Built Piece by Piece: Isabel Affinito of WIRE Austin
Isabel Affinito is the Founder and Team Real Estate Lead of the WIRE Group in Spyglass Realty. In her work as a team leader, Isabel is inspired by growth, and supporting the women on her team in their growth. In today's podcast, we go over her professional history, how she decided to build an all-women team for real estate, the mistakes she's made along the way, and what's to come for the WIRE team.
- About Isabel
- Getting in Commercial Real Estate
- Moving to a Residential Firm
- Moving to Austin, TX
- Choosing a Real Estate Brokerage
- Starting WIRE Austin
- Team Training at WIRE Austin
- Deciding Between a Team or Brokerage
- What's Next for WIRE Austin
- Team Collaboration
Isabel is originally from Oklahoma and moved to Philadelphia and went to school at Villanova. She had no idea what she wanted to do with her life and doesn't think a whole lot of people start out being like that. Isabel wanted to be a real estate agent when she grows up which is not one of those common types of professions so she didn't major in anything that seemed relevant in school.
She was a liberal arts major and as she started to approach graduation, she really didn't know what to do with that. She had thought of going to grad school to teach or write about history and also thought of going back and get a master’s or a PhD.
As she started to get towards the end of college, she realized that she had never really been in the working world. Isabel had jobs throughout middle school in high school but had never really been in the working world. She then thought she should probably go experience that before she commits to many more years of higher education.
Isabel stated that she kind of stumbled into real estate by accident by the opportunity to present itself into real estate. Isabel met her husband, Chris, in college and decided to follow each other. Her husband got a job in New York City while Isabel got a commercial real estate job in New Jersey where they both lived in Hoboken.
Getting in Commercial Real Estate
She did research for the commercial real estate company and then moved into retail brokerage where she worked with big national chains and finding retail space for them. Commercial just wasn't really the world for Isabel. She didn't love what she was doing. She didn't see herself there long-term. One thing that kept standing out to her was that everyone was saying, put your time in your 20s, put the work in, you're not gonna make any money in your 20s, but you'll make more money than you could ever want your 30s.
As she was thinking to herself, this is kind of weird as a woman, because if she thinks sometime around that her 30s is when she wants to have kids. What does that mean? What is she putting all her time in for if she then has to pivot when she wants to have kids? She watched other women around where there was one woman who had a baby while she was in the office, the lady was back in the office after four or five weeks after her baby was born. For eight to six or eight to seven years, she was a top producer, and that lady was working really hard. Isabel says that she’s not sure that that's what she wants for herself so this is one thing that that encouraged her to sort of pivot out of commercial.
Moving to a Residential Firm
Isabel stumbled into a residential firm that was on the corner, down the street from where they lived in Hoboken. She had one to two clients that followed her when she left that firm. Upon walking into the residential brokerage, she said she has a couple of transactions to close out and the broker allowed her to hang her license in their brokerage. Isabel continued to do some residential leasing to get a bit of cash flow and a couple of months later, she was making twice what she made at the commercial firm by just doing apartment leases.
Moving to Austin, TX
Isabel’s family is mostly from Texas so she always grew up coming to Texas cities, Austin being one of them. She and her husband would come down and visit her aunt and uncle here and he loved Austin. Chris had been saying for years that it was a cool city and he wanted to move to Austin.
Three years after college, Chris asked Isabel about moving to Austin, and for her, it seemed like an opportunity she didn’t want to pass up. Isabel didn’t have the burning desire to stay in New Jersey and thought of being a real estate agent in the area since the longer she stays in there, the harder it’s going to be to leave. Chris told Isabel she’s making money selling residential real estate in New Jersey so why not go do it in Austin and that’s what they did.
Choosing a Real Estate Brokerage
For Isabel, choosing the best real estate company in Austin is about understanding if they’re set up for where you’re at. In her first firm in Austin, they were tempted to bring them on but they weren’t set up for new agents where she thought it turned out to be a blessing in disguise that didn’t work for them.
Isabel then went to a bigger firm where their bread and butter was to really set up the new agents. She wasn’t working with a team but was working with Chris and Emma who is still with her in WIRE Austin. Aside from that, they didn’t have a team but rather just the three of them, working together.
In her first year of production, Isabel was able to do 10 million and they didn’t know anyone in Austin so most of the leads are from the company, open houses, referrals from the people they’ve worked with, and Zillow. It gave them some lead flow to work off which helped them stay in the game when they were just losing money every month because it was about six months before they closed their first deal.
Isabel states that this is the irony in real estate when she came to town, even though they had a track record in New Jersey, they didn’t have anything in Austin so nobody would touch them except for the first who want to take on the brand new people. There were several forms that won’t talk to them but rather tell them to come back after they close a million dollars in production. A couple of months after closing their first couple of deals, all of those brokerages were reaching out to her asking if she is considering making the move. Isabel learned to quickly say no as she has no time for the distraction. The people who didn’t want her seven months ago are now begging her to come work for them. She refused as she was happy where she’s at, she had good support and mentorship and didn’t need any distraction by wondering if the grass was greener there.
Isabel advises other agents that if you’re 80% happy, don’t drive yourself crazy thinking about switching. If you’re not doing production and you’re not happy, you really believe that you can benefit from something then go for it. She sees so many agents waste so much time entertaining all of these offers to move and it’s a yes, commit until it’s not time to commit anymore.
Starting WIRE Austin
One takeaway she would offer to people is if you feel like you're not clear on where you're headed if you feel like you don't have a clear vision for whether you should build a team or not if you feel like you have no idea what you're doing. That's how she felt. That's normal.
So what happened with Morgan was that she was getting to a point where she was just struggling to keep up with dollar-productive activities. Isabel had done a lot of soul searching to make sure she’d cut out the crap. She was at a point where she really had situations where it was like, which of these offers am I going to help my clients write first? for which client?
