By Roberta Codemo

Three local real estate agents recently left The Real Estate Group (3701 Wabash Ave.) and started their own firms, while two previously independent firms have joined The Group.

“Real estate is a transient business,” said managing broker Mike Buscher. “People find other opportunities that are more suitable. There’s plenty of room for everybody.”

He’s ecstatic about welcoming Grady Realtors, Inc. of Springfield and Wrightsman-Musso, Ltd. of Virden to The Real Estate Group. “We continue to add strength to the organization,” continued Buscher, noting The Group picked up 16 new agents with 87 years of combined experience who will bring a lot of value to the company. Mergers bring new blood into the company. “It brings a different energy,” said Buscher, adding that everybody has their own level of expertise.

“We’re always looking for good quality agents,” said Buscher, pointing out that consolidation is the nature of the real estate business right now. Founded in 1997, The Real Estate Group has grown to 144 licensed agents.

“Real estate is a competitive business,” said Buscher. “Agents are independent contractors.” However, The Real Estate Group strives to create a team environment, with agents dedicated to helping each other.

Buscher says that agents are attracted to the firm by the education, training, management support and mentoring programs that The Group offers. “We provide unlimited support that is second to none,” said Buscher.

“It had nothing to do with The Group,” said Phil Chiles, when asked why he left. He recently opened Capital Area Real Estate, 316 E. Adams St. “I was at that stage of my life where I wanted to be on my own and do my own thing.”

A former lobbyist and Methodist pastor, Chiles received his real estate license in 2000 and has worked for several firms, including Julie Davis Realtors, Coldwell Banker, ReMax and Aspen Real Estate (prior to its merger with The Real Estate Group).

Chiles first started exploring the idea of opening his own firm a little over a year ago. After weighing the pros and cons, he made the decision to leave early this year. “I enjoyed my time there,” he said, noting that he remains on good terms with Buscher.

“I wanted the ability to do unique things that you can’t do when you’re part of a big company,” continued Chiles. “It gives you a little more flexibility.”

He plans to start a home buyer’s club with help from affiliates and begin offering classes in home ownership that are geared towards first-time home buyers. Attendees will receive discounts on services such as mortgages, home inspections and title work.

“For someone who’s never done this before, it can be a frightening experience,” said Chiles. His goal is to make it less so.

He also plans to pay for the cost of pre-inspections. “When you list a house, you have to pay for an inspection,” said Chiles. By working with the sellers before the house goes on the market, they will know exactly what needs to be done.

“It’s about caring for people,” said Chiles, who is also licensed to sell real estate in Florida. “It’s about helping them find their dream home.”

Chiles grew up on the north end and has deep roots in the area. His great-grandfather, Willis Spaulding, was responsible for building Lake Springfield.

For the past 10 years, Chiles has been looking at downtown buildings with an eye toward eventually opening his own office. “I finally found one I wanted, at a price I could afford, and the rest is history,” said Chiles. The building on Adams has 1,600 square feet of office space on the ground floor and two upper-story apartments.

“It’s a good location for me,” said Chiles. There are currently three agents working for him and one part-time receptionist. Future plans include bringing on more agents, and he expects business to grow 10 to 15 percent per year.

“I love downtown,” he enthuses. He would like to see the area become a place where people can come and shop, play and have a good time. “I want to become downtown’s Realtor,” he said.

Another new real estate office in town was recently opened by Jim Kuhar and Kathy Garst of the KuharGarst Real Estate Team. They left The Real Estate Group and opened the first Keller Williams Market Center in the Springfield area, located on the ground level of Town and Country Bank, 3601 Wabash Ave.

After two years of vetting, she and Kuhar made the decision to leave The Group. “It was a fantastic opportunity,” said Garst, who said they weren’t unhappy. “We still have a lot of good friends at The Real Estate Group.”

Kuhar is the operations principal, and Garst is the acting sales team leader.  Market center administrator Maria Parsons and transaction coordinator Suzanne Daugherty are administrative staff on site. They are currently recruiting real estate brokers from the area.

They were approached by John Schumacher, the regional director for the mid-American region of Keller Williams Realty. “John knew Jim,” said Garst, adding they were “honored Keller Williams chose us.”

Garst went on to say, “Keller Williams is the number one training company across all industries, not just real estate. They are a training and education company that just happens to be in the business of real estate.  Brokers are very busy people and they need the tools, systems and processes that KW offers.”   

Garst said it was the right time for KW to come to town.  When Keller Williams Realty offered the opportunity, she and Kuhar asked each other, “why not us?”  “It’s a great company for seasoned real estate brokers wanting to ramp up their business as well as newly licensed brokers,” she said.

When Garst received her real estate license in 2011 after 30 years in nursing, she felt that there was a lack of tools and training for newly licensed brokers in the Springfield area.  “You get a lot of good advice from seasoned brokers, but no systems and models to follow to put you on a path of success.  Keller Williams has all that.  You don’t have to re-invent the wheel.  KW has it all with a proven blueprint for success, which ultimately benefits our clients to have highly-trained brokers working for them,” said Garst.

“Keller Williams implements an agent-centric model,” Garst continued, “which allows agents to create and brand themselves, not the brokerage.  KW’s culture has been researched and studied and is its greatest attribute.  That culture is born out of a model of true profit-sharing available to all brokers without any capital investment, risk or liability.”

“We’re really excited about the future,” said Garst.  

Roberta Codemo is a freelance writer in Springfield.