Editor’s Note: This is part two of a series that takes an in-depth look at how brokerage offices have transformed. You can find part one here.
It’s Monday morning, and you have two choices before you: drive into the office and get your lead generation knocked out in a traditional work space, or work from home or a nearby coffee shop using the virtual tools provided by your brokerage.
Which format makes agents more productive, and clients more inclined to purchase or sell a home? It’s not a clear-cut answer, as it largely depends on personality type, work ethic and the tools a brokerage provides. This is something that Lynsey Engels, president of Mel Foster Co., a member of Leading Real Estate Companies of the Word®, stands behind, especially when it comes to concrete office spaces.
“While being a real estate agent offers a tremendous amount of autonomy and the flexibility to set your own schedule, not every personality type thrives in an environment lacking frequent personal interaction,” says Engels. “A dedicated office space for agents provides the support and structure many agents need to truly reach their full potential.”
“A physical location bolsters teamwork and allows for ongoing learning and sharing of best practices,” Engels says. “Agents have collaboration spaces that promote networking with their peers, and these flexible spaces can also be used to meet with clients.”
In terms of virtual interactions, Engels uses private Facebook groups as a chat room resource for agents, while still putting more emphasis on in-person interactions. Is Facebook enough of a cyber communication tool for today’s real estate agent?
Josh Harley, founder of Fathom Realty in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, market, believes that Facebook should be used by agents to “freely exchange ideas, share successes and issues, and encourage each other,” but in combination with other tools.
“While I do believe brokerage office spaces are going the way of Blockbuster, it will take more than just a virtual community to replace them,” says Harley. “It will require a multi-pronged approach to ensure agents have what they need to be successful and feel connected.”
With more involved virtual communities—as with eXp’s cloud campus, eXp World—agents can find cyber office spaces that are more complex and interactive, and that take on more of the features expected in a traditional office setting, such as assistance provided by support staff and even team-building activities.
“Most agents are used to paying a desk fee for an office they rarely visit,” says Mitch Robinson, senior vice president of Marketing and Communications at eXp Realty. “Plus, for those who go into the office, they often aren’t able to get the real-time support they need. We have multiple people with the same function who can help agents across North America. We also don’t have desk or franchise fees, so agents save money.
“Even in a virtual office, it is important to embrace our core value of fun,” Robinson says. “Not only do agents do important work with each other and staff; they can drive a speedboat, watch fireworks for the Fourth of July and Canada Day, or join a daily, virtual workout with others across the country.”
Are these virtual perks enough? More and more brokerages are amping up their tech offerings in order to transform their office environment, and, yet, the real estate industry is still a human-centric business in which face-to-face meetings are key to building strong relationships. That’s why Wendy Forsythe, chief operating officer at HomeSmart International, has zoned in on technological innovation that blends well with both concrete office space and the cyber world.
“HomeSmart has built its technology on a proprietary platform called RealSmart Agent,” says Forsythe. “This software is the combination of all the tools and support an agent needs to run his or her business. Agents can build a brand through websites and social tools, market listings, manage their database, have complete transaction management and get paid when the transaction closes. From an agent’s first login, he or she has access to a powerful platform to market, learn and transact with.”
How does the industry feel about a completely virtual office setting with customizable avatars, such as those within eXp’s cyber community? Personalization can help to differentiate users and build a sense of identity; however, while younger, more tech-savvy clients may appreciate the imaginative interactions that come with the modern spin on tradition, the format is still new, leaving questions unanswered. Will it take away from the seriousness of tough transaction conversations typically needed to get to the closing table? Will home showings be replaced with virtual tours? And will the agent-client relationship suffer from a lack of in-person interactions?
“My thoughts on this are twofold: Technology is giving us a beautiful way to extend our personal relationships, which is a wonderful thing, but there is still something magical that happens when humans share energy in the same space together,” says Keith Robinson, chief strategic officer at NextHome, Inc. “There is a reason live events and concerts still draw massive crowds. Sure, it would be fun to listen to a new album on Spotify in your car, but nothing compares to the experience of hearing it live, together with your friends in a shared space. The companies that win in the future will use technology for more reach, but understand the importance of an in-person, communal experience.”
So, what does the real estate office space of the future look like? It depends on who you ask; however, the industry will most likely retain its varied offerings in order to maintain healthy brokerage competition and appease the various personality types of real estate clients.