REALTORMAG. REALTOR.ORG REALTOR® JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2016 27
rents for upwards of $10,000 to $15,000
a month in an average-size metro area,
Going virtual will go directly to your
bottom line, Sanford says, but you don’t
want people getting lost along the way.
Broker-owners need to communicate
with agents, explain the transition
process, and have systems in place for
training to ensure a smooth changeover.
“If leadership doesn’t make its way to the
cloud, it won’t work,” he says.
eXp is somewhat of an anomaly in
the real estate industry. It’s considered
the largest, most robust brokerage of
its kind. At exprealty.com, the company
operates a virtual, immersive online
space similar to a video game, but
instead of shooting bad guys, you’re
attending meetings and filing paperwork.
The “campus” has beachfront views,
rooftop meeting spaces, and an
outdoor amphitheater that’s home
to a technology and training center.
You can easily teleport from one side
of the facility to another using your
web browser. The cloud campus helps
connect agents, brokers, and company
leaders, but it supplements that contact
with e-mail, text, Facebook groups, and
videos. “You need to have multiple touch
points for agents and staff. Think beyond
the phone for collaboration,” Sanford
Setting up the cloud-based company,
in fact, required many face-to-face
meetings with agents and staff to estab-
lish systems and workflow. “You need
a plan to help everyone embrace what
you’re going through,” says Sanford,
who launched eXp in 2009. Today, the
company has 770 agents and reported
revenues of $7.4 million for 2015’s third
quarter, up 91 percent over the same
time a year ago. eXp, which went public
in 2013, turned its first profit in 2014.
Brokers who are already established
in an office space should count on losing
25 percent of their agents when they go
virtual, Sanford estimates. But because
of infrastructure cost savings, profitability may still rise.
Smythe-Harris and her partner didn’t
have any agents when they started their
virtual firm. When they began recruiting,
they found agents who were frustrated
with paper systems.
The two brokers set up a fully virtual
onboarding and training system through
video conferencing and recorded
webinars. Urban Provision also uses its
closed Facebook group to encourage
agents to collaborate, post questions,
and discuss listings. If tech issues arise,
Smythe-Harris and her group use
join.me’s screen sharing platform to
Still, these virtual businesses don’t
expect every agent to be drawn to their
model. At Urban Provision, “we look
for agents who are open to trying new
things,” Smythe-Harris says. Similarly,
eXp recruits with culture in mind. “We’re
looking for people who value personal
connectedness, even though there’s not
a physical office,” Sanford says.
Of course, opening a virtual office involves a learning curve. One of the major
challenges Smythe-Harris faced was
finding a company that could not only
create but also store yard signs for their
listings. They ended up going with a local
business, but only after some inadequate experiences.
In addition, Urban Provision pays for
a small office space in The Woodlands,
Texas, which it uses for storage and to
receive larger mail shipments. eXp maintains a physical accounting office, where
mail can be delivered as well.
Smythe-Harris notes that brokers
shouldn’t plan to change all their systems
overnight. Her own first steps toward
a digital workflow came 10 years ago
when she wanted a way to get rid of all
the paper in her home office. She started
creating online buyer and seller packets
with the publishing site issuu.com. Later,
she began using Dropbox for client files,
where she’d upload photos of houses,
export e-mails, and share documents
with her buyers and sellers.
“Clients see me as efficient with their
time,” Smythe-Harris says. “They want
instant gratification, so online systems
like this, to me, are no longer a choice.
They should be in your repertoire.” She
uses software called BackAgent for
transaction management at her company, where agents use a mobile notary
service and closings are done via video-conferencing.
But face-to-face meetings are still
important for many buyers and sellers,
and both Smythe-Harris and Sanford
Broker-owners need to be thoughtful in their
communication with agents to ensure a
smooth changeover: “If leadership doesn’t
make its way to the cloud, it won’t work.”
—Glenn Sanford, founder and CEO of eXp Realty