding the agents and making sure that everybody is happy and productive.
[Chris]: And recently you were telling me I think a couple of months ago that you started doing a lot more travel recently and talking and really try moving into more a leadership role within the industry right?
[Erica]: yep. So I have always written. Obviously magazine writing was my background and blogging. And so I have always written articles and so I am speaking locally. But recently in the past 2, 3 years I started taking up national speaking engagements. I spoke at Better Homes and Gardens about 2 years ago at their last region event. And Inman and National…NAR. And so my inner circuit.
[Chris]: I am impressed.
[Christian]: Awkward pause OK.
[Chris]: Awkward pause.
[Chris]: There we go. Alright there we go. So…So you…Inman, Better Homes and Gardens, NAR. Now you’re on one of the committees with NAR too right?
[Erica]: Yep. Next year I am on the research and development committee. This past 2 years I have been on the housing opportunity committee. I have dome some professional development so…
[Chris]: That’s fantastic. So the reason I am bringing this up is because there has been a lot of talk. And a lot of focus on women leaders within our industry. Because let’s face it, Christian, Nate and I are the majority. I am sorry we’re the minority in real estate. This industry is almost 60% female and the leadership is skewed the other direction.
So tell us what it is like to be not only a broker owner as a female because that is something we will never know but also to be putting yourself out there in the leadership role as a speaker and travelling across the US to talk about helping other women to step into a leadership role and grow their business also.
[Erica]: That is something I have always been passionate about, it is owning my own business. I started my own businesses from scratch. When I was in my early 20s. And it was the magazine business. I was not content about just being the editor or publisher. I wanted to own the magazine. And I did. So I have always been an entrepreneur.
And once I started in real estate I knew very quickly I either wanted an ownership role in my company or I was gonna start my own. So to me it was never a question of why would I try or why would I do it. I question all the time why ever women don’t step out into leadership roles. And why they don’t start their own brokerages. A lot of women seem to express that they’re unhappy where they are. And they search for other brokers. When I was unhappy I just started my own company.
So…But I think it is something that is inside of you. It is innate. And a lot of women I believe are afraid to take the chance. It was a huge risk when I went out on my own and I had a young son and my husband but who totally supports me and everything I do. All my crazy ideas. But you know why don’t women say “I want to make a change”? And instead of jumping from broker to broker “I want t start my own company” or “I want to be a manager in the firm”.
But almost all the managers and owners in my area they’re all men. So…Local especially when the kids are young and if you have children you can relate. I know you have children and I know Christian and Chris you both have young children. But I didn’t have a husband at home taking care of the kids. And he works too so that was challenge and that is probably why I didn’t travel and didn’t do a lot of speaking. Occasionally I would travel but I didn’t do the NAR stuff. I didn’t do the contract until the kids were out of the house and it was much easier. Now I just have to worry about the dog.
[Christian]: So Erica being the reign maker at your office you mentioned kind of matching leads and giving hose out and kind of working all the back end stuff and being very involved with the transactions. What is your means of acquiring that new business. Do you kind of do the traditional you buy them or are you just a known entity that you actually got a lot of community coming to you? When they have real estate needs?
[Erica]: WE do both because while I certainly have enough organic coming into the site…The site is…I don’t know 15 years old basically. We get great Google traffic on our own but we also do buy some leads. So specifically we have about 35% of our closing will be repeat referral business. Out at a given point and the remainder are just walk-in office street. We have a very prominent location on a busy highway corner. And we also have a little bit of Zillow paid. Not much. We actually cut that back significantly. But Zillow pushes a lot of Facebook ads. And we get great leads just from Facebook and also some Google paid.
[Chris]: Has there ever been anything that has happened to you that you think would discourage another woman agent from becoming their own business owner or stepping up into a leadership role either on NAR or on a national speaking arrangement?
[Erica]: I think there still is a disconnect between strong women and the belief that strong women versus a strong man in negotiating or even running a company, the woman is not necessarily respected as much as the man. I just…I still see that. And I believe that a man who is negotiating a problem on a deal who is a broker and if he is perceived as being strong is not necessarily being perceived as difficult. He is just being a strong businessman and negotiating or advocating for his client.
Whereas women when we step up to the table and argue on behalf of our client or try to push something through that is strong in our belief we’re seen in a negative light as opposed to a positive right. And I haven’t necessarily seen this happen on a national level. Every meeting and committee that I have been involved with in the state national has been very respectful. But I see it locally. Most of the brokers around me are all men The managers are men and there is definitely still the stigma against the strong women.
