The Future of the Real Estate Office... and Company

By
Education & Training with @properties
A note of thanks to Marc and Brian of 1000Watt Consulting, Joel Burslem of FOREM, and Ash Munshi of Terabitz for their contributions to this topic. Picture this…

You own a brokerage in a major city. You are an established name. And like everyone around you, you currently suffer at the hands of the real estate downturn.

Business is down 40% and your costs are spiraling out of control. Costs that include:

Print advertising. A surplus of marketing, IT, managers and support staff. And a lease for office space that provides too much room for too many agents who have no need for it.

This image is filled with roll-top desks, conference rooms and employee break rooms. It could be an office in any town, in any city, in every corner of the United States. And somewhere, in some lonely office within it, the sound of CFO’s weeping only masked by the whispers of agents talking near the coffee pot can be heard.

“So… how’s your business” “Business? It’s really tough out there.” “Yeah. Did you hear about Steve? He went to (competitor X) the other day?” “Really? Wow… Sally took a part time job at Coffee-Joes.” “Huh… That’s smart. Gives you a little cushion.” “Yeah. I’m hoping the Spring Market kicks in soon.” “Uh-huh. Maybe the stimulus thing will help. I wish it was still $15K.” “Well, I spent some money on a program to get some Internet leads yesterday.” “Really? That’s a good idea. I just started a blog.” “That’s a great idea. I heard about that Social Internet. That’s where the buyers are…” “Uh huh… I’m going to focus on the Luxury Market.” “Well… I’m gonna go to some broker’s opens. Wanna go?”

Do these images look and sound familiar?

What it could look like .

Unlock this door and enter a 2,000 sq. foot space. Inside are half a dozen customer service people with varying degrees of specialties that range from sales to legal to mortgage services. Outside, an intern arranges the courtyard space that includes tables and chairs that run along the sidewalk. Outside, music is piped in from satellite radio. Inside the flat screen panel televisions spark to life. The smell of fresh locally-roasted coffee roasted specifically for your company and branded with your logo begin to fill the air as a local pastry company delivers trays of treats.

The agent “sitting floor” dons a headset connected to her computer linked by VOIP to a central server that holds all the company listings, information, and agent contact information. The first call of the day arrives. Since the caller dialed an extension for property information, before the call is answered, the property information, pictures, property videos, neighborhood market information, tax information and comparable properties are populated on the screen.

The agent who answers the call is instantly able to provide all the information to the caller. Since they are part of your “Client Care” group they can communicate effectively and intelligently with the caller on all buying and selling . The selling agent’s schedule also appears on the screen, so the sitting line agent can setup a buyer’s interview an hour before a the appointment, which is sent immediately to the selling agent’s handheld.

A stream of passerby’s stroll through the door taking advantage of the ancillary services made available to them. Whether it sipping coffee, accessing the web from the mini bar of computers, stock quotes, RSS news feeds, and short video spots of properties and the company’s current CSR projects flow across the LCD screens as they wait. For those have brought their laptops they freely tap into the Wifi provided and log in from the companies branded webpage that also includes local news feeds, real estate information, videos of homes for sale, current market statistics, and more.

Outside the brokerage their solar powered sign displays the time, the temperature, current interest rates, as well as the # of kilowatt hours this particular office has saved by doing their part to go green. A fleet of Zip-Car hybrids that sport the company logo on them are parked out front available for both agents and local residents to use upon request. A number of dog bowls with fresh water line the side of the building and in the windows are pictures of local school outreach programs, sports teams, and children’s social responsibility groups that this brokerage has been a part of.

A young couple enters and is immediately greeted by an office manager who answers their many questions about the current real estate market. As a result of this discussion, which reveals them to be first time buyers, their needs are matched to the appropriate agent rather than whoever happens to be free at the moment.

