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Are paper files & walk-in real estate offices obsolete?

Real Estate Broker/Owner with Real Estate Cafe

Photo of Real Estate Cafe

Twelve years ago, The Real Estate Cafe was founded as a walk-in, internet-based, housing information center -- to our knowledge, the first in the country (see story below.)  Over the next five years, 1995-2000, we amassed a mountain of paper files, some in the 1,200 square foot body of the cafe and more in the basement.   

Even though The Real Estate Cafe has operated virtually in recent years, we continue to amass mountains of paper.  About 20 boxes of paper, mostly marketing materials for recent real estate conventions and newspaper articles, are ready to sorted, filed, or tossed today.  Approximately 50 files boxes are already in deep storage.  While we rarely access paper documents in "active" file cabinets, we constantly update digital files on The Real Estate Cafe's intranet.

So our question is three-fold:

1.  Is paper filing obsolete?

2.  Are walk-in real estate offices obsolete?

3.  If real estate brokerages reorganized to operate virtually, would savings be passed onto real estate consumers, both buyers and sellers, in the form of lower commissions, rebates, or fee-for-service business models?


Buying A La Carte
Bill Wendel's Latest Venture, The Real Estate Cafe, Aims To Be The Buyer's 'guardian Angel'

Source: Boston Globe | Date: Sep 10, 1995 | By: Mary Sit, Globe Staff

...Called The Real Estate Cafe, it is a self-service information...[reducing] costs by having consumers do some of the work themselves.

Sam White
College Station, TX
Integrated Marketing - Bryan College Station,

There is no doubt that the Internet and other newer forms of communications are changing several industries, but I look it as opportunity vs. obsolencence.

Real estate is a very serious and high value business, and I think there will ALWAYS be a place for the walk-in office for professionals. Even with most of my business coming from the Internet, I still require a face to face meeting before I'll work with a client, and I prefer that  meeting to take place in our conference room.

For relocation clients I require several telephone interviews combined with an online session using GoToMyPC. When they finally visit our city, the first stop remains the office.

It's going to be a lot of fun to see where this goes in the next few years.

Have a great day in Cambridge!


Sep 06, 2007 01:28 AM
Bill Wendel
Real Estate Cafe - Cambridge, MA


Thanks for your post.  I've been watching alternative offices for the past 12 years, and sometimes visited innovative concepts that are breaking the traditional office model.   One of them was near you (relatively speaking from my perspective here in New England) in Austin, TX.  Others may remember the buzz that SOMALiving.com created in San Francisco when they opened three years after The Real Estate Cafe, and then told FastCompany.com they were going to open another 434 locations nationwide.

Closer to home, DeWolfe New England, later purchased by NRT's Coldwell Banker, opened a short-iived, walk-in concept on Cape Cod called DeWolfeDirect.com.  Here's what DeWolfeDirect, a spin-off of one of the leading independent real estate offices in New England at the time, said a decade ago about "unbundled pricing":

"Unbundled Pricing brings innovation to the cost of selling or buying a home. Selling a home requires a certain investment, as does finding and buying one: equal tasks with equal expense. Curiously, traditional commission models require the seller to pay for both of them. We believe it would be more logical if each paid for their own part of the transaction, so we treat them separately. We also use a scaled percentage model that reduces the rate for higher priced homes.

It is equitable, straightforward, honest, and revolutionary"

That was then, this is now: a quick video / slideshow featuring 10 Mega-tends push real estate commissions to a tipping point, about why with think that uncoupled fees, or what some are calling "divorcing" the commission, is inevitable.

Sep 06, 2007 01:48 AM
Lance Winslow
The Car Wash Guy - Malibu, CA

All decent points, and I'd say not quite yet, but almost. And to that issue, a solid computer back-up plan is a complete necessity these days. And losing data could cause quite a calamity.

Aug 27, 2009 12:50 AM