You’d think brick-and-mortar brokerages are the way to go, but what good is that fancy office space if no customers walk in? Real estate agents are so mobile that sometimes working from home, a coffee shop or a library is the best option — at least that’s how this indie broker feels.

Teresa Boardman is a long-time columnist with 400-plus Inman columns under her belt. She writes about her real estate observations and experiences as an officeless indie broker in Minnesota.

A new real estate office opened in my neighborhood, and it has started marketing itself as the neighborhood real estate office.

The office is empty most of the time when I walk by it — and I walk by it at least once a day. I can see that it kind of looks like a kitchen and lounge inside (and it’s nicer and bigger than my kitchen). I guess real estate agents would rather work in someone else’s kitchen and dining or lounge area than in their own.

The next time I see someone inside, I will walk in and say, “Welcome to the neighborhood.”

Clients, the office isn’t actually for you

Seeing an office with no people in it — that is dark in the evenings and on weekends — makes me wonder how well business is going for the people who work there. If they were really the neighborhood real estate company wouldn’t there be people in the office?

Is an office good for a brand even if it looks empty most of the time? Aren’t offices a throwback to the days when we needed landlines, copiers and fax machines? Do “iBuyers” care about real estate offices?

The future seems to be more on the internet and away from brick-and-mortar offices, which is why I feel that offices are made for agents and brokers, rather than to attract clients.

There are a lot of successful agents who work in home offices, but there are also a lot of agents who need an office away from home to go to. They need the structure and that business office atmosphere.

My inner introvert, for example, seeks solitude, but most days people are bugging me to the point where I can’t think straight — even if I never leave the house.

My company HQ is at a co-working space, which is also where I get my snail mail. Most of the people who work there are in marketing or technology. They work for small companies or companies that do not have offices in the area. None of them have real estate licenses.

Why I work at home

There are people I know who make a big deal out of working from home, so when someone asks, I usually just say that I am at work or headed back to my office. I cannot think of a single reason for sharing my location — and besides, I work at home, not from home.

My work is wherever I am. Everything I need is available through portable devices that go where I go if I decide to bring them along.

I meet with peers, clients and friends on a regular basis. I make sure that I go out to lunch or coffee with someone at least once a week. I talk to clients every single day and often spend time with them.

There isn’t a lot of collaboration among real estate agents, but there are times when I want to run something by another pro — and I don’t need to be in an office to make that happen.

It isn’t hard to reach an agent through a messaging app. In fact, that is the main internal communication tool for my company.

In the past couple years, I have developed working relationships with small, local real estate company brokers. We refer business to each other and even help each other with clients when we need to go out of town or when we get sick.

Brick and mortar can hold us back

Businesses without offices can succeed and flourish. For example, there is a start-up software company called InVision with 700 employees and no HQ. The company started with no offices and still doesn’t have them.

Going forward, I think people who can work most anywhere have an advantage. Flexibility and adaptability are superpowers in a world where change is rapid.

Office space isn’t free. Someone is paying rent for the empty office I walk by, and that has to hurt the profit margins, which as I understand it, are already shrinking.

Paying for office and conference room space only when I need it costs a lot less than renting a brick-and-mortar space. It is scalable too. I can pay for the huge conference room if I need it or the small one if I don’t. It kind of reminds me of car and bike sharing.

My work day is not standard, and no two days are quite the same. I try to stay focused on getting things done rather than tracking hours worked. There are days when I only work one or two hours and other days that seem to go on and on into the next day.

I am the most demanding boss I have ever had, and I need to be flexible. My clients expect me to be available outside of standard business hours, especially when the perfect house comes on the market.

With this kind of schedule, it’s important to fashion a home office that’ll inspire you and help you thrive. A successful home office needs to be well-lit. It should have a desk and a comfortable office-type chair.

If I had to work in the basement or at the dining room table or care for others while I worked, I would want to go to an office.

The best part of working without the bricks and mortar

In the winter months, I get to spend entire days in yoga pants, slippers and a hoodie. When I go out or meet a client for an appointment, I change into business attire.

I am sure there are people who refuse to take me seriously simply because I don’t don a suit every day and head for an office, but plenty of people do take me seriously, and some even wish they could work out of their homes too.

I feel more creative and energetic when I work in my home office. I think I am happier too, probably because of the 90-second morning commute.

And because my office has a dog and a cat — and no jerks.

Teresa Boardman is a Realtor and broker/owner of Boardman Realty in St. Paul. She is also the founder of StPaulRealEstateBlog.com.

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