The right agent greets the couple and takes them through the process of buying a home, the benefits, potential downfalls, and explores their short – mid – and long-term goals. He discusses school districts, why they are looking to buy a home right now, the current state of the real estate market and then asks if they have learned about “Financial Responsibility in Lending” yet. The couple replies no.

The agent invites the lending professional who occupies space inside this facility. They present a “Financial Responsibility” worksheet for these first time buyers. It’s a multi-paged brochure that discusses the responsibilities associated with mortgages, what is needed to apply for one, and what type of information will be required to apply for a mortgage.

An interested lunch crowd is invited to gather and attend an impromptu performance that includes a set list of economic talking points such as “Improving your Credit Score” and the Are you stimulated by the housing bill. This free seminar is held 2 times a week and is part of the “Home Buyer Education Curriculum”. A free flash drive containing budgeting software, articles, and a copy of the presentation is provided to each of the attendees upon completion of the seminar.

Wouldn't YOU want to work here?

The real estate office of the future starts… and ends… with the real estate Company of the future. I think that this is a good start.

Matt Dollinger
Read more like this at The You Factor.com

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Re-Blogged 7 times:

Re-Blogged By Re-Blogged At
  1. Mirela Monte 03/12/2009 01:58 AM
  2. D B 03/15/2009 11:27 AM
  3. Jean Terry 03/15/2009 02:48 PM
  4. Tom McCormick 03/16/2009 01:21 PM
  5. Elena MacPhee 03/16/2009 01:29 PM
  6. Christopher Webster 03/16/2009 01:31 PM
  7. Andrea Volore 03/17/2009 02:00 AM
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Rainmaker
534,489
Melinda (Mel) Peterson
Real Estate Cafe LLC - Bend, OR
Curator of Happy Endings

Picture This... A red painted door, followed by hardwood floors leading to the warm glow of a fireplace.  You smell an apple pie baking in the oven and the aroma of cappuccinos brewing in the kitchen.  You are surrounded by strong, productive, creative Agents who love to share what they know with others.  Sound like a happy place to work?  It is!  Real Estate Cafe ~ Where Something Good is Always Brewing!

Mar 17, 2009 10:59 AM #150
Anonymous
art owen

Aloha

Great idea! Sort of what ING is doing here in Waikiki---big, inviting, non-threatening space, coffee and donut atmosphere---stroll by, walk inside, munch a pig-in-a-blanket and sign-up for a 20 year savings program.

It would be great if a person could walk into a space like that and sit down in front of a computer to see for themselves what real estate is available in that area, square footage, price, amenities, etc. Chaufering clients around is so old (and so expensive). Prospects don't need that, nor do they need us realtors telling them what they want; they should know that on their own, right?. But  they definitely need help navigating the purchase contract which used to be 2 pages, but now is 20 and growing... They also need us to point them to other professionals, such as lawyers, accountants, home inspectors, loan officers, decorators and landscapers (if they're selling), and so forth ad infinitum.

The days of the "hovercraft agent" are over. The dawning of the Age of the Real Estate Facilitator is just beginning. And this model office you propose  is a step forward. Nodoubtaboutit

 

Mar 17, 2009 11:20 AM #151
Ambassador
604,674
Brian Schulman
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, Lancaster PA - Lancaster, PA
Lancaster County PA RealEstate Expert 717-951-5552

Matthew, your vision of the ofice of the future incorporporates community involvement and permission based marketing.

Mar 18, 2009 12:08 AM #152
Ambassador
604,674
Brian Schulman
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, Lancaster PA - Lancaster, PA
Lancaster County PA RealEstate Expert 717-951-5552

Matthew, your vision of the ofice of the future incorporporates community involvement and permission based marketing.

Mar 18, 2009 12:08 AM #153
Anonymous
Yoana Pelaez

Matthew,

AMAZING !!!!! Ok tell us the truth... you stole the Back to the Future car and as soon as you got back you wrote this blog !!!

Great mind and great imagination of what should be today's real estate office!!!!!  

