Real Estate Offices Go “Virtual”

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Perhaps it’s the change in economy, or maybe it’s truly a belief that realtors don’t need an office to meet clients and do their work.  Regardless of the rationale, it sounds like a handful of agencies are moving to a satellite office set up.

I recently read that a RE/MAX agency in the San Francisco area downsized 11 offices and was able to cut 40% of their operating expenses.  A drop in expenses sure sounds like a good thing right about now, but to what detriment?

For this agency, almost half of the agents they employ work from home offices or choose to convene in other localities such as coffee shops, restaurants and their cars.  I can’t argue that today’s technology easily allows for this, but does it give the right impression to the client?

This is definitely a “people person” industry and face-to-face interaction is imperative.  But here at Prudential Steamboat Realty we enjoy the fact that our clients can come in, enjoy a cup of coffee, sit down in our conference room and even take a virtual home tour with our SmartboardÒ technology.  We’ve done so much to increase the level of comfort and client service from our branch office that I find it hard to believe the front seat of my vehicle could ever replace this.

Allen Barnardi, CEO of RE/MAX Dolphin Real Estate, argues that technology has reduced the need for clients to actually visit the office and that agents should be going where the clients are.  While I’ll agree with the concept of bringing the service to the client, I wouldn’t forgo my office as a central place to begin a property search.  This is a welcoming space to greet our customers and walk them through the initial steps of the real estate process using the resources we’ve amassed here at the hub.

Sure, agents can now access the MLS data, contract forms and other needed information from their laptop while a Starbucks barista serves up their favorite latte, but is this really the customer service that our clients have come to expect?  The sharing of ideas begins with our interactions here in the hallways.  I would hate to think of a day that all of our agents are staring at computers while communities such as Twitter and Facebook have usurped our need for personal interaction.

I guess I’ll take a common ground here so as not to ruffle any feathers.  While I agree that technology can be a fascinating and wonderful thing, I feel it needs to be paired with the expectations of the consumer.  If one of my clients prefers I pick him up in my car and use the time to drive from home to home, I can do that.  If it’s more convenient for us to meet outside of the office and use my laptop to go over the day’s business at hand, I’ll make it happen.  But if a customer would prefer to meet at my office, begin with a virtual tour of the current listings on the market from the ease of our board room, I want to reserve that as an option.

My office at Prudential is a hub of activity.  I could probably accomplish just as much from our local Starbucks, but I just don’t drink that much coffee

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