[Chris]: In your office what is the breakdown on demographic, men versus women that are working with you?
[Erica]: I have one fantastic man [laughter].
[Chris]: One fantastic man so you have 7 agents working for you that are…
[Erica]: All women.
[Chris]: All female. So…Christian and I are running our own office. We each have our own company and obviously we do not fully understand the female experience. If we wanted to create an environment that is conductive for females to come in and be successful and grow their business, what should we do as male brokers in an industry that is 60% female?
[Erica]: I would say bring them along with you. Bring them up and along. Bring them to meetings. Bring them if you’re going to say chambers of commerce function. Or local meetings. Board meetings. Bring them with you and mentor them up. I think women have to be told that it is OK. It is OK to be strong. It is OK to get a babysitter some nights and go out to business functions. You don’t have to be home every night with the kids. I…
Women feel guilty about this. I know I did. Getting my broker’s license I had to have my best friend at the house from 6 to 10 Thursday nights when I took my classes. And I felt terrible that they were in school all day with my friends rather than with me. But…You have to empower them and also listen to them. You should listen to. A lot of women get stepped on their voices get stepped on and they don’t necessarily feel like they are heard.
In my office meetings for example the man in my office he’s named Will. He is fantastic. He is very open to giving suggestions at our office meetings. His voice is very vocal. And I have watched some of the women step back a little bit when he speaks and I will pull them out of their shell and say “That is a great idea Will. What do you think about it Stephanie?” And pull them up so that they are not shrinking violets in the background.
[Chris]: That’s a…I think that is fantastic. we’ll have to make sure that we are doing things like that because you know right now we…at least my office is predominantly female. So we try and create an environment where no ideas are really shunt. Right we want everybody to feel empowered that when they come into the office their ego is left at the door and everybody is here to either better themselves or better the people around them.
OK If they’re not in the office for one of those 2 reasons they’re not welcome because every…So we want that environment where people feel “Oh hey you know what everybody’s voice is heard and everybody gets the same amount of focus form the office on how they can grow their business.” And I think one of the challenges being a male broker is that we just instinctively we yell at each other. I mean guys, that’s what we do.
[Chris]: So when we sit in meeting we’re gonna yell at each other. Politely but we’re gonna basically be vocal. And what I have learnt is that a lot of women let that happen. They kind of step back so I really like that. That’s one of the things that I am gonna have to work on. When I am in those meetings recognizing when they are kind of stepping back and binging them forward. That is great. Thank you Erica.
[Erica]: What’s the body language? And you know when someone has something to say but they’re not gonna say it. And I pull them out of it and make them say it because I wanted them to know their voice is important to me.
[Christian]: Yeah I thing that is important as a leader whether male or female. You know people have different personality types and you know kind of as a type females in general tend to be not as aggressive. So…But you know I know that guys are like that too kind of pick them out like “Hey you know I see you haven’t said anything during this meeting, what do you think about this” you know and try to pull them back in.
[Chris]: I think that is excellent advice. So take note brokers. Male brokers. This is what you gotta be doing because face it women are on the move and it’s…They’re the majority we’re the minority, I am the user minority because I am not only a man, but I am a millennial. We make up 4% of the industry. So…It’s important to pay attention to this stuff. Nate?
[Nathan]: So to pick back on that Erica I always like to ask our guests questions that we have on the show. So the first one I would almost think maybe it would be applicable maybe I am wrong, but first question I want to ask you is how is failure and current failure set you up for later success? Question 2 is what are bad recommendations you hear in our profession and then the third one is if you can have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it what would it say? So go [laughter].
[Erica]: OK and the first question is easy. The biggest failure in my entire life was when I had the magazine. I bought the magazine from my prior boss. I got tired of doing all the work. That’s what I thought. Doing all the work and not being the boss so I just bought them out. And I blamed the pregnancy on that one.
So I bought it without looking at the numbers without the advice of my attorney, my accountant and my husband. [laughter]. The trifecta and a couple of years later I…the whole industry changed. Destruction came in. The disruptors but we already hear them all the time in our industry. And domino started falling and I was 3 quarters of a million in debt. In this tiny little rural world and I somehow managed to start a second magazine which actually was successful but I learned huge, huge lessons in that first failure, like when you get a pay, pay roll, you don’t use a discover card. You know or huge lessons that I never repeated again.
