Steve and Sylvia Leave Keller Williams – Go Independent Again

crossland-dark-red-house-logo Sylvia and I are excited to announce that, as of today, we have reverted back to the business structure under which we operated from 1993 through 2004 as Crossland Real Estate. Sylvia is Broker and Head Honcho and I just do what she tells me. We are no longer with the Southwest Market Center of Keller Williams Austin. We are once again an independent, home grown Austin real estate company.

It’s been a great 4 years at Keller Williams and, as I was telling agents at the office today, I don’t believe that Sylvia and I would be the caliber of Realtors we’ve become had we not done our 4 year stint at Keller Williams.

The Southwest Market Center in Austin is the original, first Keller Williams office started by Gary Keller in the 1980s. It is the #1 real estate office in the world, on many different metrics, including number of sales and number of agents. It’s considered the flagship office of Keller Williams – the mother ship – and is the frequent host of tours for other Keller Williams market center staff from around the country who want to come see how we do it here in Austin.

Sylvia and I have enjoyed being a part of this amazing company and this office, and we especially enjoyed the honor of serving on the ALC (Agent Leadership Council) for the past two years, which is the body of top producing agents that runs the Southwest Market Center. I feel like, even though we both had a lot of experience as Realtors before we joined Keller Williams in 2005, we never would have received the type of training and exposure to ideas that we experienced at Keller Williams had we remained Mom and Pop forever and not ventured out to see what it would be like in a different environment.

So why the move? Why switch?
We’re tired, man. Frankly, it’s hard work operating at the level we’ve been at for the past few years. Non-Realtors may not know the real estate terminology of “Production”, or “Closed Volume”, or “Gross Commission Sales” (GCI), but Sylvia and I had what I think will be our career peak year last year in 2008, during a slow market, with just under $10M in closed transactions. That’s not anywhere close to what some of the elite, high production agents achieve across the U.S., but it’s a lot of sales, roughly 4 closings a month. It takes a lot of effort and energy to do that. We’re tired and want to slow down.

So, the plan is to continue building our investment portfolio of managed properties, and focus more on listings and less on buyers. That doesn’t mean we won’t help buyers – we love working with buyers – but we will scale back on the number of buyers we work with and we’ll be more picky about who we take on and less tolerant of tire kickers. When we’re running full tilt, we can each handle 5 to 10 buyers at a time. We’ll probably scale back to 1 or 2 at a time and refer the overflow leads to other agents.

The buyer side of the real estate business is at least twice as demanding as the listing side, especially the 4 to 6 hour days in the car in 100+ degree heat, in and out of houses. Only about 1 of 5 buyers that engage us end up buying, which is why we have to run so many at a time. And that’s actually a better ratio than most Realtors achieve. We’re pretty picky already, but still, it’s a numbers business and, as all productive Realtors know, you have to work your way through a lot of uncompensated time, effort and expense to get to the next buyer closing. And you unfortunately have to know when to cut people loose and when to remain patient. It’s not always an easy call, but you have to be able to make the call anyway.

So, from a strictly business decision standpoint, the time freed up by working with fewer buyers can be reallocated to handling more property management accounts and seeking more sales listings. We still run a fairly small boutique portfolio of managed properties, about 35 at present. That’s compared to almost 250 I handled in the early 2000s. We won’t grow to 250 “doors” again, but a target portfolio of about 75 is reasonably easy to handle and provides a more predictable and stable return on time invested than does an equal amount of time chasing down buyer leads and showing houses to people who aren’t really sure they even want to buy.

Finally, on a more personal note, we feel like we were getting sucked up into a more expensive lifestyle than we really need or desire. We both come from very frugal, low budget roots. My father was a tightwad Navy Officer who raised our family in a tiny, cheap house even though he could have afforded better. Sylvia’s mother was an artist and college art professor, so she didn’t grow up with lavish things either. As a young newlywed couple, Sylvia and I scraped by as I worked my way through college. I didn’t even own a vehicle less than 10 years old until I was 35 – not because I couldn’t buy one, but because I thought new cars were a waste of money. I still do, but I’ve bought four in a row over the past 11 years, justifying it by saying “I’m a Realtor, I need a nice newer car”. Yeah, I need a clean decent car, but not a new one every few years.

