September 1, 2001

The Best Broker/Dealers

For the 11th year in a row, Investment Advisor rea

Every year we ask you, our readers, to tell us what you think about your broker/dealer, to rate its performance in key areas such as compliance, payouts, and technology. Every year you oblige, providing your peers with benchmarks by which to measure their own B/Ds' performance. It's time to look at the new tallies, and to take a closer look at the winners you've chosen.

We have three repeat winners this year: Brecek & Young Advisors in Division II, Commonwealth Financial Network in Division III, and Investors Capital in Division IV. NEXT Financial is a first-time winner in the smallest grouping, Division I. More than 2,300 reps took the time to fill out our poll and deliver it to us.

What's the atmosphere in which our winners have performed so well? The industry as a whole has been quiet, according to Mitch Vigeveno of The Turning Point, a consulting and recruiting firm in Clearwater, Florida. In fact, according to Vigeveno, "It's a period where people are stuck in the mud." Brokers are trying not to disturb their clients, he says, especially since many clients are already disturbed by the markets' performance over the past 18 months. Fee revenues are down, because assets under management on which those fees are charged are down.

If there's one area where there is intensity, it might be among those who do move from one B/D to another, according to Carol Sandstrom, a recruiter for Sentra Securities, also in Clearwater, Florida. "Reps are still looking for more technology and more service. It's almost like road rage and air rage," she says. "Things build up over a period of time, and the reps are on a shorter fuse if something doesn't work out the way they thought, service-wise. They're more likely now to make an issue out of it sooner rather than later."

Trying to keep reps happy is one way that NEXT Financial Group tries to distinguish itself from its competitors. President Jeff Auld says that if a NEXT rep calls the front office to have something done, such as a distribution from a client's account, the rep won't have to make a note to call back in a day or so to see if the check's been issued. "[Reps] don't have to routinely worry when they're sending in legal documents, trust documents, or estate documentation that their paperwork will get separated from new account documentation and get lost," says Auld. "There's attention to service here. That's what I hear all the time." That attention to detail is part of the reason NEXT was a first-time Broker/Dealer of the Year in Division I, which covers B/Ds with less than 200 reps.

As an example of his staff's attention to detail, Auld relates a morning visit to the operations area, where he heard a trader call a rep "because she had received a market order early in the morning on a particular stock. She had recalled that the previous afternoon, the rep had called to get some quotes on this stock and wondered where they should make a limit order." The trader took the time to call the rep to verify that he really wanted a market order rather than a limit order, since they had discussed the limit order the day before.

Such devotion to accuracy and service is partly because the people in the back office are also owners of the firm. Most own stock, says Auld, but that's not just why they care about doing business right. "They just seem to develop relationships with reps in the field, and they care a lot." Those two reasons, he says, "are the only reasons I can think of to justify the level of service that we have here."

Reps are also owners, he points out. "A lot of firms talk about independence, but our firm is unique because it was founded by, managed by, and owned by its reps. It's not owned by a mutual fund company or an insurance company that's controlling our destiny. My board [is made up of] active selling reps that work in our branch offices every day and come together once a month to make decisions. Even reps not on the board are members of committees that we consult with, get input from, and take real votes from to determine the interests of reps in the field." Any rep can own stock in the firm, he says; it's not "just doled out to the top." That attracts people to NEXT, Auld argues, because of the opportunity for real ownership and a voice in the running of the company.

Division I: NEXT Financial Group
NEXT was founded by a group of reps who had worked for Advantage Capital in Houston. As President Jeff Auld tells it, these reps had been with the company for years, and several of them had followed their fathers' footsteps to Advantage. In other words, this was a stable group not prone to company-hopping.

But the atmosphere at the company had changed to the point that the group was no longer happy. They began to look around for another B/D and visited several firms, and held some serious discussions. In the end, the group decided that the only way they would be satisfied with the level of control and service at their broker/dealer was to start their own. So they did.

"The firm was incorporated in 1998," says Auld, "but it was early 1999 when NASD approved NEXT as a broker/dealer." There were a couple of dozen in the group that originally left Advantage, he says, and by the end of 1999 there were 78 at NEXT. That number nearly doubled by the end of 2000, and another 50 reps signed on in the first half of this year alone.

