Editor’s Note: This is part one of a series that takes an in-depth look at how brokerage offices have transformed.
You’re walking along the downtown strip and come across a quaint storefront with large glass windows looking into an agent-occupied office space. From the outside, you can peruse the various listings marketed by the brokerage, and once you enter, you’ll engage with one of the many agents waiting to help you buy or sell your home.
If you think back to more recent memories, however, you’ll realize that this model is swiftly becoming a part of the past. Today, traditional real estate offices are being replaced with variations that embrace technology, as buyers are largely beginning their search online before engaging an agent.
What do these new spaces look like? They’re different for every brokerage, although many are implementing a hybrid model: traditional brick-and-mortar locations with virtual capabilities.
HomeSmart International, for example, has structured the brokerage so agents can choose the more traditional route or a virtual space in which all of its technological systems are still easily accessible.
“A business model that combines the best of the online world with the physical world means the agents get a true win-win,” says Wendy Forsythe, chief operating officer at HomeSmart International. “They don’t have to choose an office location or virtual; they can have both, and this gives them ultimate flexibility in their business.”
The NextHome franchise also embraces a hybrid model to introduce more elasticity in an industry in which not all agents have the same needs.
“I see more and more of our NextHome franchise owners and brokers working in a hybrid-type office,” says Imran Poladi, vice president of Business Development at NextHome. “Gone are the days of having a monster-sized building to accommodate a huge agent count. Today’s REALTOR® wants a professional place for meeting clients but doesn’t necessarily have the need to come into the office every day. With technology being so advanced, it makes sense to have a great work environment for collaboration with colleagues, but the flexibility to work from anywhere.”
Meanwhile, at Mel Foster Co., a member of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World®, physical locations are embraced; however, technology remains at the forefront of the office environment.
“We have multiple traditional brick-and-mortar offices and two boutique-style offices—smaller, more collaborative spaces that support agents’ desire to work in a more mobile environment,” says Lynsey Engels, president of Mel Foster Co. “These meet client needs more quickly with the technology that makes buying and selling more convenient for those clients.”
Other brokerages lean heavily toward a tech-centered office space. eXp Realty, for example, does not have brick-and-mortar locations, and instead provides an immersive virtual experience through its cloud campus, eXp World.
“eXp Realty’s cloud campus environment allows agents to meet and learn together, no matter where they might be located,” says Mitch Robinson, senior vice president of Marketing and Communications at eXp Realty. “They can jump in a meeting or learn on-the-go with eXp Realty agents located everywhere. They also gain instant, live support from eXp Realty’s agent services, technology and accounting teams.
“eXp Realty cuts overhead brick-and-mortar costs by offering agents a cloud campus environment,” Robinson says. “This means we can invest in agent support and technology instead of expensive leases.”
Josh Harley, who founded Fathom Realty in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, market in 2010, has committed to a cloud-based model since day one in order to lower overhead costs, reflecting the savings through an attractive commissions structure that doesn’t sacrifice technology, training or support. While some physical locations are necessary in order to meet certain state restrictions, cutting back on concrete spaces has proved fruitful, according to Harley.
“Unfortunately, not every state allows a brokerage to completely forego brick-and-mortar offices, but that doesn’t mean those spaces have to be large enough to house all of your agents,” Harley says. “Having brick-and-mortar locations is costly and eats up a huge percentage of a brokerage’s revenue and profitability. By eliminating this unnecessary cost, where possible, we are able to keep our expenses low and pass those savings onto our agents in the form of low or no fees and awesome commission splits.”
How do these varying office strategies impact the industry’s agents, and the buyers and sellers they serve? Since each company adopts a unique model, the agent and consumer experience can be vastly different between brokerages.