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Startup shaking things up with salaried sales agents

Christopher Daish, a broker for real estate firm TripleMint, is in a position that’s mostly unknown to his compatriots.

The Australian is benefitting from a challenge to the ancient arrangement under which the real estate industry operates.

While brokers tend to suffer through lean times as they collect business contacts, Daish is shielded from instability in his early years through a monthly salary, benefits and equity; something which his bosses hope encourages him to prioritize customer service.

TripleMint, a start-up that has $1.65 million in funding from backers such as Winklevoss Capital (headed by the famous Winklevoss twins), Dominion Capital and former Cushman & Wakefield executive Tom Falus, is redefining the arrangement between real estate companies and the brokers that work for them.

The firm employs brokers full-time, thereby going against the industry standard and, in essence, supporting a position on the question of whether brokers are employees or independent contractors.

The debate over the classification of real estate brokers has recently spilled over to the court system.

Last July, a Massachusetts judge ruled on a lawsuit that involved brokers who claimed that they should be full-time employees because they were required to perform administrative tasks and work long hours. The suit named Boston brokerage firms Boston Pads and Jacobs Realty as defendants.

The court eventually ruled in favor of the brokerages, saying that the state’s real estate license law, which allows real estate firms to classify brokers as independent contractors, must apply.

Daish, for his part, belongs to a minority in the real estate industry. According to the National Association of Realtors, independent contractors account for more than 80 percent of its members.

He had a soft landing in real estate, something that doesn’t happen for a lot of new brokers.

He worked as an independent contractor for six months, and he estimates that he was set to make $100,000 in a year. “There’s financial security in that, but it really sort of ebbs and flows,” he said.

Daish has worked in real estate for only two and a half years, with more than half of his career spent in TripleMint. Before entering real estate, he worked in the restaurant industry and was an assistant to famed decorator, Ricky Clifton.  He was the sixth employee to join the TripleMint start-up, and he has since been named as its vice president for sales.

If his bosses are to be believed, Daish’s trajectory, and the growth of the company itself, is due to their strategy of keeping employees happy so that they become more productive. In fact, the company claims that “happier agents” were responsible for increasing revenue by 500 percent between 2013 and 2014.

“They feel that their company is invested in them,” said David Walker, TripleMint’s co-founder and CEO. “In the short-term, it absolutely increases costs. No question about it.

“For the long term, though, we’re seeing the benefits of greater productivity and more buy-in and more enthusiasm and teamwork out of our team. We recognized that the investment was going to pay off in the long run.”

Unlike in traditional firms, TripleMint’s brokers don’t depend on commissions, so there’s no incentive for pushing clients into quick deals. There also are bonuses for employees, however, it’s doesn’t depend on sales, it’s based on customer satisfaction.

Clients are given a survey after each transaction and they can rate their broker from a scale of one to ten. Based on those numbers, the company will determine the broker’s quarterly bonus.

While the company’s compensation package is likely to generate some good press, the motivation behind it is not entirely benevolent. The company hopes that its investment in its people will produce greater control over the service it provides.

“There’s a little bit more oversight into how salespeople spend their time. When people are independent contractors, you can’t really monitor or have time requirements. You can’t really focus on things like efficiency and making sure people are working at the right hours,” Walker said.

Nonetheless, TripleMint’s strategy seems to be producing the intended effect. “We’ll take extra time with clients to ensure that rather than just getting a commission and a fast check, they’re actually happy,” Daish said.

TripleMint says it’s on pace to close 1,200 transactions in New York City in 2015 and, armed with new funding, the brokerage is gearing up to grow its local footprint.

The company currently has 40 employees working out of its main office at 1411 Broadway and operating in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. According to Walker, there are plans to expand outside of New York City next year.

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