A virtual brokerage makes sense for real estate agents, teams and brokers now more than ever. But before you make the move to an online office, get best practices from the experts.
An innovation that first began as a means to cut costs is now largely influencing the real estate landscape. Virtual brokerages, the emerging business model that allows agents and teams to operate without a brick and mortar central office, provide everything the real estate agent needs, from admin support and marketing resources to training.
Brokers like the virtual model because it costs much less to run than one with desk space for each agent. Virtual brokerages also allow brokers to scale faster while building greater tech adoption and implement brokerage-wide changes among agents, a major benefit of running a real estate brokerage on an app, says virtual brokerage REAL CEO and Co-founder Tamir Poleg.
Agents appreciate virtual models for the ability to enjoy a flexible lifestyle, attend fewer, if any, in-person meetings and reap the benefits of innovative technology. Because brokers don’t pay the high overhead of commercial space, the agent benefits in the form of higher splits and, in some cases, revenue sharing. With a mobile device, a few key apps and an internet connection, the virtual agent is ready to go.
Like their agents, real estate clients love the virtual model for the faster response times that come naturally with widespread mobile device usage among remote-based agents. The consumer can also actually receive more personalized attention from the face-to-face communication on a virtual platform, when used correctly.
The benefits are clear, but how do you know the best time to become a virtual agent or broker? Chances are, you’re already there. Most agents and brokerages have already adopted a suite of digital apps and tech tools to bring most if not all of their business online, says Tom Ferry coach Jarrod Davis, Ontario, Canada.
“It’s all about the story we tell ourselves about the virtual world,” says Davis. “We’ve grown up in a world of face-to-face communication and tell ourselves that we have to be around these people [physically] to make it work. You have to have an open mind to what a virtual world can create.”
If you’re a team lead or broker who’s still holding onto physical space while your agents are screaming remote, it may be time to reassess.
Whether or not you’ve already adopted eSignatures, digital contracts and video teleconferencing, making the move to a virtual brokerage may be an easier transition than you think.
In 2014, a small group of real estate professionals and tech entrepreneurs decided to collaborate on a new kind of real estate brokerage. Rather than starting with a traditional broker’s business model, they began by looking at the real estate transaction from the client’s perspective.
Using a little reverse engineering, they developed the digital tools an agent would need to meet the expectations of consumers in today’s tech-driven marketplace. The net result? REAL Broker, one of the fastest-growing virtual brokerages in the country with agents in 21 states.
REAL’s Poleg and his team felt the traditional model had for years been under-delivering on client expectations.
This is not just what people are wishing their business interactions were like. This is what they are experiencing in everything from their banking and investing down to hailing an Uber. This is the expectation they have been bringing to the home buying and selling process. By comparison, they have found the traditional real estate experience to be disappointing.
— Tamir Poleg, CEO, REAL
So do you have what it takes to become a virtual real estate agent or brokerage? According to Davis, every virtual agency should embody four core elements to succeed over the long term. He calls these characteristics the four C’s: Communication, Consistency, a Culture of Caring and Connection.
Virtual Communication. Communication is vital to every organization’s success but even more so in a virtual real estate brokerage where agents, admins, transaction coordinators, team leads and brokers rely on clear messaging to plan, strategize, support, inspire and give feedback to their members.
“Where there’s a lack of communication, negativity will fill the void,” Davis says. “So you have to ask, ‘What is the level of communication and how do you get engagement?’”
First, team leads and brokers must get everyone in the organization to commit to attending team meetings, to participating in virtual training and connecting on collaborative communications platforms.
Virtual Consistency. If communication is going to succeed, it needs to be consistent. “If you’re training once a week or twice a week, you need to keep that consistency on a virtual platform so people know when they’re going to jump on and communicate with you,” says Davis.
Set specific times and hold people accountable to participate. Create interactive meeting agendas to encourage engagement, and try to replicate what you do in an office setting in a virtual world. You might appoint different team leads or business owners to report status updates as a means of involving more people in the ongoing dialogue.
Virtual Culture of Caring. It takes extra effort to extend the culture of caring virtually, but it’s absolutely essential to the health of your team or brokerage. Team leads and brokers need to check-in regularly with agents and staff members to extend that culture of caring from the office to the screen.
“Just because we’re not in the same space doesn’t mean we’re not going to check in on you,” Davis reminds.
Creating a culture of caring can be an intentional effort to consistently recognize good work and celebrate personal milestones.
“You can capture the same culture you did in an office, but we just need to shift our mindsets and say, ‘OK, we don’t have the office, but we have this virtual platform,’” he says. “We’re not in the same room, but we’re face to face in communication. That’s the key to building strong relationships.”
Create social interactions for those who thrive on socialization with their peers, whether it’s a morning check-in Zoom over coffee, a virtual birthday celebration, happy hour on Fridays or a weekly vent session.
Virtual Connection. A virtual brokerage needs virtual tools that can power a 100% digital transaction lead to close. At a minimum, teams or brokerages of more than a few agents will need:
A one-stop, all-in-one transaction management system can help tie virtually all of these components together on one platform and make the entire transaction operate smoothly and seamlessly.
