Twenty years ago this month, Barry Kramer made two momentous moves.
He got married and he created Keller-Williams Realty Sonoran Living in Ahwatukee.
Both the marriage and the business are still going strong today.
He and his wife, Lynn, a Realtor, have a daughter, Madison, who just got her real estate license. And Kramer is the designated broker and operator in principal for Keller Williams Sonoran Living’s Ahwatukee and Scottsdale “market centers,” presiding over an operation that includes 370 agents.
In many ways, Kramer’s success reflects Keller Williams’ philosophy.
“Our environment is a culture of productivity,” he said. “When agents can meet their financial goals, they can fund their lifestyle, mission, and purpose….our mission is to build careers worth having and enjoy your work, have businesses worth owning and lives worth living.”
That culture is what eventually drew Kramer to Keller Williams after the Tucson native started his real estate career in new-home sales and eventually added resales to his resume.
The Kramers had been running a boutique realty company in Ahwatukee called Desert Foothills Real Estate since 1993 when, in July 1997, they converted to Keller Williams, running the business out of their home near Mountain Park and Ray Road with only a couple of agents.
He had been attracted to Ahwatukee at the time because he saw potential.
“This was a growth area,” he recalled. “I liked it also because it was close to Tucson, where my family still was living and I could get on the I-10 and be there in 90 minutes.”
But over the five years that preceded his joining Keller Williams, Kramer began seeking “a different model” in the industry.
Early in his career, the 1979 University of Arizona graduate explained, “the mindset in the industry was that realtors were a necessary evil, that the only reason you were successful was the company name.”
“I wasn’t looking for branding,” he continued. “I was looking for a different model. I was looking up and seeing people who had no life, no balance, no exit strategy. The industry just said, ‘Go make a bunch of money and do it over and over and over.’”
“I didn’t know what exactly I wanted it to look like, but I knew what it I didn’t want it to look like,” he said. “I wanted to create a better mousetrap.”
He found it in Keller Williams.
In Keller Williams, he said, he discovered a culture made up of “businesspeople doing real estate” instead of agents doing business.
That difference is explained by the fact that while many agents’ income “is up and down, depending how the market is doing,” Keller Williams is focused “on strategy, not how business is doing.”
“If realtors ask questions, they’re asking, ‘Where’s my next sale?’ A businessperson asks, ‘How can I be more profitable?’ A Realtor might look at a training opportunity and says, ‘I can’t afford to do that.’ A businessperson says, ‘I can’t afford not to do that,’” Kramer said.
“Eighty percent of my time has to be spent with someone buying or selling,” he said, while the industry often finds “most agents spend 80 percent of their time doing clerical work.”
Keller Williams focuses relentlessly on data, analyzing trends that agents can stay on top of – providing they have a strong work ethic that is dedicated to “lead generation and lead conversion,” he said.
To help agents, he added, “We encourage people to constantly be trained. The majority of the industry doesn’t support that.”
To further encourage smart business practices, Keller Williams maintains an Agent Leadership Council, in which the top 20 percent of the most productive agents function like a board of directors “to give input, direction and provide accountability to the business. Because it is a bottom-up, agent-centric culture, agents actually input to how the business is operated,” he said.
Kramer calls the Keller Williams Sonoran Living headquarters on 46th Street just south of Chandler Boulevard in Ahwatukee a “market center” rather than a real estate office to underscore what the company encourages from its agents – namely, training and constant communication.
“It all starts foundationally with the environment, being in an environment that’s set up that’s going to support the agents on different levels and not be just a place to hang their license,” he said. “We provide a tremendous amount of education and training support. We train to teach best practices that top performers use.”
The communication usually revolves around trends and strategies that succeed. “There is constant chatter,” he said, not just among agents in the Ahwatukee market center but among all the Keller Williams market centers across the state and nation.
“It’s going on a minute-by-minute basis and allows us to be very nimble,” Kramer said.
But Kramer and Keller Williams are not just focused on making money. They also are dedicated to helping the community.
After Hurricane Katrina devastated Mississippi and Louisiana, Keller Williams agents across the country kicked in $5 million in one day to assist the families of agents affected by the storm. Kramer noted the recovery required not just a one-time response but a long-term effort to care for those families as they struggled to rebuild their lives.
One of the company’s ongoing programs is called REACT, standing for “Real Estate Agents Caring Together.”
“REACT is our local commitment to giving back to our local community,” Kramer said. “Agents donates a percentage of each commission to the REACT Fund, which is then distributed to a special needs organization or individual chosen by the agents.”
The company also has “RED Day” – an acronym for “Renew, Energize, Donate” – on the second Thursday in May. At that time, all agents take the day off from their business to give back to the community.
“It is a one-day expression of what happens 24/7 in the KW culture of giving back to the community,” said Kramer who cites the long-term support that Keller Williams Sonoran Living has provided to numerous Ahwatukee institutions, such as the Festival of Lights.