Like suitors vying for a Southern belle's hand, real estate brokers courted sales agent Tim McCoy last summer.
Century 21 H. T. Brown Real Estate invited Mr. McCoy, then with the Ellicott City office of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn, to tour its offices, hoping to attract him to the company. Representatives from ERA Caton Realty Co. and The Prudential Preferred Properties each asked him to lunch several times with the same goal in mind. He breakfasted with a manager from American Properties Inc. and dined on steamed shrimp at a pool party given by broker-owners of RE/MAX Advantage Realty of Columbia.
"It was pretty intense," admits Mr. McCoy, who chose to affiliate himself with RE/MAX Advantage Realty last month. "It really swells your head a little bit, makes you think you're more important than you are."
The intense recruitment of Mr. McCoy, who averages about $2 million in sales annually, isn't unusual these days.
Energetic recruiting is now a given within the industry, particularly by national or international companies such as RE/MAX International Inc. and The Prudential Preferred Properties. And amid the recession, many companies have stepped up recruiting to build up offices and to increase income.
"I'd say I get approached probably at least once a month, if not more," says Mary Lou Hearn, a Hill & Co. agent who averages about $9 million in annual sales. Often, office managers at competing companies will send her handwritten notes asking her to consider joining their ranks and offering her such incentives as free car phones and attractive commission splits.
Managers with a more subtle style have sent Ms. Hearn flowers or baskets of candy after she's cooperated with an agent from their company on a settlement. When she calls to express her gratitude, the senders might hint that she consider switching firms. "It's very flattering, but I'm happy where I am," she said.
Recruit or die
Recruiting is not only valuable, it's essential to a company's survival, according to Carole A. Greenwald-Ryan, one of the owners of The Prudential Preferred Properties and president of the company's Baltimore division.
"If you don't have a strong recruiting program, you die," said Ms. Greenwald-Ryan, whose company recently hired a full-time recruiter for its Washington offices. Noting the high attrition rate from real estate -- approximately one-third of all agents leave the industry every three years -- she said that if a manager isn't careful, it's easy to end up with an empty office.
The Prudential Preferred Properties, said Ms. Greenwald-Ryan, spends "a great deal of time and money to bring in outside speakers and trainers to teach our managers how to recruit effectively and creatively."
Managers' actions reflect that intensity. Robert Molloy, manager of the Howard County Prudential office, estimates that he spends about 75 percent of his workweek on recruiting. He tries to call at least five prospects every day and to send out 75 to 100 pieces of recruitment literature -- notes, postcards and letters -- every week.
"Every good manager will constantly recruit," said Mr. Molloy, who admits that his efforts to increase the number of agents in his office to 40 haven't been as effective as he'd like.
Other managers take a less frantic approach to soliciting.
Sandy Mitchell, manager of the O'Conor, Piper & Flynn office in Ellicott City, spends about 10 percent of her workweek recruiting agents.
Her efforts include sending out a monthly O'Conor, Piper & Flynn newsletter to about 40 agents whom she'd like to bring into her office, as well as attending functions at the Howard County Association of Realtors and brokers' open houses.
"A lot of [recruiting] is just planting seeds," said Ms. Mitchell, who would like to add another 10 agents to her 40-agent office. "We want to keep the lines of communication open, so if someone does want to make a change, they'll at least consider us."
Ms. Mitchell also relies on agents in her office to give her leads on good prospects for recruitment. "I talk to my agents and ask them who they'd like to have on their team," she said.
Often, an agent, rather than the manager, will approach a friend or acquaintance about making a move. "All companies will say, 'If you see someone who you think would be good, call them and see if they want to work here,' " said Cynthia Bell, an agent with the Timonium office of Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate.
Beyond that, some companies offer agents the equivalent of a finder's fee when they successfully recruit an agent. Five or six of the 20 Prudential offices in Baltimore have such a policy in place, according to Ms. Greenwald-Ryan. She would not reveal the ranges for the fees.
Some companies have backed away from such policies. Long & Foster Real Estate Inc., for example, abandoned such a policy about seven years ago.