We know how to live cheap, save and build wealth, mostly through investing in rental properties, yet an increasing amount of the fruits our professional effort is going toward supporting a lifestyle that’s out of sync with our basic frugal values or needs. Think of us as “Cheapskates Gone Wild”.

It’s weird too how spending more just creeps up. How the ability to afford stuff creates a desire and an urge to have the stuff. In a reverse logic sort of way, which might not make sense to some, it’s more profitable to earn less in America, at a certain point. There is a cutoff at which, for most people, additional earnings result in a higher proportional increase in consumption and spending. It’s like a law of nature that takes over or something. Anyway, we’ll have more left over money, discretionary income, on half the revenue we’ve been generating. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s just how it works.

Also, I nearly got choked up the other day as I realized we have less than two years remaining living as a family of four. Our oldest daughter will be off to college in two years. My youngest will attend all 4 years of high school with no big sister at home, and there will then be just three of us. Four years later, it will be just me and Sylvia as our youngest heads to college also. Then what? Retire?

We don’t want to look back on these next 6 years and say “well, we finally cracked the $15M threshold in closed sales but hardly ever saw the kids”. No, that’s not what we want to remember as our primary focus or achievement.

So we’re setting aside more time for family and less time and effort toward selling real estate or trying to maintain ourselves as “top” agents in our office. And that’s very doable by simply getting back to basic living and the simple no frills business philosophy that we started with in the early 1990s. And it doesn’t mean your referrals and repeat business will receive anything less with regard to the quality of service we provide. You’ll just be one of fewer clients that we’re juggling.

Finally, I look forward to writing more later, in another blog, about what it looks like to be scaling back a fairly big and costly real estate business setup to something equally as effective but far less difficult to manage. We’ve now operated at both ends of the spectrum, and all points in between, as we’ve started, bought, sold, expanded, downsized and run our real estate business in various forms and setups over the past nearly 20 years.

We’re at present scaling down from spending more than $30K over the past 12 months with KW on commission splits ($18K), office rent ($6K), admin fees, copy fees, phones, etc. to a $30 per month mailbox at a postal shipping store and working again out of a home office and meeting clients at Starbucks, or wherever.

How’s that going to work?

Actually, pretty darn well. None of our listing clients ever even came to our office. Buyers did, often, but that can be worked around fairly easily, thanks to Starbucks, WiFi and something called a Laptop. The “officeless” way of doing business and the amazing tools available today make possible all sorts of things, and I look forward to writing more about the tools and services we use as Realtors that make having an expensive brick and mortar office, for us, now obsolete.

Posted by Steve
7 years ago

Steve is a Real Estate Blogger, Husband and Dad, UT Austin Grad, Runner, Real Estate Broker and owner of Crossland Team and Crossland Real Estate in Austin TX.

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Charles Chambers - 7 years ago

Congrats to the both of you! I wanted to thank both of you for the your insight and knowledge of the real estate that you two have passed along to me! I wish you both the best of luck and know you will do well!

Sent via iPhone.

Michael @ The Stage Coach - 7 years ago

All the best to the both of you!
It reminds me of when I left IT sales to start my own company: we were making a good amount of money, and thus, spending it as well. Knocked off one full time income, cut the cable TV bill, the cleaning lady, took the kids out of full time day care, etc. The Quality of Family life you achieve can not be beat. You won’t be sorry!
Michael @ The Stage Coach

Robert - 7 years ago

Steve and Sylvia,
I bow to you two.
Being an amateur Austin investor your blogs have been my guide to investing in Austin.
Looking for new property managers, any interest?

You guys are the best.


