You’ve probably long been pretty familiar with the concept of working remotely. Indeed, unlike some across other industries, with workers who had to start from scratch as newly remote professionals when the pandemic crisis changed the landscape of the working world, most real estate agents were already well prepared. After all, agents often work out of their cars and on the go much of the time.
But you still likely count on your brokerage to provide some basic support, as there is some percentage of work that is typically conducted in an office. And now agents will need to know how to do the office part of their job without an actual office — think managing transaction documents, marketing materials for listings, and all the other things that usually happen outside of showing homes and making offers. Plus, in many states, face-to-face meetings with your clients might be discouraged or against stay-at-home regulations.
“There should be no reason that you can’t operate your office remotely from anywhere with internet access. It’s physically possible. Options for everything are out there,” says Connecticut-based top-selling agent David Aurigemma.
So what will you have to put into place if you can’t count on the office anymore — or you just want to take your infrastructure to the next level for this crisis and beyond? In this expert-sourced primer, we’ll walk you through the tools and strategies you need to take your real estate business fully remote.
You’ll need a document-hosting service to store, draft, share, and collaborate. Google Drive is popular and interfaces easily with the Google platforms you already use. You’ll also need a note repository of some sort — think Evernote or Dropbox.
Platforms like Disclosures.io can help listing agents synchronize important listing-related documents with buyer’s agents — such as inspection reports, HOA articles, floor plans, seller’s disclosures, and more — without navigating back-and-forth between requests. This saves time for agents (and clients) on both sides of the transaction and streamlines communication around these deal details.
And you’ll probably want project-management software or something else to help keep you and any assistants on track with where everything is. Popular platforms include Asana and Trello — which works great for highly visual people who like to physically move things around (its kanban “card” system allows you to do just that).
You’ll also need an encrypted service for signing and sending official documents; your brokerage may offer one already if this is permitted in your state.
Andrew Helling, editor of real estate site REthority.com, notes that platforms such as DocuSign, Dotloop, and Dropbox allow users to sign and store documents virtually. “Many brokerages already incorporate this software into their processes, but I suspect this will force late adopters to begin using these platforms,” Helling postulates.
Top-selling Connecticut-based agent Eric Schuell finds DocuSign essential to doing business.
“It stores all the documents, and then I can access them anytime. With one click, I can actually send that document to the appropriate party who needs it,” he says. “We can have others access those documents, without even asking us — granting permission for an attorney or lender to say, ‘Hey, here’s the log-on for this file, here’s your unique password. Whatever you need, grab it from the file.’”
Eric Fontanot, president at Patten Title, notes that while the real estate industry has a remote component built in — by design, and also now by necessity in the crisis — it is still a relationship business. “As such, face-to-face interaction with customers and clients, while handling what is typically the largest financial transaction of their lives, requires a special amount of attention, which can be a challenge through remote interfaces,” he says.
So he uses the closing system Qualia, which enables intuitive and consistent updating automatically through chat, email, and also visually to help customers and their clients feel more engaged.
“The system also enables the teams to interact with one another on the files that are being worked on simultaneously allowing for more productivity and effectiveness than other systems,” he explains. “Beyond that, the adoption of remote online notarizations (RONs) is allowing for distance to be kept while not necessarily felt.”
And get yourself a remote server. “Anyone in the real estate or finance business should employ some form of remote server service to allow for the storage of documents,” says D. Shane Whitteker of Principle Home Mortgage, who uses Secure Share from Focus IT.
Print and digital marketing materials
You’ll need somewhere to store your digital marketing files; Google Drive and Dropbox work well for this, too.
“If you wish to print marketing materials, I highly suggest using a local print shop,” Helling suggests, in areas where those are considered essential services. “Not only would it help support local business, but they can also turn around orders much faster than an online printer. Additionally, this limits the amount of people who the materials contact, reducing the spread of germs.”
Beyond that, his top advice right now is to keep marketing materials digital rather than preparing and sending direct mail. “First, prospects are currently skeptical about touching anything — but especially mail — to which they cannot trace the source,” he says. “Secondly, advertising rates have plummeted because businesses are cutting costs, and many online platforms like Facebook and Google price their ads using a bid structure. Now is perhaps the best time to run digital ads because few people are doing it, so you can maximize the impact of your marketing dollars and get the most from your ad spend.”
Aurigemma says he’s created and shared marketing-minded videos for Facebook over the last couple of weeks, offering tips and ideas.
Whether you’re using some kind of virtual assistant to help you keep track of clients or are doing it all on your own, you’ll need a way to keep track of who’s waiting on a response from you.
You might also want to invest in some video conferencing software — Zoom is getting a lot of attention these days — for times when you can’t meet with clients in person. And don’t forget about training and socializing.
You can learn a lot in a real estate office that you won’t get if you’re working remotely all the time — so make a point to catch up with your colleagues over virtual coffee, and figure out ways to maintain your education.
Tech tools for showings and tours
There are a wealth of options out there for showing properties while maintaining social distancing.
“Companies like Rently and Tenant Turner make showings painless by offering remote lockbox access to prospective renters or buyers,” Helling notes. “A cell-enabled box is hung on the door, and agents can generate an access code with the touch of a button. You can even put a time limit on the code so that it expires after a set time period.”
Helling adds that 3-D tour providers like Matterport have been around for a few years, allowing agents to create three-dimensional floor plans which users can virtually tour — but it’s a big investment. “As an alternative, there are many affordable 3-D cameras that accomplish the same thing, but are slightly less robust,” he says. “You can buy many of these cameras at your local Best Buy for under $200.”
You may be able to even give a 3-D camera to your buyers and conduct your final walkthrough virtually. “It’s certainly not the most ideal solution, but is a creative way to limit in-person contact,” he says.
For all of the latest tech tools in the marketplace, sometimes it’s really just older forms of connection — even analog ones — that are going to make the difference at this time when face-to-face connection is not possible.
Schuell notes that simply “being mindful” of clients at a tough time will lead to meaningful remote actions. “Every day, I look through all my contacts and just send a simple text message. ‘Hi there, I’ve been thinking about you. How are you doing? Are you holding up?’ We’re not just brokers — we’re human beings as well. And we’re in the same boat as everybody else with this,” he says. “We don’t need to be far apart emotionally, just physically. Reaching out that way is going to go a really long way in the long run.”
Aurigemma also suggests using this time to simply spring clean — both digitally and also in that old-fashioned analog capacity. “Now is the time for Realtors and brokers to spring-clean their business, get their files organized,” he says.
“You need to continuously build up your back-end of buyers and sellers. You have to be able to respectfully flood the market when this is over, and you can’t do that without excellent files.”
He added a nod to communication methods that long predated remote-working tech tools. “Even though I use the latest and greatest technology, my best advice is the old-school type of business shouldn’t be left to the wayside,” he says. “Incorporate the old with the new. Send handwritten notes. Go back into your database of past clients or into the MLS or in the public records and see who has not been able to sell their home yet, who’s expired, or canceled off the market, or withdrawn — and grab a pen.”
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