The Rise of DBAs and a Call for Self-Regulation

Careful what you ask for.

When we introduced our DBA Program, ten years ago, Brokers said it was stupid. Still, we thought Atlanta would have thousands of registered DBAs by now. But, like an old dog, we honestly didn’t think the franchises would last this long. But lately, hardly a week goes by that we don’t runs across an agent DBA business model.

Remember, Atlanta is one of the few places in the United States where agents can advertise and promote themselves as their own brands, independent of brokerage affiliation. For years we have preached any significant change to our industry would run through Atlanta. Why? Because of our “for profit” MLS. FMLS is not associated with, or owned by, NAR! (National Association of Realtors) Nearly 90% of the Country’s MLS services are controlled and owned by NAR. Not us! Venture capital, are you listening?…

Atlanta’s freedom is very unique. Used legally, DBA business modeling can be transformative. But, in the wrong hands, it can be used as a shield to less than stellar, or even illegal agent behavior.

Recently we found ourselves in a shitty situation. One of our clients lost some money and was hurt by an unregistered DBA. The issue wasn’t so much the DBA itself, but rather agents operating underneath it. The problem was addressed and corrected immediately.

But how did things get as far as they did? What guardrails were in place? Where is the Broker responsibility? Not necessarily out of malice, but the public was not served here and; “it’s the system” can’t be an appropriate response. Needless to say, the Brokers involved in our situation differ wildly in legal interpretation.

GREC and the lawyers will sort it out. Nothing funnier than 2 sales agents arguing the finer points of law. Yes, our 90-hour online Broker course used some law-school terms, but it doesn’t make any of us Stanford Law. If realtors are left to be the arbiters of law, we’re all hosed.

We revel in the agent freedoms we have in Atlanta. So we really can’t get too upset when someone goes too far. It’s human nature. But we have to step up, and if you are a Broker who allows Agent branding, that means you. If you are an agent who wants to brand; play by the rules and make sure your Broker does the same.

There is plenty of room for all of us. But, we either learn how to play together, or someone, not as nice as we are, will tell us how to play together. Our goal should be to minimize the later. But, know this: GREC isn’t prepared.

Dynamic shifts in an industry rarely start from the administrative side of things. Agent branding and DBA registration is still new. But, it’s growing. Remember, Atlanta has more “little r” realtors than it has old school, capital R, “R”ealtors. (little r realtors are more apt to DBA branding) The traditional franchise broker hierarchy is so baked into our administrative processes, there are bound to be growing pains with anything new.

This will sound strange to many, but it’s true. Real estate Brokers are NOT in the business of advancing an agent’s career. Real estate Brokers ARE in the business of protecting the public from agents who are advancing their careers.

To this end, Brokers need to unite and organize. How? Beats me, but I would love to hear your thoughts: In the meantime, be aware our DBA market is just beginning, let’s try real hard not to step on the sprout!

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