Mar 18, 2009 02:33 AM #154
Anonymous
Kent Davis

Great Vision Matthew, that picture of a cubicle office with fluorescent lighting looks so obsolete; I worked in an IBM sales office in the 70's that looked and worked the same as many real estate offices in 2009.

Let's build a smarter real estate brokerage!

Mar 18, 2009 02:49 AM #155
Anonymous
Jim

Combined ideas

Michelle & Lee seem to have the right idea and by combining the two you may have a winning combination

By using Lee's cocncep that there should be a separation of buyer agents and seller agents each working for their cient with no conflict.

Using Michelle's concept, every seller agent should be a team of two, one getting the listing, the other providing advice and help in staging the home to maximize it selling price.

Buyer agents have new technology at thier fingertips to find and view homes quickly...even view live open house presentations online without having to drive around showing houses until their buyers find one they really like, thus narrowing the choices and reducing the driving.

Matthew's office concept may work best if the office specialized in buyers agents or sellers agents rather than both, then there are no conflicts of interest and it would instill greater trust by the consumer. The broker could even have two separate offices under different names, just don't make it obvious to the consumer.

Now THAT'S and office I would invest in!

...it's good to banter ideas around...that's how you create great ones!

Mar 18, 2009 03:07 AM #156
Rainer
28,900
Spencer Hill
Hill Asset Management - Kingstree, SC
#1 Financial Planner -- South Carolina

Great post. But i think there needs to be more virtuality to the office of the future. One or two conference rooms, and /or smaller meeting spaces. have most associates doing the work virtually, only using the office to meet and greet clients ; file their paperwork , hold ed seminars for potential clients  on a multitude of topics.

Given today's technology - a wireless laptop, cell phone - one can work from any where especilly if you have a "base " providing receptionist and other office services.

 

Mar 18, 2009 03:57 AM #157
Anonymous
Erek

We've been a virutal company since 1990 are now almost 100% paperless

couldn't imagine doing business any other way.

Mar 18, 2009 10:04 AM #159
Ambassador
528,858
Mirela Monte
Buyers' Choice Realty - North Myrtle Beach, SC
Myrtle Beach Real Estate

I'm nr. 160 and happy about it. I plan on revisiting as nr. 200.

Mar 18, 2009 06:09 PM #160
Rainer
17,029
Nick Ruta
Whitehall, PA

It's nice to see that a few people don't think I'm loony toons.  Ideas always need to be challenged and this idea, while grand and dreamy, isn't a future reality in my eyes.  The office of the future will be primarly a virtual environment, small, and have only the tools necessary for agents on the go or the occasionally client meeting and final settlement.

A real estate office isn't like a McDonalds, where consumers HAVE to go to eat.  With real estate, consumers go ONLINE first when they are hungry for homes...they research stats, pull up pictures....they don't walk into offices expecting services anymore or coffee.   The eat it up all online and then, when THEY are ready, they'll find someone to call to go see houses.  Hopefully you can get them to come to the office at that point, but even then it's a struggle.

I recently had a client who found all the homes he was interested in, used his GPS in his car, went to all 6 homes, then called me back and said to keep sending him more.....none of the homes he saw impressed him.

The man got into his car...used his GPS...went to the homes....on his own.  I did NOTHING other than help him with his search.  Just driving by the homes was all he needed to see to make up his mind.  That fact and this story is a true testament of where this business is ultimately going.

Yes, there are exceptions to everything, and your 1.9 billion dollar empire may be just that. Some form of real estate office utopia where everyone uses a smart phone and checks their Facebook account every 20 minutes.  Bravo. Whatever your secret sauce is, it must be good.

While your office sits on a mountain, above the rest, I do believe age indeed plays a factor in where this business is going.   While you may have found the fountain of youth for your agents, the sad reality is MANY older agents absolutely do not embrace change, especially with the steam rolling technology coming at them from all sides.