Pamela Turlak - 7 years ago

Thank you for the many insights and tech tips you have shared. We are all better agents thanks to your contributions and you will be missed. Good luck with the new lifestyle and practicing the priorities that Gary preaches. I admire you for rethinking your priorities.

Steve - 7 years ago

Thanks Charles, Michael, Robert and Pamela.


jim - 7 years ago

Maybe charging buyers $50 for every X number of houses shown is a way to weed out lookers. You can then offer to give them a rebate at closing that gives them all this money back, plus another $500 or so on top for being good clients.

Craig B. - 7 years ago

Great news! I wish you success. If you don’t mind my asking, Steve, does this change the health insurance situation for you and Sylvia, and how do you go about handling that for a mom and pop shop? I find that one of the biggest barriers to starting a small business is finding affordable coverage.

Steve - 7 years ago

> Maybe charging buyers $50 for every X number of houses shown is a way to weed out lookers.

Buyer’s would never go for that Jim.

> does this change the health insurance situation for you and Sylvia

No, we’ve always paid 100% of our health insurance out of pocket. There are no good group plans for Realtors, not even the alleged ones set up by large Brokerages. For example, the Keller Williams deal, set up through a provider, is more expensive and covers less than what we found on our own through Aetna. We pay $554/mo for a high deductible plan covering a family of 4.


Paul - 7 years ago


Why don’t all Realtors get their brokers license after two years and become independent? Is there really a value add after the first two years?


Sylvia - 7 years ago

Paul, there is a lot of value in being affiliated with a real estate company. There is the brand identity, support and structure that is hard to duplicate on your own. A lot of real estate companies supply agents with leads, education, E&O insurance, business address, receptionist, etc.

Also, some agents just like being in a large structured office where they can bounce ideas and problems off of other agents on a daily basis. This is definitely something we will miss.

Julie Nelson - 7 years ago

Steve & Sylvia … wow, I stumbled upon this, of all things, googling for a City of Austin economic graph. You will be missed. I have always watched (and respected) you guys closely for a couple of reasons … technology and your matter-of-fact approach to real estate. You touch on it in your article of the somewhat-elusive goal of balance and family first and the ever-present pressure to or assumption that you actually want to do business on a level with the super-mega national agents (I do not). I would rather study the Crossland’s of the real estate world and attract a like-minded clientele. Best of luck.

Sylvia - 7 years ago

Thank you, Julie, we appreciate your kind words and the feelings are mutual! I wish you much success in keeping your life balanced! Keep in touch and I hope to work together on a sale with you sometime in the future!

kristina wise - 7 years ago

Congrats to you both! If you are ever in East Austin, please drop by my office for a hello. Enjoy!

Steve - 7 years ago

Thanks Kristina. Hope you’re doing well also, as a fellow ex-KWer.

Rela - 7 years ago

Hi Sylvia! It was good to see you at Trianon last week! Yes, that was a broker’s meeting with agents (who all work from home) – and yes, it was in a coffee shop! (With free WiFi and free conference room, too! Although they double booked that time that’s why we were out there.) – so what Steve mentioned above as being “officeless” works for us!

I admire you and Steve’s decision on this and wish you both the best in this next phase of your business!

Tam - 6 years ago

Great message. I really enjoyed every portion of it and how important your family is. Especially about how much do we really need. I just passed my Brokers exam in Illinois and have many years sales/marketing experience in other industries. I have been leaning toward joining the local Keller Williams office as the Broker/ Team Leader is great and the agents I have met seem supportive and really great also. However many other local companies have continue to call that offer good packages, training and support with less expenses. The training at Keller Williams may get expensive is my biggest concern at this time. The fact that you learned so much in four years is very promising. I wish you the best of luck and know your new adventure will be rewarding for both of you, your family and your clients.

Steve - 6 years ago

Hi Tam,

Good luck. If you’re a new agent, you can’t go wrong with Keller Williams. You;ll learn a lot.


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