For Brokers

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Real Estate to Go
Mobile technology gives brokers freedom to
run their companies and stay in touch with
salespeople from just about anywhere.
By Pat Curry
David Hicks, owner of Amery, Century
21 Premier Group, has been a broker since 1975- well
before the digital age.
Until earlier this year, his brokerage included
nine offices in western Wisconsin with about 100

salespeople. Then, in mid-January, he heard about
a prime opportunity to buy a ZipRealty office in
nearby St. Louis Park, Minn., which would help him
expand into the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
That cold wintry week, rather than drive to Min-
nesota, he hopped on a plane for a three-week trip
to Hawaii. And soon after he got back, he was off
to Phoenix, where he's spent his winters for the past
six years. In the meantime, he managed
to buy the brokerage and grow his
sales force .by roughly 6o percent.
"At my age- I'm 58-I'm thinking
it's time to relax," Hicks says. "I've known
too many brokers who retire and die within two or
three years. They waited too long. I don't want to be
one of those people. I'm trying to do some things I
like to do and position myself so I can oversee the
With the use of several tech tools, he's managed
to do both. He stays in touch via phone and e-mail
and logs in to the company's computers using a
remote desktop connection that is a feature of
its Microsoft server. Documents that need his
signature are done "the old-fashioned way," Hicks
notes, but that doesn't mean sending faxes or FedEx
envelopes from Hawaii. PDFs of documents are
e-mailed to him; he prints and signs them, scans
them, and e-mails them back. He prefers scanning
documents to faxing them. "We lost so much quality
with faxes." Hicks says he felt comfortable leaving
town during the acquisition because he knew
he'd be available to his team working on the deal.
"Since this acquisition took place, I've put in full
days every day," he says. "I just do it from Hawaii or
Over the past decade, working remotely has become
common in many industries-especially real estate,
an inherently mobile profession. For broker-owners,
giving al)sociates a way to be productive away from
the office is a way to cut costs on everything from
printer paper to office space as well as to improve
response times to clients and agents.
In Pottsville, Pa., broker-owner Erica Ramus
of Realty Executives has essentially replaced
FedEx with ZipForms and DocuSign-electronic
document services that have saved time and money.
The five-person brokerage does a lot of estate and
trust work, and many clients are from out of town.
That used to mean high shipping costs and delay
times, but not anymore, Ramus says.
In addition, all of their real estate documents
are online through Google Docs and a Google-based
intranet. "You don't have to constantly go to the
office to check on things," Ramus says. "Someone
the other day needed an invoice for a
rental property . . She was 30 miles
away. Boom, she had it."
Technology makes it possible
to streamline operations and still
provide a high level of service and
support to agents and clients,
says Joe Adkins, broker-owner
of Altamonte Springs, Fla.-based
The Realty Factor and The Rental
Factor. The company has 50 agents in
offices in Jacksonville, Orlando, and Fort
Lauderdale, but most of them work from home.
"Pretty much everything is online," he says. "It's
good for us. If we get audited or a client calls us
three years later and needs a HUD-1 statement, we
have it. That has happened."
Agents use a portal on the company's Web site to
upload their scanned contracts. Adkins is notified
by e-mail "as soon as they click submit," he says,
which helps him stay on top of the transactions. All
documents and databases are backed up nightly to
a 4-terabyte server and to a remote location. This
type of set-up is becoming the new standard for real
estate brokerages, Adkins says. "If you don't go » >
8 Ways to Run Your
Office Remotely
If you want to get more done when you're away from the office, you need to have
the right combination of tools, says Jonathan Nicholas, founder and president of
The Company CEO, a virtual consulting company.
1. Use a virtual phone system.
With products such as and Grasshopper, every salesperson within
the company can have an assigned direct-dial extension. Agents can choose to
have calls forwarded to the numbers of their choice. Other useful features include
e-fax technology (faxes are converted into PDFs and attached toe-mails), property
information hotlines, call reporting with Caller ID tracking, and management
access to voice mails of staff.
2. Create virtual desktop environments.
A product called Desktone allows you to set up as many as 10 virtual Windows 7
desktop computers with all the software that agents or staffers need. Agents can
access the desktops from their mobile device, tablet PC, laptop, or home desktop.
If you prefer to use your own computers, services such as LogMeln allow you to
see and control any computer to which you have remote access, access files, use
applications, and more.
3. Get on board with video conferencing.
Are you using Skype yet? It's great for mentoring, coaching, small-group training,
and collaborating on negotiations.
4. Host educational webinars.
Offer online weekly sales meetings, training sessions, or webinars using a service
such as Join. Me, an offering from LogMeln. Participants can join using their
desktop or laptop PC, iPhone or Android phone, or other devices.
