Picture this: You own a brokerage in a major city. You are an established name. And like everyone around you, you currently suffer at the hands of the real estate downturn.

Business is down 40 percent and your costs are spiraling out of control.

Editor’s note: This month, Inman News is focusing coverage on new implementations and forward-thinking visions for the real estate brokerage office. We welcome your ideas in exploring how the use of mobile technologies and other efficiencies can reshape the traditional brick-and-mortar office. Click here for details. The following is a guest contribution by a real estate coach in Chicago.

By MATTHEW DOLLINGER

Picture this: You own a brokerage in a major city. You are an established name. And like everyone around you, you currently suffer at the hands of the real estate downturn.

Business is down 40 percent and your costs are spiraling out of control.

Costs that include print advertising, a surplus of marketing, information technology, managers and support staff. And a lease for office space that provides too much room for too many agents who have no need for it.

This image is filled with rolltop desks, conference rooms and employee break rooms. It could be an office in any town, in any city, in every corner of the United States. And somewhere, in some lonely office within it, the sound of chief financial officers weeping only masked by the whispers of agents talking near the coffee pot can be heard.

AGENT ONE: "So … how’s your business?"

AGENT TWO: "Business? It’s really tough out there."

AGENT ONE: "Yeah. Did you hear about Steve? He went to (competitor ‘X’) the other day?"

AGENT TWO: "Really? Wow. Sally took a part-time job at Coffee-Joes."

AGENT ONE: "Huh. That’s smart. Gives you a little cushion."

AGENT TWO: "Yeah. I’m hoping the spring market kicks in soon."

AGENT ONE: "Uh-huh. Maybe the stimulus thing will help. I wish (the first-time buyer credit) was $15,000."

AGENT TWO: "Well, I spent some money on a program to get some Internet leads yesterday."

AGENT ONE: "Really? That’s a good idea. I just started a blog."

AGENT TWO: "That’s a great idea. I heard about that social Internet. That’s where the buyers are …"

AGENT ONE: "Uh-huh. I’m going to focus on the luxury market."

AGENT TWO: "Well, I’m going to go to some broker’s opens. Want to go?"

Do these images look and sound familiar?

What it could look like

Unlock this door and enter a 2,000-square-foot space. Inside are half a dozen customer service people with varying degrees of specialties that range from sales to legal to mortgage services. Outside, an intern arranges the courtyard space that includes tables and chairs that run along the sidewalk.

Outside, music is piped in from satellite radio. Inside, the flat-screen panel televisions spark to life. The smell of fresh locally roasted coffee — roasted specifically for your company and branded with your logo — begin to fill the air as a local pastry company delivers trays of treats.

The agent who is "sitting floor" dons a voice-communications headset connected to her computer. The computer is connected to a central server that holds all the company listings, information, and agent contact information.

The first call of the day arrives. Since the caller dialed an extension for property information, before the call is answered the property information, pictures, property videos, neighborhood market information, tax information and comparable properties are populated on the screen.

The agent who answers the call is instantly able to provide all of the information to the caller. The agent, as part of a "Client Care" group, can communicate effectively and intelligently with the caller on all buying and selling questions. The selling agent’s schedule also appears on the screen, so the agent can set up a buyer’s interview an hour before the appointment, which is sent immediately to the selling agent’s handheld.

A stream of passersby stroll through the door, taking advantage of the ancillary services made available to them. The consumers can sip coffee and access the Web from the "minibar" of computers to view stock quotes, RSS news feeds, and short video spots of properties as a list of the company’s current social-responsibility projects flow across the LCD screens.

Those who brought their laptops tap into the free Wi-Fi and log in from the company’s branded Web page that also includes local news feeds, real estate information, videos of homes for sale, current market statistics, and more.

Outside, the company’s solar-powered sign displays the time, the temperature, current interest rates, and the number of kilowatt hours of electricity this particular office has saved by doing its part to "go green."

A fleet of Zipcar hybrids that sport the company logo are parked in front, available for both agents and local residents to use upon request. A number of dog bowls with fresh water line the side of the building and in the windows are pictures of local school outreach programs, sports teams, and children’s social-responsibility groups that this brokerage has been a part of.

A young couple enters and is immediately greeted by an office manager who answers their many questions about the current real estate market. As a result of this discussion, which reveals them to be first-time buyers, their needs are matched to the appropriate agent rather than whoever happens to be free at the moment.

The right agent greets the couple and takes them through the process of buying a home — including the benefits and potential downfalls — and explores their short-, mid- and long-term goals. He discusses school districts; why they are looking to buy a home right now; the current state of the real estate market; and then asks if they have learned about "Financial Responsibility in Lending" yet. The couple replies, "No."

The agent invites the lending professional who occupies space inside this facility. They present a "Financial Responsibility" worksheet for these first-time buyers. It’s a brochure that discusses the responsibilities associated with mortgages, what is needed to apply for one, and what type of information will be required to apply for a mortgage.

An interested lunch crowd is invited to gather and attend an impromptu performance that includes a set list of economic talking points, with titles including "Improving Your Credit Score" and "Are You Stimulated By The Housing Bill?"

The free seminars are held twice each week and are part of the office’s "Homebuyer Education Curriculum." A free flash drive containing budgeting software, articles and a copy of the presentation is provided to each of the attendees upon completion of the seminar.

The real estate office of the future starts — and ends — with the real estate company of the future. I think this is a good start.

Matthew Dollinger is a performance coach for @properties, a real estate brokerage in Chicago.

***

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