Anatomy of a Virtual Real Estate Brokerage: Part 1
When it comes to entrepreneurial creativity, there’s no limit to the ways a broker could go about setting up a virtual real estate brokerage. The trick, as always, is balancing cost with productivity gains to give your agents the most value.
The good news, if you haven’t heard, is that business applications are now moving to the “cloud”, which means that software and data are moving fully online. What’s this mean to you as a broker? It means no installation, no costly hardware, automatic updates, and less of a need than ever for an IT person. In short, it means saving money. By going just a step down from top of the line solutions, you can get 80% of the effectiveness at 10% of the price:
Your Brokerage Website
This is the public face of your brokerage, and arguably the most important aspect to invest in. You’ll want a great looking front end (the part customers see), and an easy to use, top of the line backend (the part your admin and agents will use to update the site). I’ve personally used several CMS (content management systems), both general ones and ones customized for real estate.
Guess the cost of the best one I’ve found so far: nothing. That’s right, it’s completely free and open source. Which one is it? Wordpress. You’ll get a flexible, powerful CMS that’s being constantly improved by thousands of contributors, designed from the ground up to be easy to use.
You’ll want to install Wordpress on your server (don’t use the more limited Wordpress.com), and you’ll want to purchase a custom real estate theme. Pre-made real estate themes, such as the examples below, range from $30-$90. Depending on your budget, you can either hire a theme developer to create your theme from scratch, or better yet find a theme you like and ask the developer if he will create you a custom version of it.
Beyond the cost savings, the other advantage of Wordpress is that it’s also the best blogging platform out there. Instead of spending $10,000 on a flashy website with no content, spend your time and money producing the highest quality content in your market. You could even pay new agents to write about different areas, which would not only help them become an expert in a given area, it would give them a little startup money for their marketing expenses. At the end of the day, customers are looking for content, not flash.
Your Email, Calendar, Documents, etc.
Do yourself a favor and just go with Google Apps. They offer the best email available today, and their full Google Apps suite provides you with a text editor, powerpoint replacement, spreadsheet software, and calendar system. It’s $50 per person, per year, and it’s easy enough that your admin can set up new users, no need for a tech guy. By Google’s (admittedly biased) calculations, the average cost per Microsoft Exchange user is $670 per year, so $50 ain’t bad.
In Part 2, I'll go over solutions for email newsletters and drip campaigns, added an MLS search to your website, and CRM software to manage your leads.