In some real estate offices they have "floor time": Agents sit in the office and answer phone calls from consumers who want information about for-sale homes. I think floor time is a good idea, but it may need a few tweaks.

In the Twin Cities area the bigger brokerages have closed some of their offices and combined offices to cut costs. Most agents choose offices that are close to home, but with fewer offices to choose from some will have to go further.

In some real estate offices they have "floor time": Agents sit in the office and answer phone calls from consumers who want information about for-sale homes. I think floor time is a good idea, but it may need a few tweaks.

In the Twin Cities area the bigger brokerages have closed some of their offices and combined offices to cut costs. Most agents choose offices that are close to home, but with fewer offices to choose from some will have to go further.

I don’t have time to drive to my office, as there is no fast and easy way to get there. I need to spend my time working and there doesn’t seem to be much of a point to drive somewhere when I have everything I need in my well-appointed home office. Being a Realtor is not about having a desk.

Yet some floor time would be nice. I used to get three transactions a year by being available for floor time twice a month. These days one-third of the time I would expend for floor time would be spent in my car.

Seems like an easy problem to solve: forward the phone to an agent in his or her home office. The real estate companies are resistant to that idea. Instead, they do everything to encourage us to come to the office and work at the office. The value of the office is often mentioned when recruiting new agents and there are events that are intended to make it a "fun place." It makes no difference to consumers where agents are located. It seems silly to have them come to the office to take calls when the calls can be handled from most anywhere.

It is worse with the inquiries that come in through the Internet. Consumers visit real estate company Web sites all night long, but there often isn’t anyone who is there to respond to them much after 5 p.m.

The inquiries that come in during the evening wait until the next morning. They are then forwarded to an agent. By the time an agent responds the consumer has moved on and found another agent. It is likely that they landed on a Web site like my agent site, contacted an agent and got some type of a response.

From this agent’s point of view the company office is an encumbrance when it comes between direct communications with consumers. After all, real estate companies don’t sell real estate — the agents take care of that.

When my husband was a Realtor a few decades ago things were very different. They didn’t even have pagers. My husband had quarters with him and called the front desk to check for messages. They didn’t have voice mail either and the messages were on little pieces of paper.

In those days a real estate office was essential. It was the hub of communication. All of the agents made it into the office most days. They could thumb through the multiple listing service book to view the latest listings.

The last couple of offices I have worked in have been mostly empty, with maybe 20 percent of the agents in the office at any given time. Having empty offices costs money, and those costs get passed onto agents and consumers.

Maybe real estate offices are needed for teams and for new agents, but they should be smaller and business practices should be changed so that consumers can be served by available agents even if those agents are not sitting in the office. When times change, business practices need to keep up so they don’t become an encumbrance.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.

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