NEW YORK — In a world where real estate agents can conduct the vast majority of their business online, brokers can face questions about their value to sales agents. Agents can now work from almost any location; advertising is easier (and cheaper) than ever; and Web tools to connect with clients abound.

Nevertheless, brokers can help agents navigate these tools and stand out in the real estate crowd, said speakers at a panel at Real Estate Connect Thursday.

NEW YORK — In a world where real estate agents can conduct the vast majority of their business online, brokers can face questions about their value to sales agents. Agents can now work from almost any location; advertising is easier (and cheaper) than ever; and Web tools to connect with clients abound.

Nevertheless, brokers can help agents navigate these tools and stand out in the real estate crowd, said speakers at a panel at Real Estate Connect Thursday.

"Brokers have had to rethink what is the best possible environment for success. There are all kinds of different tools, but (agents) get lost — how are (they) going to effectively use them?" said Ken Baris, president of Jordan Baris Inc. Realtors.

Agents are looking for six attributes in a broker, said Jonathan Kauffmann, principal broker-owner of Nest Realty in Virginia. They demand: 1) fiscal responsibility, 2) education and information, 3) brand differentiation, 4) technology, 5) marketing tools, and 6) a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, he said.

"It’s so important for agents to stay in touch with past clients. (A CRM) is how you track what you’ve done. Not many brokers or agents use CRMs, but it’s a great way to make more money and be as efficient as possible," Kauffmann said.

Perhaps the most important tool brokerages have to offer agents is their brand.

"Branding is not just the logo, but the spirit of the organization and what somebody is deriving from your company. It’s what you’re really about," Baris said.

For some brokerages, that’s exceptional service, experience or know-how. The point is to differentiate yourself from the pack, panelists said.

"Some people relate better to print (advertising) and some to online. But our print is a little bit different. Every single week, every Friday, we have a new brochure with current listings and open houses for that weekend. Before we open our mouth, they will know who we are," said Jackie Teplitzky, managing director and team leader for Prudential Douglas Elliman.

"There are so many different tools out there, starting with a great Web site. We launched ours 50 weeks ago and agents have come up to me and said I want to join (Nest Realty) because I have three clients who exclusively use your Web site," Kauffmann said.

Brand familiarity is also a factor. …CONTINUED

"We have 64,000 agents. I like being able to say, ‘This is my counterpart on the West Coast.’ In this economy, everybody wants to know that you are working for a very powerful house," Teplitzky said.

Agents also depend on brokerages to show them how to respond to trends or crises, panelists said.

"Articles, speakers, team meetings. When the RPR (Realtors Property Resource announcement) came out, within two days we had a team meeting asking ‘How is this going to affect our business?’ " Kauffmann said.

Brokerages should use the latest tech tools to train their agents, panelists said. Jordan Baris trains its 158 agents online using the free webinar service DimDim and measures its training results with Survey Monkey.

"Our classes are bigger now than they were when we were in a classroom," Baris said.

The company also uses Issuu to turn PDFs and property brochures into digital flip magazines.

"We’ve had more hits of people who’ve viewed (them) online than people that have gotten a hard copy," Baris said.

Other services brokerages can offer include partnerships with big-name brands — Baris collaborates with Bank of America and Lexus — and training in uncommon, but useful skills.

"We trained our associates to do tax appeal parties. In neighborhoods where tax appeals are a viable option, we get great results," Baris said.

The services brokers offer agents make their lives easier, Kauffmann said.

"Every single day I’ve been asked why I haven’t opened my own shop. I want to concentrate my efforts on selling more and producing more. I don’t want (to have to deal with) an (information technology) department and other back-of-the-office services," Teplitzky said.

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