Ask the right questions before joining a new office
By Jason Palermo
Few decisions directly impact a real estate agent’s career satisfaction as much as his/her choice of an office with which to affiliate. However, many agents approach this choice haphazardly. They will ask management only a few questions, and, in some instances, sign an independent contractor’s agreement that governs their relationship with the office without reading it in detail or consulting an attorney.
My experience in this industry, first as an agent and then as a broker/owner who spends a good deal of time recruiting new agents, has given me a real appreciation for the emphasis agents should, but often don’t, place on carefully evaluating an office before deciding that it is the right one.
One reason so many agents fall short in representing their own best interests in these situations is that they are often trying to scratch a specific itch, rather than fully evaluate new alternatives. Take the example of the agent who wants to leave her current office because she is extremely unhappy with the way the front desk has been handling calls from her clients. In seeking a new office, that agent may be tempted to focus on how prospective offices handle incoming calls while ignoring other issues that might be equally, if not more, important, such as what kind of lead generating Web site the office provides.
Therefore, it is vital for agents considering new office affiliations to create a comprehensive list of questions and ask those questions of every prospective office broker. This way, when it comes time to join an office, the agent can make an educated decision.
Not surprisingly, some questions are clearly more important that others, and I believe that initially an agent’s questions should focus on three specific areas:
Technology — What kind of systems does the office provide in terms of telephones, appointment and showing scheduling, Internet access, Internet presence, Web-lead-capture systems, printing, mailing and graphic design tools or services you can use. The right technology can significantly improve your productivity, your clients’ satisfaction and your ability to attract new business.
Training — What sorts of training programs are offered and how are they delivered? It is just as important to know who does the training as it is to find out what the scope of the available training may be and if it is convenient for you. Also, ask about any fees that might be charged for any training you take.
Financial Structure — Define the financial relationship between the agent and the office, and don’t limit questions to the obvious topics, such as the commission split and desk fees. For example, ask what happens if you eventually decide to leave the office but still have pending contracts, and find out what your broker will charge if you decide to hire a full-time licensed assistant. Then, be sure you understand your options. What will it cost to base your operation in the office, and will your compensation change if you work at home?
Once you have explored these three key areas, spend some time asking about other aspects of the office’s operations, starting with the office environment itself. If, for example, you plan to work in the office, rather than from your home, you’ll want to know what kind of office space is available. Are private or semi-private offices available, or does everyone work in a cubicle? What about special accommodations for a team?
On the other hand, if you plan to work primarily out of your home, you’ll want to find out what requirements and what kind of accommodations the office has if you do need to work there for an afternoon, and how will they handle phone calls for you the rest of the time?
Another key aspect of the office environment is the availability of ancillary services. Your clients may appreciate easy access to a real estate attorney, title company, home inspector or a mortgage broker, and some offices have some or all of these services located under the same roof. You’ll also want to ask about the office support staff and the services they provide.
It is a good idea to ask a few questions about the role of the broker/owner or office manager. Does he/she also sell real estate? If so, does the manager still make sure that everyone in the office gets a fair share of the leads?
Also think about what kind of environment would best suit you. Would you prefer to be in an office that has 30 or more agents where the chances for synergistic interchange are high, or would you prefer a small office where you’ll know all the players and might get more individual attention? Either way, it makes sense to inquire about what the work and social environment of the office is like to see if it meshes with your style.
The real secret to properly evaluating a prospective office is to understand what you need and then ask the right questions. If you are a relatively new agent, it is important to find an office with a comprehensive training program, as well as one with a strong reputation that you can rely on while building your own referral network. For an experienced agent, the emphasis might be on finding the technological environment and support services that can maximize your productivity.
Don’t forget about the little things that can have a big impact. If you are considering an office located in an area where parking is difficult, find out what kind of parking arrangements have been made by the office to accommodate agents and their clients. And before you make a final decision, be certain to carefully review the independent contractor’s agreement and consider having it reviewed by your attorney.
Finally, keep in mind that while it is relatively simple for agents to change offices, it can be expensive and disruptive. So when you do decide to make a move, the process of selecting the right new office deserves your full attention.
Jason Palermo is a broker/owner with RE/MAX Vision and RE/MAX Vision II. He can be reached at 312.994.6300, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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