Auld himself was a retail broker, a registered rep with Edward Jones in Iowa. He left that behind to help start a firm called First Bankers Securities Corp., which offered brokerage services in banks. Auld headed one firm after another, with success, but when his position at Magna Banks in St. Louis was consolidated due to a merger, he found himself on the move again. "I was introduced by a mutual friend to Gordon D'Angelo [one of the firm's founders]," Auld remembers. "He described the firm, and it sounded very interesting, but I was reluctant to move my family again." He wasn't anxious, either, to hear another presentation. "I'd made dozens, if not hundreds, of these presentations," Auld says, "and they all pretty much seemed to be the same. [They were] suits, successful in their business, but [they] didn't know anything about my business." Still, he went to Houston, where he spent four hours talking to the board at NEXT. "They were all men in this business," he recalls. "They spent a few hours a month doing board business, but all do this [brokerage work]. About my age, some had been in business longer than I had. I left the meeting knowing that I wanted to work for them."--Marlene Y. Satter

Ownership and voice are important to the people at NEXT, since many are there because they felt a lack of control at their previous B/D. Says NEXT rep Hal Tomlinson of HW Tomlinson Moneymaster in Woodland Park, Colorado, "I had been with a B/D that had a family atmosphere. They knew the rep and his needs, and gave him or her personalized attention and service. That started disappearing when my B/D was purchased by a larger, more impersonal firm. I began looking for that kind of firm again and found it in NEXT." Testimonials like Tomlison's are one way that Auld sells the firm to prospective reps.

Growing the firm is important to NEXT, and while the broker/dealer is considering the idea of acquiring other firms, Auld says that the company is growing at a pretty fair rate without such a drastic step. "When we look at the cost of acquiring a firm that maybe has 50 or 100 reps, and compare that with the fact that we've added 50 reps this year just by telling our story--acquisition costs are high," he says. And to top it off, he says, even though NEXT has looked at a number of firms, the fit hasn't been right.

Usually all Auld says is necessary to attract new reps is to tell the company's story. The independence factor really resonates. "Our firm isn't right for everybody," he says. "Many have high payouts, and there are a lot that clear through Pershing and have similarly good technology. What appeals to reps is the idea that it is truly independent." He doesn't rely on only his ability to "sell" the company, though; he'll have a prospect call a rep to hear how enthusiastic that rep is to be with NEXT. They could certainly call Tomlinson, as we did (not at Auld's prompting, by the way). "This firm was formed by independent reps just like me," notes Tomlinson. "They think like me, work like me, and expect the same things from the firm as I do. [It] wasn't formed by some guys in an ivory tower in some glass building, but by people who actually work with clients and make their living in the same manner as I do. NEXT Financial is truly a broker's broker/dealer."

To Grow Or Not to Grow

The growth issue--whether and how to grow--is something that all our winners have to face. The winning B/D in Division II--firms with from 200 to 500 reps--has addressed growth in a head-on way. In 1999, Brecek & Young won B/D of the Year in Division I. Last year it won again, even though it had grown to become a Division II firm. This year BYA won again, but it's nearing the upper limits of the division since it now can count 475 reps.

And that's exactly the plan, according to BYA President Roland Brecek. With the acquisition earlier this year of Donahue Securities in Cincinnati, Brecek & Young

Division II: Brecek & Young Advisors, Inc.
The accent is on training at Brecek & Young, and that's hardly surprising when you consider that Roland Brecek is a former school psychologist. Brecek and two of his business partners started out in the financial services field as moonlighting educators. They worked, naturally enough, with 403(b)s, and all made substantially more money in their part-time jobs than they did in education. Eventually they went full-time into the financial services industry.

Brecek & Young began life as Transamerica Financial Resources' largest office of supervisory jurisdiction (OSJ) in the U.S. In 1996, through a contractual arrangement, the office formed its own B/D, and started out with 75 reps. They've grown substantially in the short time since.

Their acquisition of Donahue Securities in Cincinnati in March of this year was beneficial in a number of ways to Brecek & Young, not the least of which was acquiring more reps. According to Brecek, there were several reasons that the two companies managed to join cultures so easily. First is the fact that one of Donahue's market niches was the 403(b) market, something B&Y understands very well indeed. A second market niche was "an orientation toward working with tax professionals." BYA and Donahue also cleared through the same firm, National Financial, and had a fee orientation. The two cultures have come together well, Brecek says, paving the way for future growth if other suitable matches are found.