Anytime there's some new techno service, tool, or website that could make their lives more interesting, productive, or have any sort of impact on their business for the better....guess who the complainers are?  Not the 20 and 30 somethings or the rare group of 'experienced' agents who embrace it.....it's ALWAYS the 40, 50, 60+ crowd of people believing NEWSPAPERS are going to make a comeback.  ALWAYS.

The generational gap in this industry is staggering and the single biggest challenge EVERY broker should be figuring out is how to get the young, tech savvy individual into this business.   Because, in our area at least, I'm not seeing it.   20 somethings have too much debt from school or credit cards, 30 somethings need the pay-check they've been used to in the corporate world.   Without some form of financial security for the younger generation, a generation of people we NEED in this business, getting into this career is no joke.   If a spouse can't support them for 6 months to 2 years, or they don't have cash in the bank, they are out the door fast.

I'm gonna be 85 some day...and when the XBOX 8700 is released, I'll be ripping the controller from my grand kids hands.   This current older generation hates change...it's going to be us, the younger ones, the up and coming group of kids who'll be shaping this world, this business, and future real estate companies.

Other industries hopefully are taking note of this fact...because I know, people my age and younger, we'll all riot in our wheelchairs and rockers if our nursing homes don't have Internet access.

Mar 19, 2009 03:26 AM #161
Anonymous
Kristin Walker

Matthew,

 

Great post and great vision.  I just wanted to comment to say that here in sunny Charleston, SC we have been doing 90% of that since mid-2007!!  We opened what we call The Real Estate Studio on historic King St and it is a consumer-centric set-up rather than your traditional real estate office.  We have a 2500 sq ft space, only 500 of which is the 'office' part with 4 desks for our rotating Virtual Agents.  Nearly 1700 sq ft of it is for the potential buyer or seller.  We have large flat screen TV's, couches, a 'tech desk' with 3 Mac computers for the clients use, Wi-Fi, fresh lemonade and coffee, a concierge to assist people with booking things in Charleston, Videos of most of our properties etc...We hold community events here in the evenings, for both profit and non-profit enterprises and showcase local Charleston artists.  I could go on and on but check it out for yourself at www.dunesdowntown.com.  It has really been a bright spot for us these past two years.

I love your ideas of going greener - something for us to strive for in the future!!

Mar 19, 2009 07:21 AM #162
Rainer
13,020
Matt Dollinger
@properties - Chicago, IL

Again, Nick i think you're way off track but I appreciate your sharing.  I know plenty of agents that refuse change no matter the age. 

So riddle me this Batman?  WHY do people go to Starbucks?  Because they have branded themself as the 3rd place in our lives.  That's what this model has done.  And no tech-widget-GPS enbable stuff is ever going to take away from the personal touch that a well educated advisor can provide. 

I'd be suprised if that buyer with the GPS didn't nickel and dime your commission... becuase that's the type of buyer I assume doesn't really see value in a Realtor.

 

Matt

 

Mar 19, 2009 07:33 AM #163
Rainer
17,029
Nick Ruta
Whitehall, PA

Again, there are exceptions to everything.   But when it comes to adapting to technology, new ways to market, new gadgets, the next big real estate website social networking toy....it's the 'stuck in their ways' dinosaurs which cry the loudest in this career.

As for why do people go to Starbucks?   Demographics, habit, 12 stores in a mile radius, and of course lots of play money to spend.  You might as well throw in people being lazy to make their own too.  I could take 2 minutes every night, set my coffee machine to start brewing at 8am, and it's ready when I leave at 9am.  Do I?  Ehh, sometimes...but I'll tell ya, there's no 7 dollar muffin and coffee morning for me regardless.  If had money to blow everyday, sure, maybe that model would entice me...but that's definitely not the case for myself or most anymore.  You could probably make an argument that the gotta have it "Starbucks" mentality is parallel to exactly why this country is in the fix it is.   Buying Starbucks coffee has more of an upper class image stuck to it than most would admit.

