What sets a small, local real estate broker apart from larger competitors and a glut of information available online?

Karen Hall, principal broker of @home Real Estate in Alexandria, Va., asked this question before she opened her new office last year after leaving a big franchisor.

“We need to offer something that you can’t Google,” Hall said.

And so last September, Hall opened her flagship office in downtown Alexandria as a 4,000-square-foot real estate “lounge and design center.” It features two stories, multiple couches, a large touch-screen coffee table outfitted with real estate search software, a remodeling design center, three fireplaces, a hospitality kitchen, a waterwall, a white tea jasmine fragrance, three large flat-screen TVs, and a 7-foot-by-4-foot video wall, built to showcase listings.

@home’s agents can hook up their iPads to any of the Apple TV-enabled flat-screen TVs, Hall said. They also have collaborative work space. The firm has 15 agents, 10 of which work in the flagship office; the remaining five are based out of a new satellite office.

Hall has partnered with a local remodeling company that has set up samples of material, including granite countertops and bathroom tile, that homebuyers may want to add to a home they purchase in a 400-square-foot area upstairs. The partnership allows house hunters, who mostly are looking at purchasing existing homes, to get an idea of how they might want to remodel after their purchase and how much it might cost.

@home agents have access to software that helps them estimate remodeling projects based on material and size for prospective homebuyers, and the firm has a designer from the company on call who can meet them in a home they’re looking at to give them perspective and an estimate.

Design center within @home real estate's flagship office

Design center within @home Real Estate’s flagship office


“The design center lets us market our listings differently,” Hall said.

The office is also a community magnet, Hall said.

Visitor using @home real estate's surface tablet

Visitor using @home real estate’s surface tablet

People wander into the place all the time, including patrons of the hotel across the street, to play with the touch-screen coffee table, to browse listings on the office’s six-computer “Mac bar,” or to grab a complimentary coffee.

Inspired by the immersive, expert-filled retail experience Apple has created at its iconic stores, Mark Zilbert, founder and CEO of Zilbert International Realty in Miami Beach, Fla., built a similar flagship store/office full of LED-backlit listing photos and listing fliers with an agent always on hand.

“We wanted to make (the store) as visual as possible,” Zilbert told Inman News for a feature on Zilbert’s endeavor on May 22.

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