NEW YORK — The technology certainly exists to take a real estate business "virtual," but adapting and retaining agents in a world that lacks a brick-and-mortar office is a nuanced matter that brokers are figuring out as they make the leap.

In the "Operating a Virtual Office" session at Real Estate Connect conference in New York City last week, brokers said the ideal agents for such operations are those who are a bit adventurous and have demonstrated that they’re self-motivated.

"Our biggest challenge is finding great agents to work with," said Galen Ward, co-founder and CEO of, which matches buyers with agents at brokerages around the country. "We want people with experience, but who also are willing to try new things."

Glenn Sanford, founder and CEO of eXp Realty, said that when his company went to a fully cloud-based operation, "we had to figure out how to keep the agent engaged" without the stimulation and reinforcement of daily office interaction with peers and supervisors.

The company, which has spread since 2009 into 15 states and has 200 sales agents, filled the gap with frequent online meetings and training. The company also uses Facebook Private Groups to keep people updated, he said.

Money helps, the brokers said.

"We had to incentivize agents to join us — better splits, better caps and profit sharing," Sanford said.

Fellowship around the watercooler may be overrated, according to Carmelo "Mel" Oliveri, broker-owner of Property Hub Realtors, which describes itself as New Jersey’s first virtual and paperless real estate brokerage. It’s in the process of opening its second office, he said.

Property Hub sends business leads to its agents and then has a standardized system of reminding them to follow through and make contacts with these potential clients, Oliveri said.

"In terms of recruiting, we ask them, ‘What’s important: leads or camaraderie?’ " he said.  "They’ll take the leads."

In terms of keeping agents accountable when a manager may have only their word for it that daily business is going well, Ward said it’s necessary for a virtual brokerage to be numbers-driven. sets out firm performance expectations, he said. "We look at agent performance spreadsheet-by-spreadsheet."

But success with agents may boil down to recruitment, he said. "We can make good agents great, but we can’t make mediocre agents good. We look for people who are self-motivated."

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