What will the brokerage office of tomorrow look like? There’s no crystal ball, but brokers are seeing a trend toward a stronger dependency on technology. The question is: How deeply entrenched will the real estate community become in the cyber world?
Many, including chief operating officer of HomeSmart International Wendy Forsythe, believe the hybrid model that is becoming increasingly popular will win out in the end.
“I believe we will continue to see a hybrid of virtual and brick-and-mortar offices,” says Forsythe. “Our world is mobile—agents need the flexibility and support to do business anywhere. This is also a relationship business, and having a physical connection through sharing a common space, like an office, is important to many people.”
How soon will change come? The industry may not experience a large, perceivable shift for a number of years. Lynsey Engels, president of Mel Foster Co., a member of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World®, strongly believes in listening to client and agent feedback in order to determine the best course of action, especially in a people business, where distinctive personalities are an asset and office preference should be taken into consideration.
“Our agents always ask how [their clients] prefer to communicate, and they deliver on that preference,” says Engels. “In this market, customers still want to come in and see the homes in person before making such a big decision and investment. While many start their search online, they also start by touring open houses to get a feel for the market. It allows them an opportunity to meet some of the agents and see how personalities may click.”
Can in-person showings become a thing of the past? Robot-led tours are already available in some markets, and with the implementation of cyber technology, consumers could start to see a phasing out of open houses, as well as a reduction in number of physical tours taken before purchasing a home. If so, will these cyber showings be hosted online, from the comforts of one’s own home, or will consumers be making the trek to a broker’s office to visit a cyber showing room?
“I think the next iteration of a real estate office will be massively more technology-forward than today’s, and it will have other attractions to pull consumers into the space,” says Keith Robinson, chief strategic officer at NextHome, Inc. “What about a virtual reality showing room where you can walk five or six properties, then drive to see the one or two you actually want to tour in real life?”
By that prediction, some will argue that brick-and-mortar office spaces could continue to play a significant role, as consumers may still need to visit a concrete office to access a virtual tour, and an all-encompassing cyber experience could make the home-buying and -selling process less personal and meaningful.
“I think virtual communities will never fully replace real-life office space, but can be a positive addition,” Forsythe says. “As powerful as technology is, human connection is more powerful. When you combine the online and offline world, there are real benefits. One without the other will never reach its full potential.”
Many brokers understand the importance of agent-consumer relationships and how in-person meetings help these to form and flourish. When it comes to agents’ day-to-day operational tasks, however, some foresee a full-scale virtual experience, but only on the agent-broker side.
“I believe the real estate office of the future will be 100-percent cloud-based and technology-driven,” says Josh Harley, founder of Fathom Realty in the Dallas-Fort Worth market, emphasizing only the office, and not the brokerage. “It will take time for that to fully become a reality, but we can already see the trend happening. I believe there will always be a true need to bring local agents and brokers together on a regular basis, because no matter how much technology advances, it cannot replace the innate desire for human interaction.”
“It’s very difficult to develop and maintain a meaningful culture online, so marrying the online and the in-person experience must remain part of the equation for real estate brokerages,” Harley says. “We can bring our agents together weekly if we desire and use that personal touch to build a powerful culture, all with without paying for an office space the other 26 days of the month.”
Is the future already here? Some brokers believe so. With eXp World, the virtual community created for eXp Realty, agents and brokers use a cyber space for transaction-related tasks and communications.
“Obviously, agents need to continue to have one-on-one, in-person meetings with their current or potential clients, but when it comes to operational needs, or [meeting with] other agents across town or across the country, a virtual office is an easy choice,” says Mitch Robinson, senior vice president of Marketing and Communications at eXp Realty. “Our agents tell us they feel more connected and love the instant support in eXp World.
“If you asked our agents, they would say they already work in the real estate office of the future,” Robinson says. “As a virtual space, we can and do constantly add new things. Our agents and staff asked for coworking spaces, and we were able to build that quickly. Today, every state and province has a coworking space where they can meet as one or in small groups. There are many more things we will be doing in this environment.”
On the other side of the coin? A more flexible future that understands the importance of technology, while still prioritizing the client-agent relationship above all else—which could mean taking a new look at how concrete office spaces could significantly benefit the industry if only implemented differently, adapting to this swiftly changing real estate landscape.
“When I think about what the future real estate office looks like, I envision high-tech and integration wrapped around a more collaborative shared environment,” says Charis Moreno, vice president of Sales at NextHome, Inc. “Brokers will need to find better ways to provide value through technology that agents want and need. The key to this will be offering ways to automate integral areas of the business so REALTORS® can spend more face time and less screen time, but in a way that is contextual to their clients. Just providing more tools will not cut it.”