There are three reasons, Brecek says, why people leave their old B/Ds and come to BYA. The first is "an unfriendly compliance department." Brecek says that at BYA, "we feel we do everything correctly but we have a friendlier approach." Second, he says, is reps' business that is not processed correctly at their current firms, and third is not getting paid correctly. From a friendlier atmosphere to e-mail confirmations of transactions to paying reps correctly, BYA takes whatever steps it can to make sure that its reps stay content. "I think that if you treat reps correctly and fairly," says Brecek, "they won't want to leave. And that's why we've won a third time in a row."--Marlene Y. Satter

acquired 225 new reps. "We hired 20 employees" to handle the extra reps, says Brecek of BYA's home-office support. While BYA intends to keep on growing, it's just as important to "maintain an improved level of service to our existing reps as we continue to grow," says Brecek. "We would forego growth if we thought that was interfering with what we provide to our reps."

One of the things BYA provides to its reps is the personal touch. "Other broker/dealers are counting on technology to communicate," says Brecek. "We've chosen a different path in the way we work with reps." BYA has a council of reps with whom management meets twice a year. The council provides input on running the company and on the challenges reps face. The company also offers plenty of training sessions: In addition to its company-wide four-day annual meeting/training session, BYA offers quarterly full-day sessions at a variety of locations. And the home office staff stays in close contact through case support managers who work with reps to help product sales. Sales levels are rewarded with "carrots rather than sticks," says Brecek. Those carrots include sending 15% of the sales force this year to Bermuda as a bonus. Next year's destination? Cancun.

While BYA has made a concerted effort not to overly rely on technology for communication with its reps, Brecek is quick to point out that technology is not being ignored. In fact, Brecek thinks that some concentration on technology will be necessary to win next year's award. BYA is already working on it. "We're excited about EZApps," says Brecek of a piece of proprietary software that completes application forms for reps. The software is on its third revision, and completes a variety of forms--"correctly," Brecek adds, "which saves us a lot of work, too"--so that reps don't have to. "It makes writing business very easy," he says. "Another thing we're unveiling now is an online commission process for reps so they can view all their commissions online." This is something that many reps from many firms have been clamoring for, and they've told us so on their survey responses. Brecek & Young reps will also be able to see position statements for clients and an online production history, and be able to use a new online financial planning program.

BYA is also stressing fee-based programs. "We have a variety of registered investment advisory and commission alternative programs," he notes. "Reps can charge asset-based fees rather than commissions online. Those have really taken off. They're over 25% of our business."

Another innovation scheduled for rollout is a succession planning program to enable reps to acquire other practices or sell their own. "The input council team thought it was very important," says Brecek.

Acquisitions are still on BYA's mind as well. "We're very interested in acquiring additional smaller broker/dealers," says Brecek. "We're also very interested in bringing in experienced reps who may be displeased" with their current B/Ds, he says. Considering how happy BYA is with the acquisition it made this year--"We had an

Division III: Commonwealth Financial Network
Commonwealth Financial was begun by a financial planner. that's what Joe Deitch was in 1979 when he decided that he was "fed up" with the conflicts of interest his own B/D had. "It was the best of times and the worst of times," says Deitch about the early days at his firm, where he is now chairman and CEO. Looking back, he describes himself as "na?ve" to think that if he started a firm free of the problems he suffered with his own B/D, then others like himself "would line up." But he wasn't wrong. "We were doubling every year," he says, laughing. "We went from two reps to four reps." But ultimately, he declares, "You catch up, get better at what you do, attract a great team, and the team performs better and better every year and keeps raising the bar."

Both Deitch and Commonwealth President Peter Wheeler "grew up in the '60s and have enormously high ideals," says Deitch. "And we are nuts about integrity. We care more about integrity than anything."

Deitch has been involved in financial services since 1974 and began his own financial planning firm, The Cambridge Group, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1978. With the founding of Commonwealth, though, Deitch turned a corner. "In the mid-1980s," Deitch remembers, "I realized that while I was a wonderful salesperson and financial planner, I had no training in managing a business, and I went back to school." That was the Harvard Business School, where he stayed in the dorm for a month every year for three years. Once Deitch had graduated, he says, Commonwealth started a practice management department. "I was typical of our brokers," he says, "a financial expert, technically proficient, but with no training in running a business. The vast majority were in the same boat. We consult to our reps on how to grow and manage a business. We see them as business owners, not as salespeople."

