The pandemic forced many real estate agents to set up shop at home and work with customers who were wary of personal interaction.
But what was an inconvenience for some was a trial run for others who began to imagine conducting business without a designated office, panelists Kendall Bonner, Sabrina Brown and Wendy-Forsythe discussed at a June Inman Connect session entitled “Will real estate agents ever go back to the office?”
“What the pandemic did was prove to me that I don’t need an office,” is what Wendy Forsyth (bottom row in photo), chief brand officer of cloud-based Fathom Realty, recalled hearing from several of her agents.
Forsythe voiced support for a future where more brokerages operate without designated office space.
The Counselors of Real Estate, a global consortium of commercial property professionals and experts, has reported that 32% of the workforce has returned to the office as of June 18.
Sabrina Brown (above right) said that for many brokerages, the office is still an indispensable place for collaboration and customer relations. Her company, Brown and Brown Real Estate, has had agents return to the office.
“Some people like to have that human connection, that proximity,” Brown said. “You can still have that online as well, but it just depends on the agent themselves.”
Benefits Come With Costs
Forsythe said brick-and-mortar office space would be an impediment to scaling the growth of their company. Renting office space is expensive, often accounting for 15 percent of a brokerage’s expenses.
What Fathom saves on office-related costs, it’s able to use to offer more favorable commission splits, she said.
“That money is going back to our agent,” Forsythe said. “We want our agents to put that into their business and building their brand.”
Still, some Fathom teams end up getting their own space to collaborate agent to agent, Forsythe said. The company is supportive of this, even if it doesn’t require it across the board.
But particularly for agents whose homes aren’t ideal for meeting with clients, a designated office environment paid for by their brokerage is still an important resource, Brown said.
“Their house may be full,” Brown said. “They may have kids there. It may be multigenerational.”
Brown said she has also found that younger, less experienced agents benefit from learning in an in-person environment.
Even in a brokerage setup without a brick-and-mortar office, it’s important to have regular face-to-face interactions, Forsythe said.
Fathom holds regular in-person sales meetings, mentoring, awards events and other social activities.
It’s just that costly office space and the commute that those in the company won’t miss, she said.
Remote Work Impact on Real Estate
In related news, remote work and mobility will have the most significant impact on real estate in the next year, according to the CRE’s annual report.
The coronavirus pandemic and the resulting increase in remote work lead to an uptick in migration nationwide, one of the factors that has lead to an unprecedented increase in homebuyer demand and record-low inventory in markets across the country.
While an average 32 percent of workers have returned to their offices as of June 18, Michel Couillard, CRE’s 2021 global chair, noted in a webinar that remote work could double permanently, impacting land use and homebuyer demand.
CRE is comprised of 1,000 professionals in 20 countries and territories holding the Counselors of Real Estate credential and focuses on commercial property, but the organization’s report, “2021-22 Top Ten Issues Affecting Real Estate,” recognized the interdependence of commercial and residential real estate.
The report ranked “housing supply and affordability” as No. 6 among the top 10 issues.
Source: Inman Connect Conference and Inman News