The Big Why Behind My $40 Million Business

By Lindsay Mader|

Photography by Ryan Kelly| September 21, 2018

Instead of being sidetracked by industry changes, Tom Francis of the Keller Williams McLean market center has harnessed twists and turns as chances to build a business that supports his big family and an even bigger life.

It wasn’t long after Tom Francis and his brother-in-law, Kevin Shiner, started flipping homes as a side gig that Francis realized that his renovations weren’t as popular as he had hoped. What buyers in this area of northern Virginia really had their eyes on was the land. Small and midsize builders, Francis learned, wanted lots – specifically within the Capital Beltway near the Washington Metro – where they could demolish older structures and build large custom homes.

The Pivot

Realizing he was in the right market but chasing the wrong opportunity, he pivoted.

Francis secured a real estate license and ran with the wind, scouting and then strategically buying properties in highly desired locations that he could sell “as is” for a nice profit. After all, the father of 10, who was still working seven days a week as an area supervisor for The Washington Post, knew the meaning of working hard to pay his bills. And, it didn’t take long before Francis was in demand for his abilities to find the perfect lots, grasp zoning intricacies, and craft winning contracts despite heavy competition. “The plan quickly changed to adapt to what the market wanted,” Francis says. “It was the right place and the right time, and you had to select and understand what you were doing.”

This is just one example of the tenacious dexterity that Francis has displayed throughout his career, a skill that helped him sell $41 million last year as an independent agent. Instead of being sidetracked by industry changes, he harnesses these twists and turns as chances to improve in a career that he loves and build a business that supports his big family and an even bigger life.

Tom Francis

“Tom exemplifies what we want the public and consumers to know about KW agents and our culture,” says Amina Basic, team leader of the Keller Williams Realty McLean Market Center. “He is extremely successful but humble, always has his client’s best interests in his heart, is hardworking, learning based, and a man of faith. Working with Tom in any capacity means winning.”

The Journey to Keller Williams

When Francis began a full-time career in real estate a little over a decade ago, the market sank. While he still occasionally found lots for builders, Francis shifted again to working with buyers because that was where the opportunity was. Then an agent with RE/MAX, he was making decent money but was frustrated with stagnant sales, no matter how hard he worked. “I did the same every year,” he recalls. “Four to five million. Four to five million.” So, after talking with a colleague who had recently left to join Keller Williams, Francis also made the leap. His mission: to learn how to create a scalable business, no matter the market. Francis also discovered what it meant to be part of a learning-based company rooted in the belief of leading with contribution. As he points out, “There’s always somebody who’s doing better than me who I can go to and say, ‘Here’s where I’m stuck – what do I do?’”

Embracing Listings

At Keller Williams, Francis was introduced to the importance of a listing-based business because seller listings bring exposure, buyer leads, and more seller listing leads. After an initial period of telling himself he was too busy with buyers to also take on listings, he decided something had to change and embraced the advice. “I realized that having builders buy the property is only one part of it,” Francis says. “They’re going to build these new houses – I should be selling those houses.”

Francis became the listing agent on a few newly built homes, but was still working with buyers and spending considerable time apart from his family. Eventually, he saw that he could streamline his efforts and produce a high volume by working with just a handful of builders on multiple transactions. So he transitioned to working primarily as a listing agent, for the same builders he was helping find lots, selling homes in the $1.5 million to $2 million price range.

The strategy is paying off. Since joining Keller Williams, Francis has consistently increased his business every year because of the unique value he brings to transactions with his specialized knowledge of interviewing and hiring builders, construction lingo and costs, sale pricing, and what makes a property more or less desirable. “The builder can talk to me and they know I’m speaking their language,” Francis says. “They know that I understand. You can’t just decide one day I want to work with builders. You have to prove it to them.”

Francis helps builders find lots and obtain financing, forms tightknit relationships with title companies to speed up that process, and starts his day early – often taking calls at 6 a.m. By going the extra mile in all of these areas, builders hire him as the listing agent down the line.

“I forged these partnerships that gave them everything they needed to save them time so they valued me,” Francis says.

All of this has resulted in a highly referral-based business. In fact, Francis can track about 92 percent of his business back to three people. Home builder Matt Rzepkowski, who has worked with Francis for more than 10 years, knows firsthand why he is a good partner. “I owe a lot of my company’s growth and success to Tom because of his continued dedication to providing exceptional service and expertise in buying and selling homes,” Rzepkowski says. “He is one of the most honest and hardworking agents, and that is why he is my go-to agent.”

Leverage Takes Francis Higher

Francis will be the first to tell you that his success wouldn’t be possible without the help of his assistants – especially his daughter Claire Wright. At first, he was resistant to the idea of adding people to his team. But he also found that he kept maxing out his ability, and at the same time wanted to spend more time with his family. “I was in this new business and I was doing well,” he recalls, “but it was all dependent on me. I felt bad that I couldn’t be there as much.”

By focusing on listings and using the leverage created by employing two assistants, Francis grew his sales by more than $10 million in a single year. His assistants manage all administrative duties, including customer inquiries, the contract-to-close process, paperwork and financial systems, while he focuses on dollar-producing activities. His business is also well-insulated and primed to succeed in the event of a market shift.

Most importantly, these experiences and a less demanding schedule have allowed Francis to put his “big why” into action by becoming more balanced and making time with his family a top priority. He recently traveled with his wife to Europe to visit their oldest son – the first time he’d been overseas since he was 4 – and he now enjoys planning and following through on two-week beach vacations. Francis, who for eight years served as the culture committee chair on his market center’s Associate Leadership Council, aims to encourage these values in others.

“When I experienced the Keller Williams culture and saw from the very top that God, family and business was what the company was about – it was in perfect alignment with how I wanted to live my life,” he says. “I can’t really put into words what it’s done for my family.”

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