Of his drive to have Commonwealth be the very best, Deitch says, "At the end of the day when you look back at what you have accomplished, it's much more satisfying, motivating, encouraging to have done great work. It feels much better to have your customers love you than to tolerate you or less."--Marlene Y. Satter

extremely close fit with our acquired company [Donahue Securities]"--it's more than ready to do it again.

BYA has changed its structure a bit due to the acquisition of Donahue. The back office is now split between Folsom, California, and Cincinnati. "It's worked out very well," says Brecek. "There are 57 employees between those two locations. Our compliance unit is in Cincinnati, [as are] the business processors and part of the management team." This enables the company to serve East, Midwest, and West Coast reps.

"There aren't a lot of independent broker/dealers left any more," says Roland Brecek. "That makes us attractive to reps who want to sell what they feel is appropriate for their clients, and it gives reps a say in how we run our business."

Regardless of how BYA expands, it intends to maintain its level of service to reps. The current rep-to-staff ratio, Brecek says, is less than 10 to one, "and we want to maintain that ratio. We've had very good luck in hiring qualified employees" for the home office, he says. "They're both securities and insurance licensed, and have an incentive to help the reps do well. They share 25% of company profits on a pro rata basis, and can qualify for company trips as well."

Service Star

That theme--providing service to reps--is shared by the leader of Commonwealth Financial Network, the Broker/Dealer of the Year in Division III, which covers B/Ds with from 500 to 999 reps. Chairman and CEO Joe Deitch is very up-front about Commonwealth's goal. It's to provide the best service in the universe.

If that sounds ambitious, consider that Deitch regards broker/dealers as "an interesting lot, because they exist by government fiat. I was always concerned that our brokers used us because they had to. A long time ago I would ask them, 'If you didn't have to use a broker/dealer, would you?'" Many said yes, but nonetheless the issue bothered Deitch, to the extent that he became highly concerned about the service level provided to reps. "I've thought that our business model had to be such that we would provide services that would be better, cheaper, and faster than [reps] could do themselves," he says, "so that they would choose to use us even if they didn't have to."

To that end, he says, seven years ago the firm's stated service goal changed from "Superior" to "World-Class." Big deal, you may say. Pure marketing hype. But the members of the firm spent six months defining what "world-class" meant, and regarded it not as a marketing strategy but as a vision statement. "This year," says Deitch, "we agreed to another change. We want to go beyond world-class service. We want to be indispensable. Is our current service level indispensable? What could or should we do to make it indispensable?"

With this attitude, one might wonder what demands Commonwealth places on its reps as far as production levels go. Says Deitch, "Often new prospects will ask us what our requirements are, thinking that we are going to state some lofty production goal, but frankly, when a rep joins a broker/dealer, it's almost like getting married. The relationship is much more important than a few dollars of extra profit." According to Deitch, it is much more important that the rep "will fit into the organization and be respectful of the home office staff, and the home office staff responds in kind." That strategy has apparently worked; Jay Hurford of Hurford Financial Services in West Lake Village, California, comments, "The people at CFN are very helpful and a pleasure to interact with. [They] are always responsive to my needs."

Division IV: Investors Capital
Investors Capital President Tim Murphy started out wanting to be an investment banker. Getting his education in finance, investments, and economics included working as a cold caller selling stocks while in school, and then becoming a broker after graduation. Two years of being a broker convinced him that "it was very difficult to be selling all the time." He moved around to operations, trading, and ultimately compliance, and worked "at a couple of wirehouse firms getting the licenses." After a move into banking in a corporate environment, "I quickly realized it was not where I wanted to be," says Murphy. "I left the banking world and joined Ted."

Ted is Investors Capital Holdings Chairman and CEO Ted Charles, who had been a career insurance agent with National Life of Vermont and had wholesaled annuities with Life USA. In fact, the stock he received for selling annuities made him a multimillionaire, enabling him to bankroll the opening of Investors Capital. With Murphy's experience on the equity side and his own on the annuity side, he feels the company is well situated to handle the current market shift away from equities to fixed annuities.

Murphy mentions that Investors Capital has opened an investment center, and is in the process of opening another. "This is attractive to a lot of reps," he says, "because it helps them tie their office together."

Work with branch offices and the OSJ (Office of Supervisory Jurisdiction) ensures cohesiveness and prevents fragmenting, says Charles. "We want it to be cohesive. Everyone benefits by sharing."