All having to do with my ego and the handling of overhead. Which leads me to number 2. So handling the overhead whether you’re the broker or the agent. Everyday my agents come to me I feel with this great news scam. This great new product that somebody wants them to buy it too. “It’s only 99 dollars a month. It’s only 25 dollars a week. Only…It’s only 100 dollars to put a business card up on our program.” You know over and over again. “It’s only…It’s only”.
And there are people who make lots of money selling products off the backs of agents who should not be spending that money. So, I warned my new agents “Please don’t spend any money on any lead generators. I will make your leads for you. Just sit back and work the leads. And do not ever say it’s only, because in January when you’re adding up your taxes it’s gonna be a huge number”. So that to me is one follows the other. Keep your overhead low.
[Chris]: Shiny object syndrome.
[Erica]: Yeah the new shiny object thing.
[Nathan]: Yeah we have talked about that before but that is a great recommendation. I mean awesome. Awesome recommendation.
[Chris]: “It’s only gonna cost me my success”. [laughter]
[Erica]: Yeah and than they say “You only need to sell one house”. If you only sell one house you can’t pay off the thing. Now I don’t want to hear that. [laughter]. And then I guess my billboard would be “Be fearless”. Just that’s my motto “Be fearless”. I am…
[Chris]: Where would you put it?
[Erica]: I would…
[Nathan]: I didn’t ask where.
[Erica]: Yeah he didn’t ask where so I don’t have to answer that question. [laughter]
[Chris]: OK OK ,be fearless.
[Nathan]: Yeah I mean literally the question is “If you could have it anywhere with anything on it…” I mean it doesn’t matter where it is it’s what’s on it I guess. Is the message. And be fearless.
[Chris]: I love that. So Erica we were talking the other day and you were currently working on an article for Inman. About how we focus our business. This kind of piggy bags off of our last episode with Billy a little bit. So what is your philosophy? You are running this business, you’ve got 8 agents, you are the reign maker. They are killing it. You’ve got great market share. What is your business philosophy about how you treat your clients and how does that set you apart?
[Erica]: I…A lot of brokers say “We’re agent centric, we’re agent focused, we’re all about the agent”. I believe the broker owns the client and I am client focused. It’s all about the client. If you serve the client well the agents will be well fed and taken care of and that side of the coin takes care of itself. But it all begins with the broker and the client and so our entire office is very client centric. Even to the fact that if somebody is working with the client they’re not handling it well or they are not mixing well with this person, they’re getting frustrated. We will just pull them off that one and say “Give it to this person”. And switch them. It’s about the client not about you and your commission or the money coming into the office.
[Christian]: Preach it sister.
[Erica]: So…Say it again.
[Christian]: I said preach it sister.
[Nathan]: Preach it is right. I mean if you go by even our last episode part of this. Again it’s client. This is like another one of the common themes in our podcast right guys? I mean and lady.
[Chris]: It’s tuning in.
[Nathan]: Listen listen, this is not rocker science. We are not reinventing the wheel. We are not…We are not coming up with something new. We’re actually just going in and doing what we should be doing and taking care of the client. Good Gosh I mean we can’t say it enough. But I mean why do we have to keep saying it?
[Erica]: Because people are too dump to do it. It’s simple.
[Christian]: Right. Well and I think it’s because we push it back against the status quo of the industry. The franchises…
[Chris]: They’re like KPIs KPIs KPIs.
[Christian]: All of that stuff is set up to be focused on sales and numbers and money and getting as many agents as possible you know.
[Chris]: Recruit retain recruit retain.
[Christian]: Exactly. So I mean being client focused or caring about people is not…You are going against the flow of how the whole industry works.
[Nathan]: Right yeah. You know there are stats and all that good. I had an agents yesterday…sag way real quick. Sorry. They chased bank at their home office. I get invited to their…their first time or their home buyer programs. And it is great being a chased preferred agent but they are having to be another agent there that is new and one of the other agent speaks and said “Hey we haven’t lost the house and in our competitive market you probably will.” And she said “Not me” And I was like oh come on just stop. Like here we go with the ego and not making it about the client, you’re making it about you. And can we just…More people. I am gonna stop. Just stop making it about you there. [laughter]
[Chris]: Yeah it’s the ego.
