Flat-fee brokerage tests Richmond’s residential market

Coach House's initial group of agents with some of their vendors during the brokerage's kickoff party. (Courtesy Coach House Realty)

Coach House’s initial group of agents with some of their vendors during the brokerage’s kickoff party. (Courtesy Coach House Realty)

Another new brand is vying for its share of the Richmond residential market.

Coach House Realty launched in October, led by broker Paul Collins, previously with Jefferson Properties. Since then, the Henrico-based brokerage has attracted more than a dozen agents, and Collins said he expects to add more in coming weeks.

Collins said he designed Coach House based on what he would need from a brokerage as an agent. That didn’t include office space, though the company does lease a shared suite at 3900 Westerre Parkway, providing a home base and meeting place for agents.

It also didn’t include monthly fees or a percentage-based cut of agents’ commissions to pay for services, but rather a flat, capped transaction fee for brokerage support and services.

Collins set that fee at $400 per transaction with an annual cap of $16,000. If agents sell more than 40 homes in a year, they do not pay more than that capped amount, he said.

The realty firm has just over 30 listings. (Courtesy Coach House Realty)

The realty firm has just over 30 listings. (Courtesy Coach House Realty)

As the agents he recruits already have experience in the market, Collins said he doesn’t need to provide the level of support seen at other brokerages, such as new client leads and technology help. That keeps expenses low and reduces the amount he charged agents, keeping his fee rate competitive, he said.

“A good, productive agent shouldn’t require office space, because you should be out meeting your clients and visiting properties and meeting with builders. You should be out generating your own business, and you can’t do that just from sitting in an office,” Collins said.

“They get to keep 100 percent of their commission minus a transaction fee, and they still get full-time broker support. I’m still managing their transactions and there for answering questions and providing other brokerage services,” he said.

A West Virginia native with 25 years of experience in real estate, Collins has been active in the Richmond market since 2000. Connections made in that time led him to start his own brokerage, which he said wasn’t planned until recently.

“It was not on my trajectory at all to open up a company, and then I started thinking about, if I was wanting to go to a new company, where would I go?” said Collins, 48. “I started doing a little research and there wasn’t any place that I would want to go, so it was kind of an overnight epiphany that I was going to do this.”

Collins said his experience at Jefferson Properties and other brokerages such as Keller Williams and Long & Foster didn’t prompt his decision, but they did shape his business model and approach to Coach House Realty–a brand he operated under while with Jefferson. The name refers to the street where he resides.

Paul Collins

Paul Collins

Collins said most of the agents who have joined came over from Jefferson Properties and Keller Williams.

“Once I did it and announced it on Facebook, the phone started ringing and agents were like, ‘Hey, can I come over?’”

Among the latest to join Collins is Cassandra Zimmerman, who brings some of the business of Creative Home Concepts, a Powhatan-based custom home builder. Zimmerman is one of two agents in Richmond who list homes for the builder, which is co-owned by her brother.

“It sounded like something for more experienced agents, which is a good thing,” said Zimmerman, who worked with Collins at Keller Williams. While she applauded that brokerage for providing agent services such as training, she said there were services she was charged for but didn’t need.

Zimmerman brings with her seven active listings, bringing the number of listings under Coach House to just over 30. Collins said an additional 10 are scheduled to close in the next two months.

Collins envisions Coach House growing to about 50 agents, but no more than that, he said.

“I’m not trying to build a body farm, where there’s 50 agents and only 10 that are producing. If I’m going to have 50 agents, I want 50 producing agents,” he said.

Collins said it will be those agents, not the brokerage or himself, that will set Coach House apart in the marketplace.

“The agent is who has to stand out, because the only relationships that really exist for a company is the relationship that the agent has with their clients,” Collins said.

“The kind of reputation or image I want us to have is just quality and experience,” Collins said. “It’s a group of like-minded, experienced agents sharing ideas, making each one of us more successful.”

Coach House joins an evolving real estate scene that recently added Peninsula-based Liz Moore & Associates. Delaware-based builder Schell Brothers arrived in Richmond last year, and luxury brand Engel & Volkers has also planted its flag in the market.

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Josh McCullar

This is a fantastic concept! Congrats.