NEW YORK — Real estate industry leaders discussed critical issues for brokers including team-building, how to price new listings, and cloud computing during the Broker Summit track at Real Estate Connect on Wednesday.


The "real estate team of the future" should divide up chores so that salespersons can spend their time selling, according to Ben Kinney, founder and chief executive officer of Home4Investment Inc., in Washington state.

Kinney, whose company has more than 260 agents in four counties, said the basic division of labor should be between buyer specialists and listing specialists.

"Some people are really good at just a couple of things," Kinney said, and teams should take advantage of that. Beyond those specialties, routine chores should be delegated to listing assistants and showing assistants, who may work on an hourly basis. These assistants may take on such tasks as filling out paperwork, making flier drop-offs, coordinating visits by appraisers and inspectors, etc.

Pricing new listings

Ever wish you had a crystal ball to help set a perfect sales price that would drive online traffic to a listing?

ListHub, a network for listing distribution and listing management, is trying to harness a mountain of data to create one.

Celeste Starchild, vice president of sales and marketing, said her company is currently compiling data from 60 broker sites as well as major listings sites in an effort to devise a tool that would help brokers statistically gauge which asking price would be most likely to draw online visitors, based on a home’s features and other factors.

Starchild referred to the complex project as The Crystal Ball. "It would be a tool to make healthy conversation between homeowner and agent," she said. Being able to predict levels of buyer interest at various price points could help an agent gauge the seller’s true level of eagerness to find a buyer, Starchild said.

The Crystal Ball is still in the development stage, she told attendees of a session called "Case Study — A Crystal Ball for Brokers: Web Traffic as a Predictive Tool."

Moving to the cloud

The big decision in devising a cloud-based system for brokerages boils down to: public or private?

Industry executives whose companies have adapted their records management to cloud-based systems said they wrestled with the pros and cons of buying already available systems vs. building their own proprietary models.

Beyond cost considerations, "security of data is probably first and paramount in our cloud computing," said Monty Smith, senior vice president for strategic initiatives at NRT Inc., which elected to devise its own system for its affiliates. "I would advise being very careful with public services — you are putting your most valuable resources in their hands."

But existing systems may have worked out many of the bugs and are ready to be adapted to individual companies’ needs, agreed the panelists at a session called "Transitioning Your Brokerage to the Cloud."

Jack Miller, senior associate and chief of customer experience at the GoodLife Team, a brokerage in Austin, Texas, offered a checklist of starting points for brokerages in taking on any kind of cloud-based system.

Consider, he suggested: Does the provider guarantee data backup? Would you be able to move to another system if you found it necessary? Will you have control over the look of it? Is there customer service behind it?  Can you get referrals from those who have used it?

"It’s not just moving files, it’s changing the way you do business," Smith said. "You’ll have to re-create the daily processes of everything you do in your branch offices.

But making the change — or not — isn’t really an option. It’s a reality that manifests itself more every day, Smith said.

Social media voice

Who’s the voice of your brokerage in social media? Who you choose to hand over the daily management of social media outreach could make a big difference in its impact and in the company’s image, according to panelists at the "How to Make Your Brokerage Social" session.

Brokerages have several options when it comes to picking who’ll take the reins of the company’s Facebook page, blog, Twitter posts and other online efforts, according to Tassia Bezdeka, director of social marketing for Century 21 Award, a 12-office franchise in Southern California.

"You can add (the tasks) to an internal position, you can hire a new staff member, or you can outsource it," Bezdeka said.

The potential downside to delegating the job to an existing employee could be that the staff member is stretched too thin; outsourced providers might struggle to communicate the brokerage’s brand and may be too costly for some firms, she said. Cost is also a concern in hiring dedicated social-media personnel, she said.

"If social is going to be your goal, you should put the resources behind it," said Marnie Blanco, vice president for eBusiness for Re/Max. "If (a big play in social media) is not your goal, you probably don’t need a dedicated person."

No matter who does it, it’s important for the brokerage to put expectations in writing regarding good taste and other corporate concerns for all social media postings, including those done independently by agents for their own blogs, etc.

"You have to have a policy, at least an informal one, on best practices, Blanco said.

"I don’t look at every agent’s Facebook postings, but I do engage them," Bezdeka said. If she comes across something an agent has posted that concerns her, she flags it to a manager for review, she said.

"But we’re not Big Brother," she said. "We keep an eye on it loosely."

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