[Erica]: And brokers can be afraid to get people out of their office when they don’t fit not only the culture but the way the agent should be. I terminated one who was all about her. She rebelled on a client because the client was 10 minutes late on an appointment [laughter]. And the client forwarded me the text message and she said “I don’t have time to wait for people at houses”. I was “You need to leave now” [laughter].
[Nathan]: If this was online and like a quote I would be doing that arrow and this…This this right…
[Nathan]: Man that is…Yes. Don’t be afraid.
[Chris]: One of the…One of the things that I have learned over the last few years in kind of the leadership role of running a company is your culture that you build and that you operate is based off of thousands of tiny interactions. When you have people like that the ego, the meltdown, the trip, like they’re just gonna suck and drain all the energy away from the people that are really trying to do good. So I couldn’t agree with you more Erica. You just gotta get rid of those people. Unfortunately, I think there is too many brokers that if you got a pulse and a license you’re…
[Erica]: When you’re being judged…When you’re in a major franchise and you’re being judged by the head count in your office…I don’t judge myself. People ask me...I will go to Inman and the first word out of their mouth is how many agents I have in the office. So I have…
[Christian]: It’s the metrics of measuring success.
[Erica]: Exactly. I am proud of my market share. I am proud of the fact that my agents do a minimum of 24 sites a year. I have 2 that are doing 40 this year and one who is approaching 60. That is a lot of site.
[Chris]: That is a lot of site.
[Nathan]: That is slaying the dragon.
[Chris]: I think that having…A lot of people put pressure on the metrics. “Oh number of agents, volume sold”. But I think the biggest metric is per person productivity. Because I think if those numbers win the per person productivity I think you are destroying Remax who is the…I mean their franchise on average is the highest per person productivity at like 16 sites per agent on average.
They don’t even bring in KW because they are the biggest but they don’t have the numbers per agent that KW has. That Remax has. And your average real estate agent in the industry is gonna do like what? 3, .4 deals per year? And that’s just sites. So 3,4 sites per year I think is the average. And you are destroying that. And that is fantastic and you’re doing it with a complete math of 10 people.
[Christian]: Yeah and that’s the…That’s the business number side of it. Anything else taken into accounts, smaller you know indie brokerages like ours you know can have the luxury of being able to be in charge, in control of developing that culture, how happy are your agents? You know, like on Remax or whatever. You know name any franchise and you know largely they have undefined culture. Like there is no distinguishing factor as to you know….What is like in their office versus anther franchise. Like they’re just there to you know have head count.
[Chris]: Our office has the best coffee machine. [laughter] Stuff like that. So Erica for any…We’ve had the theme kind of today of being the woman business owner. For anybody who is thinking about like stepping up like what advice would you give them?
[Erica]: I would say that if you’re not strong in your leadership skills or don’t feel like you’re there, that don’t know how to be a leader, get a coach, get a mentor. There are at least in my areas there is classes you can take as far as leadership. Or find someone who you admire and ask them to take you under their wing because it really is by osmosis I think in this business and if there is someone in your office who shows promise bring them up with you. I take my agents all the time to chamber of commerce function, to mixers and just have them by my side so they can watch me interacting with other business people an helpfully bring up their confidence level.
[Chris]: I love it. That’s great. Erica for anybody who wants to get in touch with you and say they’ve got somebody moving to Pennsylvania or they just want to reach out and pick your brain on some of the things that you have accomplished, what is the best way that they can reach you?
[Erica]: They can always call me or email me. My email address is easy, it’s my name. firstname.lastname@example.org. And that’s –E-R-I-C-A-R-A-M-U-S@gmail. And my phone number is 5704492131. If you google me it’s all over.
[Chris]: Awesome. Erica thank you so much for taking the time out of your day today to join us here in re:Think Real Estate. For everybody who is listening in please visit us. Go to rtrepodcast.com. Subscribe to the newsletter so every week when we launch a new episode you’re gonna get notified. Thank you so much for tuning in. We’ll see you next week.
[Chris]: Thanks for tuning in this week’s episode of the re:Think Real Estate Podcast. We would love to hear your feedback so please leave us a review on iTunes. Our music is curtesy of Dan Koch K-O-C-H, whose music can be explored and licensed for use at dankoch.net. Thank you Dan. Please like, share and follow. You can find us on Facebook at Facebook.com/rethinkpodcast. Thank you so much for tuning in everyone and have a great week.