A recent innovation, says Murphy, is the firm's new Ultra Advantage account, similar in design to Merrill Lynch's Unlimited Advantage account. "Clients have a brokerage account and everything is covered by one fee," says Murphy. Trading and reps' fees are included. "Reps are looking for that," Murphy points out, "because it allows them to enter the fee-based business."

The company went public as Investors Capital Holdings on February 8 of this year, and while that has generated some changes, Murphy and Charles both say that the basic feel of the company has stayed the same. Says Charles, "We're scrutinized more carefully. We had to hire additional staff to comply with the 10-Ks and 10-Qs, and there are more statements, but the basic business hasn't changed a bit." Going public has been terrific for morale, says Charles.--Marlene Y. Satter

A further definition of this attitude is how the rep and the staff communicate with each other: "When the broker picks up the phone to call the home office," says Deitch, "I don't want them thinking, 'Oh, no, I've got to call some bureaucracy and bang my head against the wall.' I want them thinking, 'I'm going to call my friends at Commonwealth and they will take care of me.' And when the phone rings in the home office, I want [the staff] to think, 'I don't know who that is, but it's one of my friends in the field.' That's the culture we're trying to enforce." The culture is working for Hurford, who says, "No way am I leaving Commonwealth."

What lies ahead for a firm with such lofty ambitions? Not a sale to another, larger company, to hear Deitch tell it. People have asked him numerous times over the years when he plans to sell out, he says. But, "inherent in that [question] is that I would stop doing this, that I would rather do something else. My answer has always been that I'm doing what I would rather do, and we all have the ability to influence what we do. So shame on me if I'm not enjoying this, and shame on us if our service isn't absolutely superb." Deitch says he loves his work, and hopes that his employees love their work, too. And if you love your work, why would you want to do anything else? This is a good thing, because the one thing that Hurford would be bothered by is a takeover by a larger firm. He says, "If they were to be bought by an insurance or [bigger] financial company, I would probably look at moving."

The company's emphasis on service has led to some interesting competitions. Five years ago, says Deitch, Commonwealth began a campaign to reduce the time it took to answer incoming calls to eight seconds (three phone rings). To show employees in a very graphic way how long that eight seconds could be from the customer's standpoint, they brought in a mechanical bull, which still stands in Commonwealth's Waltham, Massachusetts, lobby. "We had a rodeo outside on the lawn with bales of hay and people had a chance to get on the bull and see how long they could ride it," recalls Deitch. "That became the symbol that eight seconds is a long time."

The bull technique apparently worked, because, company-wide, the new goal is now four seconds. Two Commonwealth departments have already met that goal--commissions and cashiering. One of the few departments that has not hit the eight-second goal is Commonwealth's IT help desk, Deitch cheerfully admits. "Their average is 12 to 15 seconds," he says. "As the head of technology said to me yesterday, if you call Dell or Compaq or anyplace, you will often wait on line for 30 to 45 minutes."

The Personal Touch

One of the characteristics shared by all this year's winners is the personal imprint that the founders or presidents have on their companies. Surprisingly, this is particularly the case with the only publicly traded company among our four winners, Investors Capital Corp., which is Broker/Dealer of the Year in Division IV, covering B/Ds with more than 1,000 reps.

Tim Murphy, president, and Ted Charles, chairman and CEO, believe in the personal touch at Investors Capital. That becomes obvious when they talk about the 121 meetings they hold with reps every year. Murphy, who was caught in his office between rep meetings in Massachusetts, California, and North Carolina, talked about how he and Charles go out to meet with reps but also bring reps into the home office. "Every single month we run a graduate school," he says. New brokers get a three-day class in practice management. There are four branch manager training sessions a year at different levels, an annual national convention, and, says Charles, probably 30 regional meetings that are two-day events. "Everyone says it's like family here," adds Murphy. "Everybody cares about not only what they're doing but who they're doing it for."

The team approach is an important one to Investors Capital. Says Charles, "We don't want to cater only to top people; we want everyone to be successful." He compares the firm's effort to that of the teams in bicycling's Tour de France, where everyone working together is what makes it possible for an individual racer to win.

Another way that Investors Capital teams reps is to supply a mentor for each new representative. "It's great for compliance and the supervisory aspect," says Charles. The company also uses the economies of scale available to a big B/D to bring in people to explain products to reps.

The company is planning on expansion. "We want to acquire profitable branch offices with other firms," says Charles, "because we believe we have the practice management abilities to help them achieve a higher level."