And, if you've been paying attention to Starbucks you know they've been restructuring BIG time.  Their business model had to change, adapt, or die in this economy.  They've lowered prices, canned tons of people, closed stores, etc.   It looks like they are doing the adapting, but at what future cost?  There's a lot of shaky news on them lately and with McDonalds and others catering to the newly birthed American cheapskates, they have to buckle.

I doubt they are going anywhere, but with 600+ stores closed, 12000+ jobs lost, they are waking up to reality.  Let's just hope the rest of the world does too.

Lastly, the personal touch you mention, I absolutely agree, and maybe your model will capture that with today's and future consumer.   It's going to be a struggle in my opinion, especially as more and more information comes online, readily available for all to see, with literally no need to go into an office.  We'll see....because you're right again, Mr. GPS never returned any calls, any emails, or any other attempts at communications.   The good news is, I never wasted my time outside of those 30 second phone calls and emails.

Mar 19, 2009 09:29 AM #164
Anonymous
Tiffany Accattato

I love it!!  Let's get it started!

Mar 19, 2009 12:11 PM #165
Rainmaker
24,015
Brad Officer
Brad Officer Real Estate - RE/MAX Specialists - Jacksonville, FL
Jacksonville REALTOR

Very possible in the near future.  I've already started seeing advanced models like this popping up here in North Carolina. 

Mar 19, 2009 01:09 PM #166
Anonymous
Jim Sedgwick

Matt…you suggested the following:

"Take that money that you would spend in super duper collateral materials, billboards, private offices, and yes... (it's going to hurt)... but unnecessary print advertising and do the following:..."

Yes, I agree, a great website is necessary and to insure that you have everything that consumers are looking for when they go through their homes searches online. You mention engaging the consumer with material to give the perception that you are a resource for consumers to keep coming back for more (another important point), BUT...you can have the best website in the world, but unless you either have a tom of money  or spend all of your valuable time sitting in front of a computer writing blogs and staying in contact with 2,000 of your closes friends on facebook so you can reach that top 8 positions in a Google search day in & day out...no one is going to see it.

When is the real estate industry going to catch on to what every other industry has proven for years? Sorry to say but print still drives the internet. What comes to mind when you hear or see the word Geico? How about Afflac? What's the 1st soup that comes to mind when you're in the grocery store and you need a can for your family? You're probably saying "Mmm-mmm good" to yourself as you read this! Major corporations have already learned through research that it makes a HUGE difference by being first in the minds of consumers, that's why they spend millions of dollars through integrated advertising, TV, radio, billboards, internet, smart phones, etc.

How many print magazines do you all have coming into your mailbox every week? (L.L. Bean, Lane Bryant, Lands End, Victoria Secrets, etc etc etc) Why do you think they spend so much money printing magazines and sending them throughout North America? because they know that people still like to look through magazines. And what do they do after they read them? They go online to look at more or to order!

COME ON PEOPLE...why are you trying to reinvent the wheel? You don't have to have the budget of a major corporation to brand yourself nationally, you only need to be known in your own local market.

The point of print advertising is for branding and name recognition, and to convince consumers to type in your website address directly (rather than trying to rely on them finding you in an organic web search). Give them a good reason to go there, and be sure that you have a well designed and functional website to give them what they want, a way t share it with others, and engage them to return again.

The main problem with print is that the majority of the real estate agents simply don't put enough time and thought into their advertising. it's something that just takes up too much of their valuable time and settle for whatever they can come up with at the last minute that it's due. They haven't a CLUE how to effectively "speak to the consumer". Most ads are all about the agent and not about the consumer, along with a list of homes and ad copy that's mostly pointless features with no mention of benefits to the consumer.