Mobile technology is the lifeblood of the virtual real estate agency. Agents and teams are constantly on the go, and real estate won’t wait — particularly in a hot market like now.
Mobile-first texting and app-based doc scanners are a few of the transaction tools that allow virtual agents, admins and transaction coordinators to move offers and transactions forward faster.
Here’s a list of the top tools to take your transaction 100% virtual from lead gen sourcing, CRM management and video conferencing to digital transaction management, earnest money transfers and title closings:
1. Connect agents, admins and TCs virtually. It’s little wonder that the applicably named Zoom app skyrocketed 2000% between December 2019 and the first quarter of 2020. In the midst of the COVID pandemic, real estate professionals jumped on the teleconferencing platform to communicate over internal meetings, virtual trainings, contract consultations and listing presentations.
But way before the pandemic, virtual brokerage eXp created an entire virtual world giving its now 30,000+ agents a virtual way to interact with anyone else in the company within a 3D digital environment. Complete with agent avatars and computer mic-enabled conversations, eXp World offers eXp agents the ability to hold private or chat room conversations, participate in online training and meetings, and even celebrate company successes via digital billboards.
To compensate for the lack of face time, brokers using this model have had to reset the bar of remote support — so much so that agents who have moved from traditional brokerages to virtual ones report better support with shorter wait times.
2. Use teleconferencing for client communication. Zoom, FaceTime, BombBomb and Zillow 3D are a few of the tools available for agents to conduct client check-ins, home tours and contract consultations.
BombBomb, a dotloop integration partner, has helped countless agents get “face to face” with their clients over video messaging. In addition to sending video emails for check-ins, anniversaries and birthdays, the app offers a screen recorder feature that lets agents share contracts with clients while the agent’s face appears in the bottom corner. This creates a great opportunity for an agent to walk the client through the contract in that pivotal moment before they sign the document.
Zillow 3D Home offers a free and easy way to build a 3D home tour right from your iPhone, while FaceTime, another free option, allows you to point out specific features in “real time” as you video a home for a client.
3. Go mobile with an all-in-one transaction management app. As agents, teams and brokerages increasingly move toward a remote business model, dotloop’s mobile app with text Messenger will become an invaluable tool for enabling document sharing and eSigning anywhere.
According to Mobile Marketing Watch, texting has a 98% open rate versus email’s average 20% open rate. Also, when you consider the average person takes about 90 minutes to respond to an email versus 90 seconds to respond to a text, it’s easy to understand how mobile tools move real estate business faster down the pipeline.
Dotloop’s in-app texting tool lets agents create, edit and eSign documents; get real-time notifications; auto-archive all conversations; and help improve client response times. A mobile doc scanner provides the added benefit of being able to scan any document or snap a picture and upload it as a PDF right from a smartphone.
With more than 70+ real estate integrations, dotloop has teamed up with the top CRMs, marketing, automation, accounting and backend software apps, including Shorttrack, an app that allows agents to order title documents; MyNHD to order Natural Hazard Disclosures; and Earnnest, the latest integration enabling buyers to avoid wire transfers and paper checks by making earnest money payments digitally using bank-level encrypted transfers.
For REAL’s Poleg, selecting the dotloop transaction management platform “was an easy choice. We looked at a number of different solutions for transaction management, and from all parameters, dotloop was better than the others and easier to use.”
As brokers and team leads develop a winning combination of people and systems and capture significant share in their local area, the next question becomes, “How do I expand outside my market?”
In the past, their only choice would have been to open physical offices in the new target market. But such moves are not only expensive and time-consuming; they also present challenges for managers who need to maintain and deliver the same high quality support and organizational standards that made the core team successful.
The virtual model allows brokers to expand with fewer issues. First, there’s no need to spend time and money to find, remodel and lease new office space, as support, training and broker oversight is all handled remotely.
“Expansion, with the help of virtual brokerages, is taking steps to put the agent’s business back in the forefront,” says Adam Hergenrother, founder and CEO of Adam Hergenrother Companies. Hergenrother, a forerunner of KW expansion teams, initially championed the virtual model as a means of expanding beyond his home state of Vermont, which, on average, produces only 2,700 transactions a year.
With the virtual model, procedures are set up from the beginning to grant agents remote access, enabling new recruits to get up and running on the new system within minutes.
Brokerages who don’t fit the classic virtual brokerage definition also use the all-in-one transaction management system to connect all parties of the transaction wherever they may be. Michigan-based ERA broker Rick Reardon, for example, has found dotloop’s collaborative platform helps economize his one admin’s time.
“With eight offices and 130 agents, we’re able to share docs across the entire network of our company, and with one admin, track and monitor all those files,” says Reardon.
Still not convinced that a virtual real estate brokerage is in your future? Just consider how fast real estate tech adoption has increased over the first half of 2020 in the wake of the pandemic and how much more it will continue to grow.
As Davis reminds, “It is just a mindset thing. Either we work toward it, or we’re forced to do it. Many companies thought it was going to be a nightmare, but now they’re saying, ‘Hey, this is actually working.’ They were already 90% there. They just didn’t realize it.”