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Real estate brokerages embrace long-term remote work

RealTrend's "Gathering of Eagles" conference marked a historic return to physical networking. But brokerages are aggressively looking to cut out the office.

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The Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colorado

Brokerage executives are elated to see each other in person again. So long as it’s temporary.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity to reconnect with everyone,” said Susan Yannaccone, chief executive of Realogy’s franchise network since last November. “The intangible connection you can make with people face-to-face or over a cup of coffee. And you can just have a more robust dialogue sometimes.”

Yannaccone spoke to HousingWire Monday at the 131-year-old Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs for RealTrends‘ “Gathering of Eagles” conference.

HW Media acquired RealTrends last year, and for most real estate brokerage heads RealTrends’ annual soiree was the first in real life since early 2020. The business conference rituals of coffee breaks, cocktail receptions, and golf outings were infused with a warmth and kinetic energy by uniformly mask-less participants.

That might be because even in a (hopefully) past-pandemic world, such interactions will remain unusual, as remote work is here to stay. Yannaccone, for one, who runs 16,000 worldwide offices and all the franchise operations for brands like Coldwell Banker and Century 21, does not have an office of her own.

“I won’t have an office,” said Yannaccone.

The top executive said that she will have “collaboration space” available to her if she makes the 45-minute commute to Realogy’s Madison, New Jersey headquarters.

Other real estate brokerages are taking a similar tack, even those with different business models.

“We have an office in Dallas that is the size of this stage,” said Dan Duffy of United Real Estate, speaking to a crowd during a panel on lower cost brokerage models. “There are supposed to be 740 agents there, but you could shoot a cannonball through the office right now and not hit any one of them.”

And company heads mentioned on background they want out of office leases, now. These executives cited employee and agent surveys that they don’t want to physically return to work.

Besides remote work, a couple of other subjects percolating in the Colorado mountains:

*Side: Amid hour-three of a motivational speech from Patrick Lencioni of the Table Group on building organizational trust, Side declared over the news wire that they have raised $210 million, are valued at $2.5 billion, and are “readying” an initial public offering. A Side spokesperson later declined to provide a timetable on when the IPO may take place.

San Francisco-based Side has a model of using venture capital money to aggressively recruit elite agents (not a new idea) and letting these agents completely control their brand, with Side effectively a white-label brokerage (a pretty new idea).

Duffy repeatedly referred to Side as a “clever” company and professed admiration with how “they have come out of nowhere.”

But the United CEO also spoke generally about the drawbacks of going public.

“We were offered to go public three different times, but we are less nimble if we are public,” Duffy said.

Side did not appear to have a presence at a conference. The most frequent company names on nametags were any Realogy affiliate (Better Homes and Gardens, Corcoran) with RE/MAX a distant second. And then came the tech companies…

*Tech talk.

Real estate tech providers Zavvie and Constellation1 are taking the stage at a panel tomorrow about tech and brokerages, and company reps from MoxiWorks and 3 Data Pulse are flying around Gathering of Eagles.

Ostensibly, the presence of these companies makes a lot of sense.

“Agent efficiency is rough,” said Nick Bailey, president of RE/MAX. “The average agent is using five to seven different platforms.”

A great opportunity for a pitch, then? Maybe. Most brokerages today tout their own proprietary software. So, except for a company like ShowingTime that has carved a clear niche (home showing appointments), the future of third-party tech providers is uncertain.

“We have quietly built our own proprietary software,” Duffy said. If United agents want more, they can pay on their own for the tech, “Flavor of the day.”

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