Another way to expand is through acquisitions. "Since we have cash," says Charles, "one objective is to acquire several firms that are struggling." Other companies, Murphy points out, might not weather the storm without such reserves. But Investors Capital is in good shape, because it's never had any debt. "We funded it personally," says Charles. "No private placements, no offerings, no financing, and I did it with my own money." Money made, says Charles, on stock from Life USA as a wholesaler. When Life USA was bought by Allianz AG, Charles "became a multimillionaire overnight." His shares, acquired at $1 or $2 per share, at the time of sale were worth $20.75 each. "So I said," remembers Charles, "as long as that worked for Bob MacDonald [chairman of Life USA], we wanted to try it here." He adds, "I know what a great feeling it was seeing that stock go from a dollar to $20, and we'd like our people to share that euphoria."

Would Investors Capital consider being acquired itself? "Obviously we are a public company," replies Charles, "and if someone made an offer we couldn't refuse, we'd have to entertain that as well." But the company is not aggressively seeking to be acquired.

In fact, one benefit of going public, says Charles, is that stock options offered to producers all along now have value. "Some people who initially invested in our company have had to sell for various reasons, and some have made ten-to-one returns," says Charles. "That's been terrific for investors." He adds that the company has implemented a stock option plan in its company 401(k), "and it's been super for recruiting."

Although the stock price hasn't set the world on fire (it opened at $8 a share when the company, ticker symbol ICH, went public on February 8, and by mid-August was $3.20), that doesn't really faze Murphy, who points out that, as a financial services company, Investors Capital tracks the market "probably more closely than other companies might" since it is directly related to the market. "When the market comes back, so will we," he says with confidence.

How do they keep their reps happy other than with stock? One way is by following through on reps' complaints, according to Charles. "Our problem resolution department follows through with everything."

Benefits are another means of attracting and retaining "fewer employees of higher quality," Murphy and Charles point out--employees who in the end are responsible for keeping reps happy. They credit their "very low employee turnover" to such benefits as their new cafeteria plan and a day care plan paid for on a pretax basis.

What about the firms that won in past years, or that finished close to the top? How do they feel about future growth and ambitions--and incidentally, their position in the poll? Art Grant, whose Cadaret, Grant & Co. firm took home the top prize in Division III last year, says, "I know Commonwealth's a terrific firm. Their success over the last 10 years says clearly that their reps are happy with them. I think there are other firms out there that are also very, very good firms. It's good for the industry when there are a lot of quality firms to serve investors.

"I'm very proud of the people we work with. They do a great job," says Grant. "We're looking to achieve steady growth, which we've always been able to do." Grant sees these market conditions as an opportunity to attract steady growth by means of good quality reps--reps they keep because of good relationships with the home office: "We hear over and over again how our reps enjoy their relationships with the people in the home office."And, he points out, they've "been here long enough to be stable, but short enough to be creative."

Robert Cogan, president of Capital Analysts Inc., narrowly outpaced by Brecek & Young this year in Division II, says of the winners, "They're good guys. I'm glad they won. It's good competition." Capital Analysts was almost a winner last year, too, and Cogan credits its high ranking with the fact that "everyone here understands that they're in a service business, and service means supporting the reps in their business development. So whether it's compliance, training, or research, the home office people know that their job is to service the reps and help them service their clients."

Cogan says that growth is planned for Capital Analysts, too, but the right kind of growth. "It's growth at the right commitment. We are interesting in acquiring firms," he says, "but we're looking for people who fit our niche. People who come from a planning background and are interested in having multiple types of relationships with their clients, and are much more interested in relationships than transactions. People coming out of wirehouses do not fit with us."

The market shakeup has done more than affect broker/dealers' bottom lines, says Grant. It has shown customers how much they need their advisors. "Nobody's happy with a declining market," he says, "but it is clear that investors appreciate their reps a lot more than they did two years ago."

Grant is thoughtful about the rough ride that people have had in the last year, but feels it will be beneficial in the long run. "Many who stay in this business will be better for having had this experience, and will have a stronger client base and stronger relationships to work from. I think that values have resurfaced as important attributes--sincerity, diligence, honesty, integrity--and I'm delighted to see that. Meaningful attributes, instead of price, bits per second, data mining, and all the other garbage that we were momentarily enthused about."

Those values are pretty much what our winners--and a lot of their competitors--are all about. The field has some excellent players, and you have some good homes to choose from. Choose wisely.

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