Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series.

The beginning of the year is when real estate agents are most likely to change offices. It’s also the time that many others will decide to leave their present occupations and try real estate as a new career. One of the most critical decisions either group will make is which office is right for them.

The real estate office you choose has an extraordinarily powerful influence on your real estate career. There are literally hundreds of business models throughout the country. The issue is finding the one that is the best fit for you as an agent.

Below you will find a list of questions to help decide whether you’re in the perfect office for you or if it’s time for a change.

1. How many agents do you have in your office?

For new agents, in particular, will you feel comfortable in a smaller office where it may be easier to get to know people, or would you prefer a big office that is bustling with activity? While you can succeed in any size office, an important point to note is whether the office feels like a place that would support you to be productive, regardless of its size. If possible, meet with some of the agents in the office to determine what they like (and don’t like) about working there.

If you are an experienced agent, it’s still important to chat with other agents in the office where you are considering transferring. Do they have adequate support staff for the office size? Is the manager easily accessible when you need assistance? Is there adequate parking? Are there assigned desks?

2. How would you describe your current training/coaching program, including any fees you may charge?

Companies that have a training culture usually have better-quality agents and higher production. The question is whether the office culture supports you to seek training outside the company, internally, or both.

It’s also smart to ask whether the company offers an accountability program. Many new agents have challenges transitioning from a work environment where their boss told them what to do to being in an independent contractor environment where you set your own hours and activities. By the same token, experienced agents often struggle with staying on track. An accountability program can help both groups achieve success more easily.

3. Does the manager/broker still actively sell real estate?

When the manager/broker is in the office full time rather than dealing with showings and other client-related issues, you are more likely to obtain help when you need it. Moreover, a common complaint from agents where the manager actively sells is that the manager seldom shares incoming referrals.

4. What is your commission structure?

While it may be tempting to affiliate with the company that pays the highest commission split, what you are really looking for is where you will earn the most income. For example, 80 or 90 percent of two deals is much less than 50 percent of 10 deals. How much you earn is contingent primarily upon how hard you work. Nevertheless, the quality of the training, the tools the brokerage provides, and the listing and selling activity within the office (e.g., more listings equals more incoming buyer calls) also influence how many transactions you will close.

Affiliating with a "dead office" means you will have to work that much harder to succeed. Search for the best combination of commission split with the most robust offering of tools, training and one-on-one assistance.

5. Do you charge any additional fees such as a transaction fee, franchise fee, technology fee, and/or advertising fee over and beyond the normal commission split?

It’s important to find out exactly what the broker charges. For example, some companies will charge you an advertising and/or technology fee in addition to whatever you pay your broker as part of your commission split. If you are with a major franchise, there may be a franchise fee that comes off the top of each transaction before the commission splits are determined. Other companies may charge a $250-$500 transaction fee. This fee may be to pay for a transaction coordinator who will help you close the transaction once you place a property under contract, or in some cases it’s an administrative fee that the broker collects to cover additional expenses.

6. What types of print marketing does your company provide?

Many companies that pay lower commission splits often provide a number of services at no charge or at a reduced fee. Those that pay larger commissions usually charge for these services. While this is not always the case, it’s very important to ask. Some costs that may not be apparent are the postage for mailers (i.e., the brokerage may pay for the cards, put you have to pay for the postage) as well as the cost of newspaper advertising.

Need more ways to determine if you are in the right office for you? If so, see Part 2 on Thursday.

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