According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 517,800 real estate brokers and sales agents in America in 2008. Increasingly, these professionals are rethinking their need for bricks-and-mortar offices, reducing their overhead by taking advantage of the Internet and mobile communications to work in a virtual office environment. According to Seattle-based website Office Finder, traditional office space costs an average of $4,000 per individual per year. It's understandable, then, that managing brokers are reducing office space for associate brokers. Fortunately, the virtual office concept fits well with real estate agents duties, and saving the expense of a desk fee helps an associate agent's bottom line, too.
Things You'll Need
- Smart phone with mobile broadband and Bluetooth or a headset
- Laptop computer with mobile broadband
- Color/black-and-white printer/fax/scanner
- Digital camera
- Software office suite with a word processor and spreadsheet application
- Graphics editing software
- Email account
- Dedicated website
Create a presence for your business online with a professionally designed interactive real estate website. According to the 2010 National Association of Realtors' Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers Survey, nine out of 10 real estate buyers used the Internet in their searches for new homes. It is highly likely, then, that your next client's first contact is going to come from your website. Your site should be informative and should provide broad access to information about your market.
Few professions are as dependent upon a national trade association as real estate agents are with the National Association of Realtors (NAR). In order to gain access to the association's local multiple-listing service (MLS), you need to belong to the NAR and its state and local chapters. Your ability to access the local MLS and search for listings with your clients at their kitchen tables is a powerful thing. So too, the ability to enter listing information for new clients in the comfort of their homes will help your business. The local MLS provides current market data, not found elsewhere, including sales information for local regions, information which you can share with your clients to cinch deals.
Subscribe to virtual office services such as a phone answering service, an 800 number, conference calling, call forwarding, voice mail and Internet-based faxing services. The ability to fax online, for example, shows how a virtual working environment can free real estate agents to conduct business anywhere. You can also subscribe to a virtual assistance service that will organize necessary documents for a transaction in a paperless process.
Dedicate a specific work area in your home for the times when you need to do paperwork or create marketing materials. If you are an associate, you will store transaction records at your managing broker's office and use its address. Independent real estate brokers are responsible for maintaining records of transactions, so you will need a filing cabinet for documents in your home. On occasion, you may need a conference room for meeting with clients. If your company does not provide such space, look into a temporary or shared office space building. Many of these office providers offer additional services, too, such as temporary labor for projects.
Marketing is the next largest expense for real estate agents, and creating an individual marketing web page for each listing that includes a virtual tour of the property, with 360-degree views of rooms, will make you a competitive listing agent. A high-definition digital camera and a graphics program are necessary for producing property information sheets. Marketing through social networks on websites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and Linkedin is becoming increasing effective for agents.