Editor’s note: This month, Inman News is focusing coverage on ways to rethink the traditional real estate office using technology and other efficiencies. This article profiles "Andare," a new office concept created by Intero Real Estate Services Inc.
By ERIK PISOR
An open floor plan featuring leather sofas, chairs, cafe tables and large central work consoles, within a high-end retail development in California’s Silicon Valley, may sound like an Apple store or coffee shop.
But this no-cubicle floor plan is Intero Real Estate Services Inc.’s new office model, dubbed Andare. The concept is simple: a smaller, technology-rich office to better meet the needs of today’s mobile real estate agents.
"Agents aren’t spending as much time at their desks as they were 10 years ago," said Gino Blefari, president and CEO of Intero. "They don’t need cubicles. They need an attractive space with a few secluded areas where they can go to meet with clients and have access to technology."
Intero opened its flagship Andare office during early 2007 in a popular, high-end retail development known as Santana Row in San Jose, Calif.
The office features three small communal areas, complete with sofas and chairs, two private offices and a conference room with floor-to-ceiling glass walls.
"It’s not a typical real estate office environment. Everyone works out in the open," said Robert Whatley, a first-time homebuyer working with an agent from the Santana Row office. "You (a buyer) have a major decision you’re making and you’re already nervous. You don’t want to walk into something that feels like a prison or hospital."
The Andare office model is designed for 1,000-3,000-square-foot office spaces — significantly smaller than Intero’s traditional offices, which range from 7,000 -11,000 square feet.
"Clients love it. Some agents like it and some don’t," Blefari said, explaining that some of the older, more seasoned agents prefer the traditional real estate office setup.
Aside from square footage and design, another component of the Andare office model is its technology, including tablet PCs, keyless entry, Internet-based voice communications, plasma televisions, and a high speed wireless Internet network.
The office also uses Web-based transaction management software that gives agents the ability to manage entire client files online and eliminates the need for paper and storage, Blefari said.
Clients can input electronic signatures on PDF documents, and Intero stores the files securely online.
"This setup is great for me because I have access to the best technology and the space fits my work habits," said Gerald Askew, an Intero agent at the Santana Row office. "I go to the office as needed to access the network, meet with my team and finalize deals."
Since establishing its first Andare office, Intero has opened additional Andare offices in other California cities, including Carmel, San Jose, Menlo Park, Santa Cruz and Truckee.
The company now has more than 135 agents working in the six Andare offices, which are all located within higher-end retail developments.
"This (the Andare office model) is the only way we’ll open up another office," Blefari said.
In late August 2008, Intero announced it would offer the Intero Andare office to Intero franchisees nationwide. The company has more than 2,000 agents in 53 offices serving California, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Nevada, Texas and Mexico.
"We launched our Intero franchise in the middle of the housing slump (early 2008) and needed to keep our startup costs as low as possible," said Joel Valencia, an owner of an Intero Andare office. "This design allowed us to do that, and we were able to reach profitability very quickly."
The smaller design footprint of the Andare offices means it’s approximately 70 percent less expensive to build than Intero’s larger offices.
Also, the smaller footprint equates to fewer construction materials and waste, and less energy consumption and overhead in maintaining the office.
Erik Pisor is a freelance writer in California.