5. Keep important documents online.
There are many providers that let you collaborate and share documents online,
including SherWeb and Google Apps for Business. Maintain central shared .
contact lists, public folders, company-branded e-mail for each agent, and multiple
6. Sign forms electronically.
Products such as DocuSign (a REALTOR Benefits® Program Partner) or LifeForms
allow you to complete and sign documents online rather than rushing across town
for signatures or spending money and time on overnighting documents to out-of-
town clients.
7. Use Web-based software.
Instead of purchasing and installing software on your computers, you subscribe
to applications and access them on the "cloud," or Internet-based storage. Check
out solutions such as, Google Apps, or Microsoft Office 365. Files can
be accessed through links on an intra net site, virtual desktop, mobile device, or
Windows Live account.
8. Track the deal online.
Systems such as,,, or
Relay ( allow agents to upload documents to an online repository
that manages the closing process and workflow. Brokers and transaction
coordinators can check in on transactions and create checklists. The repository
also facilitates paperless offices due to its online document storage and retrieval.
, .. ______ ,
»> wireless, you'll be left behind," he says.
Even managers who are sometimes
frustrated by technology can't deny its
benefits. "I want to be right there for my
agents," says Val Hatzelis, SFR, broker-
manager of Oak Lawn, IlL- based RE/MAX
ro. "Because I'm in so many different places, I can't
physically be there for everyone at the exact moment
they need me." She relies on her iPad to stay in touch
with about no agents in four offices.
"I can get to a document in the car, modify it, OK
it, and get it back to them," Hatzelis says. "It would
be unbelievable if I had to stop, drop everything,
and find a fax machine. That's crazy."
Some tools are a necessity for running a brokerage
remotely. For example, you must have a laptop and
a high-quality multifunction printer. But that's just
the beginning. Luxe Global Inc. in Rancho Santa
Fe, Calif., which sells luxury property in addition to
jets and yachts, relies on Internet-based conferenc-
ing through Skype- a very useful solution since bro-
ker and CEO Robert L. Mani works with affiliate
agents on several continents.
Like a growing number of broker-owners, Mani
also uses a virtual phone system (his company uses
Grasshopper). It provides a toll-free number with
individual extensions for associates and a voice mail
system that goes right to cell phone numbers. "It
makes us sound as if we're a big corporation," he says.
Callers have the option to dial zero for an operator;
those calls go to the cell phone of his assistant. If
she's "out to lunch or with an agent," he says, the
phone's caller ID will read "Phone Call for Opera-
tor," so she knows to answer it instead ofletting it go
to voice mail.
Luxe Global's agents also use an online
transaction management system called Relay. Mani
can "see what transactions they're doing, make any
necessary changes, and approve any documents they
send out."
Broker Zach Schabot, with Cary, N.C.-based
Go Realty, says at the very least every practitioner
must have a smartphone. One of the most common
apps his agents use is Yammer, which he describes
as "Twitter for companies." It gives everyone in the
company a simple way to share information on a
private platform.
"I don't see everyone every day, but I get 50 to 6o
messages coming through Yammer," he says. "It's
great for sharing resources. Someone will say, 'I need
a great HVAC guy and I need him quick.'"
Practitioners also use it to share good news, such
as closed sales and new listings. Schabot also uses
Skype to talk to both agents and clients, and is a
big fan of LifeForms, an iPad app that allows you
to complete and sign documents.
Having the ability
to run the office
from anywhere
doesn't mean you
never have to
go to the office.
"There were bro-
kerages that jumped
on the virtual move-
ment and realized they
were losing agents because they weren't providing
enough value. The manager wasn't hands-on," says
Jonathan Nicholas, a Winnetka, IlL-based real
estate consultant who specializes in technology
solutions. "Brokerages need to provide service."
Hatzelis agrees, saying in-person time is espe-
cially important at a time when salespeople are
struggling to close deals. She makes time every
week to visit each of her offices, coaching agents and
delivering information from continuing education
courses she's attended on hot topics such as short
sales and foreclosures. "If you don't deliver the
knowledge your agents need, you'll lose them all.
They're floundering. I use all the technology, but it's
not going to replace me. I need to be there if they
need me.''
Hicks still spends his winters in Phoenix, but he
makes trips back to Wisconsin about once a month
for meetings and events. He's more relaxed about
the arrangement now than when he first started. At
first, he couldn't stay away for more than a couple of
weeks. "I had initial concerns: 'Goodness, will they
forget who I am? Will everything collapse without
me around?'" he says. "That was a needless worry.''
Still, he feels it's necessary to make in-person ap-
pearances regularly. "Otherwise, salespeople lose
touch with who you are," he says. "You still want
to maintain a presence so people see a reason to
associate with you. I don't think it's possible to do it
entirely remotely." •
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