Indie Bloody Indie

“There’s been a lot of talk about this next song. Maybe… maybe too much talk. This song is not a rebel song…” This song is Indie, Bloody Indie. “Indie”… is a trending distinction. At Inman Connect in New York, we had an entire afternoon track of panels and presentations (hosted with extraordinary class and restraint by Vanessa Jones Bergmark.) I get why. Brokerages, and their respective brokers and agents, who aren’t affiliated with big national franchises might feel a little marginalized amongst the chronic rallying cries of the franchises on the main stage and in the sponsor spotlight. But there’s an interesting byproduct of all this Indie attention. What are we independant from? I liken it to the conversation about “discount” broker models. We hear, constantly, that we’re not to discuss commissions in groups, for fear of violating Antitrust rules. We can’t say things like “full” or “normal” commission… because it might imply price-fixing. Yet, somehow, we all continue to reference “discount” brokerage models. Discount from what? Some universal commission standard? If there’s no standard commission, then they’re can’t be a “discount”. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not defending discount brokerage models. I’m not interested in racing to the bottom. I believe that there are very legitimate reasons why commissions are based in a percentage of the sales price (without discussing what that percentage may, or may not, be.) There’s just what you charge, and what they charge. That’s it. Framing your competition as a “discount” model is ridiculous. Which brings me to the word “Indie”. Just creating that distinction, “Indie”, creates a disproportionate relevance to these big box national franchises. There are far more “indie” brokerages than there are franchisees. “Indie” isn’t abnormal. We’re not on the fringe. We’re not marginalized. We’re the norm. We're not the counter-culture of real estate. We are the main stream. Again, I understand why there’s such an urge to band together. From the outside looking in, it appears as though a franchise might provide a powerful network of peers. A trusted group of advisers. Best practices. A shared identity. Referrals from a big network. “Brand equity”. These things are not unique to franchises. They're entirely normal and commonplace for  any successful real estate brokerage. They're available to all of us. All of the time. But when we behave as though we're somehow left out of the party… we create a remarkable legitimacy to all of those same big box franchises. And worse,  we simultaneously marginalize their valuable contributions. There was nothing proprietary about the content of the Indie Track at Connect. We talked about the very same issues that are important to any residential real estate brokerage. If the purpose of the event is to collaborate and share and connect, then why exclude (even in name only) brokerages who’ve chosen a franchise model? Surely they could contribute to conversations about culture, talent management, and “How To Build It”. During the course of the conference, I sat in at least four different meetings with someone who wanted to enroll me in some sort of group of "independent" brokerages. But why? To what end? Is it a referral organization? Is it just purely to share best practices and ideas? Is there a fee to join? Are there ongoing commitments? Interestingly (and also concerning), these questions were often left unanswered. If it's for the sake of collaboration, then why exclude brokers and agents who are with franchises? Are franchises so different? Do those brokers and agents not have valuable information to share? I think that the presence of a wide variety of different business models is extremely healthy for the real estate industry. Brokerages try new things. Sometimes they fail. Sometimes they hit the cover off the ball. Some franchises have incredible success… others are just lame. Our collective failures are like a security blanket of success for our futures. (If I hadn't worked with a group of morons in the past, I'd know less about what not to do.) The need to somehow bond together, whether in a franchise or as an “Indie", is largely illusory. We live in a remarkably collaborative time. We’re not alone. We're not operating in a vacuum. We have peers. Associates. Competitors. We're incredibly powerful. We're already together. We should act like it.