Keller Williams is one of the few national real estate firms to see growth both during and after the recession. Now twice in the past three years, the real estate company has also headed the list of top large companies in the Philadelphia region, based on a survey of its employees by WorkplaceDynamics.
Workers describe their colleagues as "family" and their work environment as "flexible and "upbeat," even after the housing market took a historic downturn. But at Austin, Texas-based Keller Williams, things are done a little differently than at many other real estate agencies.
"We share everything," said Mickey Pascarella, an agent at the franchise's Center City office. "Unlike most other brokerages, we're not competitors; we're all one big team."
Agents share their education, experience and marketing ideas not only with local agents, but with regional and national agents as well, through ongoing training sessions, which many employees credit with their success. They say the team approach is what brought Keller Williams to where it is today - the largest real estate company in North America with more than 80,000 real estate agents and 690 offices in the United States and Canada.
The training sessions are the favorite part of their jobs, many Keller-Williams workers in the Philadelphia region reported through the survey. The training is held in different offices, all of which are independently owned and operated.
"Continued education and training remain a priority, and help me to reach goals," one respondent wrote in the survey. "The people here are very friendly and helpful."
Keller Williams' Center City office, one of the company's 20 Philadelphia metropolitan offices that participated in the survey, is the home office for 185 real estate agents based. The agents are offered about 15 training sessions per month, on topics that touch on many facets of the industry - from marketing, to how to make a website, and how to consult buyers.
Ted Mucellin, the team leader at the Center City office, says the classes are especially important because they cover things that agents don't learn in real estate school.
"[At school] they teach you technical information - it doesn't show you how to talk to a client, how to negotiate with another Realtor," he said. "This is the stuff we believe you need to know to actually run your own business."
The sharing doesn't end with education, but with the profits as well.
The company says "half of every market center's profits each month are returned to those who have contributed to the market center's growth by attracting productive associates to the office"
"At KW, everyone has an interest in the other person succeeding," Mucellin said. "Their success is yours."
With this business model, the agents say "the sky is the limit" in terms of how much they can sell and how much they choose to work. They act as though they are each running their own business, rather than being a Realtor for someone else's franchise.
"There's no ceiling," Pascarella said. "You don't cap out. You don't reach a plateau. You can go as high as you want to go. You're not sitting around waiting for a promotion, or waiting for something good to happen. You're in charge of making it happen."
The enthusiasm and positive attitudes the people at Keller Williams have at work is a testament to how the company did both during and after the recession. While the housing market is showing signs of recovery lately, Keller Williams is still ahead of the curve.
The company says its Philly area business grew about 5 percent more than the Philly area market in the past year.
David Conord, the regional director in the Philadelphia area, says two things drove the company's success during the down market.
"We say that we make our own market, we don't allow the circumstances to dictate our outcome," he said. "So we have to face reality of what it is, but we have to learn how to adjust to that and still be successful."
Conord also said the "continual focus on doing the right thing and providing our agents with what they need" in terms of education and training is the other key to that growth.
"If we're taking care of our people, then they're succeeding, and by doing that we attract other people to us," he said.
No surprise then that Keller Williams won the survey's award as the company with the most employees who think it's heading in the right direction after 20 years in business.
It's a "sharing culture where everybody is helping each other out, it creates such a good synergy on a day-to-day basis, and that empowers you," said Antonio Atacan, a broker at the Center City office. "You put yourself in an environment like this and you're going to do much better."
Many respondents agreed. One wrote, "The overall community and culture at Keller Williams is that of 'family.' Everyone here is welcoming and supportive. We are constantly helping people in need through many charity events. Love it here!"
The company has its own charity called KW Cares to help people in need from natural disasters, injury, illness and layoffs. Each office has a goal of contributing $3,000. KW Cares also has a companywide RED Day to raise funds for local communities.
"We wouldn't exist without the community," said Conord, the regional director. "It's really a privilege to give back."
Andre Watson, a commercial agent at the Center City office, says he enjoys his job so much he doesn't even consider it work.
"There isn't much that I don't enjoy about my job," he said. "I'm a people person. I feed from and get my energy from being around people, particularly like-minded people. I love that it's never the same thing on any two days in a row."