I challenge you to take the time to pick up some of the magazines lying around your house and look at the ads. With most ads you can easily tell WHO their target audience is and what their product can do for you. There is often an image used to invoke emotion and you rarely even see an image of the product itself, unless a consumer is shown using it. A good agent could sell a home without even showing the picture of the home in their ad simply by showing a couple kids and a dog playing in a back yard with a big headline "I've only 3 reasons we moved to this neighborhood."

Are we caching on here? You have to "connect" with the consumer. Otherwise, you're just another home listed in a magazine..or just another agent showing their one home in a magazine.

Agents also try to be everything to everyone and in doing so, there is no differentiation from one agent and another. Everyone is an expert at new home buyers, empty nesters, investments, senior, relocations, foreclosures, you name it...and they specialize in homes throughout North America (OK, so that may be stretching it a bit but I think you catch my drift). By trying to be everything to everyone, they end up reaching no one.

Print advertising is not going away quite yet...it's just an expense that agents don't want to make, which is just as well because they would simply waste their money by looking at it as a necessary evil rather than taking advantage of it by hiring an expert to show them how to do it right.

I have to say that there ARE a minority of agents out there who have not only caught on to how to market themselves effectively (and quite successfully), they have even set themselves up with a exit strategy for when they decide to retire. I'll bet you haven't thought THAT far down the line yet, have you? Remember...you're in business for yourself. You need to create a plan, invest in yourself, and think about an exit strategy just like any business.

Matt's ideas are certainly attractive, but you don't have to create a new business model or a new "coffee-house" approach to attracting consumers. Watch what successful business are doing around you every day and mimic their approach to success. Consumers are becoming more elusive. They don't WANT to speak to you (no offense), which is why you see so many car shoppers on the lot on Sundays. YOU have to speak the THEM in an unobtrusive way and encourage them to WANT to come to you. You can do that more effectively and economically in print than any other medium...if you do it right!

Mar 19, 2009 04:47 PM #167
Rainmaker
295,271
Terkel Sørensen
Real Estate Places - Temecula, CA
Realtor, 951.805.0773 , Bank owned and Short Sales

Hey Matt,

Interesting artcile - Makes me wonder how much time you have actually spent with "Third Place" concept stores.

I don't think Nick Ruta is getting right - he is going over the top on his end, but I think you may be too.

The third place concept requires one crucial ingredient - people's deisre to go there. If you can't get that, you can build your office all day long, and you sit there and sweep the dust off the floors.
Anyone who say "built it and they will come" needs to seriously think about the dot com boom, that was the mentality - and guess what, proven fact - it didn't work like that.

I worked in the software industry in a little town called Seattle, during the dot com era - I have built software solutions for what you propose and I am quite familiar wiht the Cisco system and well as a couple of solutions providers who does similar things - it's all in the call center 101.

Your ideas are good, no doubt, a client centric service would be ideal, but implementation is the crux. And I don't know that the glossy office is going to do it for you. However, I would say, there are some other ideas that have been brought up here, that really makes sense too - including some of Nicks thoughts - although he does seem to have an issue with anyone past 22.

What I would like to see, might be thoughts on implementation, say on a team level, start with the service side of things, if that is working and bringing in business, mod your office to suit it better.
If the office gets onboard and it all takes hold, then go think about building a different office to better suit it.
By going at it from the team level, you are sure to bring the team members onboard, that way you have the fundamentals working - it is vastly different from telling them how it has to be.


These are some thoughts for you - no need to love them... :-)
Oh, and I would a 40 something tech savvy agent

Mar 20, 2009 07:53 AM #168
Anonymous
Nicolas/
Apr 02, 2010 07:17 PM #169
Rainer
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Courtney Graley
Engineer

Crowdfunding can be done at an organizational or individual level, and nonprofits have used it for everything from marketing and fundraising to volunteerism and policy. It’s a good way to enlist facilitate from a wider community knowledgebase, and to interact individuals in your work.

 

Nov 05, 2015 05:23 PM #170
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