Real Estate Agents Ditch Brokerages to Go Independent

Real Estate Agents Ditch Brokerages to Go Independent
Rayni and Branden Williams left Hilton & Hyland to launch their own brokerage.

Part private members club and part real estate brokerage, newly opened Beverly Hills Estates occupies a prime spot on the famed Sunset Strip.

It’s the brainchild of Branden and Rayni Williams, two of the top residential agents in Los Angeles.

In November, the husband-and-wife duo stepped away from their longtime home at Hilton & Hyland and went independent. In April, they launched Beverly Hills Estates, bringing their team from Hilton & Hyland while adding new talent to create a group of roughly 20 agents.

“Branden and I have very entrepreneurial thinking. We always have, and we’re always intrigued with self-starting people and businesses, and we’ve always been interested in building something,” Rayni Williams said.

They aren’t the only top agents in L.A. who’ve gone out on their own. A plethora of the city’s biggest brokers have left larger companies over the last few years to start their own brokerages, seeking more freedom over their brands and their futures.

Over the course of their careers, many successful agents will decide to start their own agency, said Kofi Nartey, a real estate agent to celebrities like Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant.

“People like Branden and Rayni, they have functioned as their own brand for a long time,” Nartey said.

Nartey knows all about the need to branch out. Last year, he left brokerage Compass to start his own agency, Beverly Hills-based Society Real Estate & Development.
“Every agent to some level or another is an independent brokerage. They are their own mini company. Who they hang their hat with depends on the scale of their business, where they are looking for the business to go and the ability to build their own brand,” he said.

That’s partly why Nartey left Compass.

“It’s in part owning my own brand. I’ve always built a brand wherever I was, and I’ve always contributed to a larger corporate structure,” he said. “It was nice to make a move to own my own process, own my own outcome and create a model that better serviced my customers.”

The decision to go independent has gotten easier thanks to companies like San Francisco-based Side Inc., which provides technical and back-end support operations to agents.  

Tech support

In addition to Nartey, Side’s clients include Malibu-based Unvarnished Co. The spec home development company founded by former stunt driver Scott Gillen launched a brokerage arm last year. Side has also partnered with groups like Amalfi Estates, Caimeiju Realty, Stroyke Properties Group and Ben Bacal’s Revel Real Estate.

Side co-founder and Chief Broker Officer Hilary Saunders said the company, which launched in 2017, now works with 1,600 Side partner and team agents.

“Branching out on your own is difficult; it’s scary. You are now liable for all the transactions of all your agents. It takes a lot of costly overhead that we solve for as well. It makes it more of a smooth transition with way less stress than if you were to do it on your own. … We make it a whole lot easier,” she said.

Jeff Toth, founder of Caimeiju Realty, which has an office in the San Gabriel Valley, also works with Side.

Toth said the reason he sees many agents striking out now to start their own brokerage is to be able to differentiate themselves in a crowded market.

“Real estate, one of the biggest challenges is it’s a very challenging, very cutthroat industry,” Toth said. “One of the most difficult things to do is be different and stand out from your competition. When you are under a big umbrella and everyone has the same marketing, the same narrative and everyone looks the same, you look like everybody else.”

Nartey said it’s possible to launch a brokerage without the help of a company like Side — as long as the new company invests in its own technology. Beverly Hills Estates does not have a tech partner and has instead developed its own platform and back-end operations. 

More than a brokerage

The location of Beverly Hills Estates, as well as the decor, scream California.
The new space is decked out in green and gold, with crystals, a velvet sofa and a coffee bar. Enclosures that look like cabanas serve as offices.

Branden Williams said the Beverly Hills Hotel was among his design inspirations. It’s fitting that the space doesn’t look like an office, because it doubles as a private club.

The club is open to professionals working in lifestyle and real estate-related industries, with membership dues of $2,400 a year.

A board of directors, which does not include Branden and Rayni Williams, decides on the members. Agents at the Beverly Hills Estates get automatic memberships, and one member is showcased every month.

Rayni Williams said the club provides an opportunity for members to network and grow their client bases. Members, including agents, architects, interior designers and more meet and make referrals, she said.

“The concept for the hybrid of the luxe brokerage and the private members club was born out of Covid,” Rayni Williams said. “During Covid we realized so many important lessons and things about the human condition that we never paid attention to before and just took for granted, one being how much we thrive as humans when we work together. Interaction and creativity and inspiration grows from roundtable experiences.”

She said there is a waitlist to join.

Despite all they are doing with the brokerage and club, the Williamses still plan to be active as agents.

“We are extraordinarily staffed and ready for whatever the day brings, which allows Branden and I to sell and be there for our clients and have our operations running,” Rayni Williams said.

Big expansion plans

The Williamses have ambitious growth plans.

“We want to create satellite offices all over the city, so wherever you are … there’s a place for you to come and grab a coffee, have a meeting and connect to other agents in a space that feels more like a club than an office,” Branden Williams said.

He is looking to open Beverly Hills Estates locations in the Westside, Malibu, Los Feliz and the Valley, where he grew up, “and hopefully one day all around the world.”

The company is also looking to open locations in Miami; New York; Aspen, Colo.; Milan; and Monaco.

Branden Williams said the locations would all open in the next year or two.

“We are always going to do what we believe in, which is location, location, location, back to real estate 101,” Rayni Williams said. “We’re always going to be in the prime locations.”

And while all the future locations will have some similar aspects, Branden Williams added that their “style and tastes will grow.”

Nartey expects to see more agents follow suit and open their own brokerages.

And he is continuing to grow Society Real Estate & Development.

“We’ve created a model that allows us to piggyback on our core competency, which is traditional residential real estate and luxury real estate at that,” he said.

“Through the relationships that were created with that, we are growing trust and opportunities.”

Side’s Tech Platform Helps Agents Break

San Francisco-based Side Inc. has partnered with many of the agents who have launched their own brokerages, taking on back-end and tech operations for these firms.

The company launched in 2017 and is now used by roughly 1,600 Side partner and team agents.

Side co-founder and Chief Broker Officer Hilary Saunders said the company was created to help agents “focus on what they’re really good at doing, which is providing a wonderful sales experience for buyers and sellers.”

Side can also handle other elements of the business, including marketing and “all the nitty-gritty that most agents aren’t as good at,” Saunders added.

Side only partners with agents who meet a sales threshold, which varies by state. The company takes a piece of the agent’s sales commission.

For now, Side operates in California, Texas and Florida but is looking to add more states soon.

Saunders said platforms like Side allow agents to set themselves apart. When agents operate independently, they are not competing for a listing with hundreds of other agents within the same big company.

Jeff Toth, founder of Caimeiju Realty, said Side allowed him “take my vision and bring it to reality.”

Kofi Nartey, who left Compass last year to start Beverly Hills-based Society Real Estate & Development, said Side has “over delivered” on its promises and has made it easier to focus on other aspects of his company and its growth.

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