At that point in her career, she had 13 active buyer rep agreements and so every week she was sitting there hoping one of these people goes out of town because if five of them all want a tour, what am she going to do? And so she was looking for help.
Isabel already had herself doing all of the CTC stuff and as much backend paperwork stuff as she could possibly give Morgan. Things that Isabel would consider to be necessary for doing the business are prospecting, being on phone with clients, showing them property, and writing up offers.
She then thought to herself that it would be great if she could get 5 or 10 hours a week of help from somebody who can take some tours off of my plate. Isabel reached out to Morgan because she had known her at my previous company, they had done some training programs together, and trusts her.
Isabel reached out to her and before she can even tell her why she was conscious at all, she was so glad that she called her because she was considering this offer from another brokerage. Morgan was thinking about moving over there and she really wanted Isabel’s advice, because she’s about to take it or maybe she had already taken it. But she said she thinks it was the wrong move since it was like an admin position. It kind of forced Isabel’s hand if she wants her, she needs to commit. She can't just have her for five or 10 hours a week, she has got to commit. That was that first push that pushed me to take on an agent and start training her.
When it comes to learning to systemize everything, Isabel says that it’s naturally wired that way. Isabel has a lot of drive to move forward but also is also detail-oriented which makes her want to slow down and think of how to fix things, knowing how things happen, knowing how to make sure that that never happens. Isabel learned about herself over time that she’s a strategic thinker and finds a lot of satisfaction from thinking that way and integrating a lot of different ideas. She assumed that everybody was that way but from building her town team, she can see solutions that other people just don’t see.
Team Training at WIRE Austin
WIRE Austin has a combination of what Isabel would call formal and informal training where she spends a lot of time with her people. One of the things that she decided about how she was going to build her team is -- she really didn't want to play the compete on the split game.
She just decided from the beginning, she’s going to collect a high split. So meaning like it, costs a lot to be on her team but she’s going to use that as justification for herself to deliver an enormous amount of time, energy, and attention to these people so she didn't want to feel like she needed to hold back on how much I could give them.
Isabel wanted to always feel like the exchange of the business that they were bringing in versus the time that she needed to invest. She always wanted to feel like that was a win. And so it's maybe a little different than the way that some other brokerages or teams are running. But to put like the sort of some tangible to it, they have a Monday morning call with the whole team, that's kind of operations, administrative type of stuff. They have a Tuesday call every week with just the sales team, which is an hour-long. Then she has one on ones with several different people on the team. Isabel is spending between you know, zoom and phone calls, maybe five hours a week directly talking to my team.
Some of the things that teams and brokers need their business that stand out are how many people aren’t having the type of meetings that they are having. One woman she had recruited told her that her team had not had any kind of formal meeting or conversation in months from almost six months to a year which she found shocking. It made her wonder what does this team mean to them?
Deciding Between a Team or Brokerage
There are some things that agents need to take into consideration when deciding to look for teams and brokerages. According to Isabel, the first one is to know yourself. Because whether you should join a team or brokerage is will be very dependent on your personality type. Isabel is very independent. When somebody tries to tell her what to do, she can get kind of difficult to deal with. She said she probably never have been good on a team.
But there are other people who want more guidance, they want to support, they want details, they want to do things. They're less autonomous. Isabel states that if you know that about yourself, then it's probably a good idea to go on to a team. It's not really a question of where will I like it? The split is lower on the team, and it's higher at the brokerage will but 100% of zero is still zero. Where's the value? So with a 73%, fail rate within five years, you could go on to a team where you're making 30% of the total commission, and make way more money.
You can make six figures doing that if somebody is giving the right kind of support versus going to a place that's like 90%, you keep 90% of the split, but if you only close one deal that year, then you're still making minimum wage. So it's really, which one's the right one is completely dependent on that person.
What’s Next for WIRE Austin?
I don’t know that I’m open to adding anybody right now. Isabel says that they may get to a point where they’re ready to add but right now she feels pretty good about where they’re at. She’s not interested in growth to just grow. She wants to make sure that she can pour into her people. What she thinks what's next for WIRE Austin is really getting serious about marketing and PR since that's been DIY for her for years.
Isabel recently hired a professional company to help her put together a brand strategy and she’s ready to level up on that. WIRE has a fun story to tell and they’re doing cool things. They have great people on the team, they have a great team culture, and Isabel wants to be telling that story better. She also would like to be able to provide more leads to the team, leads are not our main value proposition.
What she tells people is, she’s here to do is to teach you how to be successful at this. Sometimes you're going to get some leads, but that's not really what you're here for. But wouldn't it be nice to use all of the beautiful listings that we have and all of the success stories of clients and the things that education that we know about real estate. It would be cool to use that to attract more clients who like what we're doing, so that's the next big thing for WIRE.
As a woman, building a team was particularly important for Isabel because right here, the evidence is right in front. During the podcast, she was wearing my baby, because they had a childcare debacle. For anybody who's ever had children knows that that's a thing and she can get away with this on the podcast.
It's a lot harder to get away with this in a new client meeting, or, you know, a listing appointment with somebody that you don't know, well, or by being a buyer tour, like, hey, sorry, my baby might be screaming the whole time. For Isabel, building a team was so timely, because she got pregnant and had a baby. Having all of this in place beforehand was just such a godsend.
But even if you're not headed in that direction, Isabel thinks COVID has shown all of us that collaboration is so important. If you are solo, all it takes is a COVID scare, positive test result and you're knocked out of doing anything in person for two weeks. And so she thinks that for agents who really want to be able to do the best for the clients that they possibly can and also not lose their mind in the process, a team is a great way to go or at least having like a partner agent who you can cover for each other when the shit hits the fan.
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