In the wake of an exclusive report by Inman on Tuesday, agents and competing franchises have begun to speak out about Keller Williams’ practice of keeping so-called “ghost agents” on the rosters, with some speculating the number of inactive agents could be far higher than official estimates.
Ghost agents, or agents still on rosters but no longer affiliated with the real estate franchise, are thought to number in the tens of thousands in Market Centers nationwide, and Keller Williams executives confirmed they were undergoing a process to purge an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 names. The directive came from Keller Williams CEO Gary Keller, who announced the move at a meeting of regional directors in January.
“I fought for several months with my team leader and operating principal over this practice,” a former productivity coach at Keller Williams and current Realtor told Inman. “This was one of the final deciding factors in my leaving [Keller Williams] in [October 2018].”
A former Keller Williams market center administrator in Texas told Inman the practice of keeping ghost agents on the roster is a story they have been wanting to tell for years.
“I consult with Market Centers all over the country and even did an audit of random offices comparing their [Keller Williams] roster to their sponsored licenses with the state,” the former administrator wrote in an email to Inman. “I assure you it’s more than 10,000 or 15,000 that need to come out.”
They added that there was even a market center that hadn’t removed anyone since it opened their doors 15 years ago.
Christy Atkinson Gessler, a former team leader in the company’s home market of Austin, Texas, wrote in a comment on Inman Coast to Coast that she lived with the pressure of needing to grow and eventually quit and opened her own brokerage.
“Running a Market center there came with extraordinary pressure for growth,” Gessler said. “I always did it the right way but I know others that did not. It was a sad underbelly of the culture.”
Art Valenzuela, a former Keller Williams team leader in California was fired over his lack of growth, he wrote in the comments on the original article. He recalls the standard as a team leader was to net 10 hires a month and gross five.
“My predecessors taught me to recruit and report, but by the time I came along the things they did were no longer allowed,” Valenzuela said. “Damage was already done. This was late 2016 and I had to hire and release legitimately while those before me received awards and accolades that were purely fabricated.”
Valenzuela said he knew of a market center that reported nearly 900 agents, and the state regulators had them at under 400. He was fired by Keller Williams for averaging seven gross and four net hires a month.
Valenzuela and others that spoke to Inman implicated former CEO John Davis. However, Davis emphatically denied there was any company directive, spoken or unspoken, to report former agents as active.
A number of commenters still with Keller Williams also denied there was any sort of directive.
“I cannot speak for any region other than the one I own a franchise in, but never, in 16 years, has our regional director even hinted that I should not remove agents as soon as they leave,” Laura Stevens, an operating principal of a Massachusetts’ Keller Williams franchise said. “I was on the weekly calls with John Davis over the last few years and he has never suggested that we keep non-existent agents on our roster.”
“I am 100 percent positive that there is not a single ghost agent on my roster and there never has been,” Stevens added. “I doubt that I am the exception, rather, those team leaders and operating principals that felt it necessary to lie are more likely the exception.”
Tammy Lynne, a franchise owner in North Carolina commented on the original story to say she’s been a franchise owner for 10 years and was never encouraged or instructed to keep “ghost agents” on her roster.
Patrick Page, the supervising broker of a Keller Williams market center in Virginia wrote that he’s never seen a directive from Keller Williams Realty International, or his regional management telling him to keep agents on the roster after they leave.
“In fact, we have checklists in place to remove them,” Page commented on the original report. “The moment an agent leaves our office we return their license to the Virginia Real Estate Board and remove them from our system.”
After publication of the initial report, multiple commenters also noted that they suspect the practice isn’t limited to Keller Williams, Inman asked spokespersons for both RE/MAX and Realogy if the companies had any issue with “ghost agents,” or if there was a process in place to prevent the issue.
“Our franchisees are independently owned and operated and responsible for keeping their office records up to date,” a Realogy spokesperson told Inman. “We are focused on helping them grow their volume and neither reward nor incentivize based on agent count.”
A spokesperson for RE/MAX told Inman they are not in a similar situation and that membership is validated on a monthly basis.
Both RE/MAX and Realogy are publicy traded, while Keller Williams is a private company.