Brokers in Focus: From burnout to merger — and a moment to make history
Candice McCuien became the first Black woman elected to lead her association, breaking new ground while successfully aligning her brokerage with Century 21.
Candice McCuien knows that seeing her picture go up on the wall of the Central Carolina Realtors Association will be a milestone not only for her, but for the 110-year-old group itself. She is the first Black woman the association has elected as its president, a role she will assume next year. "There's no one up on that wall that looks like me," she said.
It's been a busy few months for McCuien. In addition to her leadership at the association, she and her husband Kenny recently merged their thriving, multi-office independent Excel Real Estate with Century 21 803 Realty.
Now executive vice president of the rebranded Century 21 EXCEL, McCuien says the decision to merge with another company was difficult, but necessary. She spoke with Real Estate News about the merger, her leadership goals and opportunities for the industry at large.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What was behind your decision to merge your brokerage?
I was experiencing burnout. I started Excel Real Estate along with my husband in 2017, and we grew at a very fast pace. We opened seven locations, and at one time we had about 300 agents on the team.
By the time things slowed down (post-pandemic), I realized "Oh my goodness, I feel like I'm doing everything." Of course I had help, but everything kind of fell on my shoulders. And then last year we experienced some family health challenges. I remember sitting with my mom in a hospital bed, and I was there with my laptop and not feeling like I could pull away from work, because if I didn't respond there was no one else above me to go to.
That was the moment I had to reflect on what I needed to do to shift the business to sustain the legacy of what we built with Excel Real Estate. And I could only see that happening through a merger.
What benefits have you seen from the merger?
Leveraging my time has been key. Partnering with Century 21 benefits not only me but our agents. We've just been in this a little over a month, and I'm already seeing everything that we were missing as an independent brokerage.
Now we're grabbing a piece of that market share that we didn't have before. I love the referral network. We weren't getting those referrals before unless we were really pouring out our own finances through networks that we had to pay for. Now we don't have to pay for it — it's coming through brand recognition.
You are the president-elect of the Central Carolina Realtors Association — and the first Black woman to hold that position. How important is representation at that level?
I think about my grandmother who passed away in 2019 at the age of 97. She was able to see her granddaughter build this business. As a Black woman, her demographic had to wait the longest for the right to legally buy a house in America. Representation is so important. We're in South Carolina, and traditionally it's been a state where, unfortunately, people who look like me have been last in a lot of things.
But since we started Excel, I'm seeing more and more Black women become brokers-in-charge or even own their own brokerages. Hopefully my success is a catalyst for other Black women to say, "Hey, if she can do it, I'm gonna do it. And I'm gonna be successful."
What do you want to focus on when you assume the association presidency?
I really want to home in on fair housing. That is so near and dear to me. I'm trying not to get emotional, but when I think about it, you know it is 2024 and we've never had a Black female president of the association. We've had two Black males prior to me in over 100 years.
I am just so honored to be chosen to represent not only myself and my demographic, but to let everyone know that if their goal is to attain the American dream, I want to have my own testimony to help them get there. It is so important to me.
With the turmoil at NAR and the commissions lawsuits threatening to upend the industry, what do you think association and brokerage leaders should be doing?
I look at challenges as opportunities to turn around. And we're holding people accountable. We have to live with integrity. Transparency is key. With the commissions lawsuits, there may have been confusion, where the public did not understand the different avenues they could have taken. It could have been a lack of transparency in some cases or just a lack of clarity.
My job, when I'm dealing with agents, is to train them to have conversations with customers that are completely transparent.