Not Your Typical Office Redesign

Brokers in urban areas are rejecting traditional offices, opting to remodel their workspaces into real estate-centric lounges that attract foot traffic and target new clientele.

April 24, 2015

Picture this: A lounge-style real estate office filled with agents in a bustling part of town, surrounded by trendy restaurants and shops that are patronized by affluent young to middle-aged families. But this scene isn’t simply about style – it’s about capturing new business.

More brokers are taking cues from cafes, bars, and even retail stores when redesigning office space. They’re hiring architecture firms and interior designers to help create a setting that reflects the company brand, attracts foot traffic, and connects agents with the community.

Kendyl Young, broker-owner of DIGGS, a division of Dilbeck Real Estate, wanted her company’s location to speak to her business, as well as entice new customers and involve the community. In 2013, she hired architects and an interior designer to reconfigure an 1,100-square-foot former antique store in Montrose, Calif.

“I had spent 25 years in traditional offices with a receptionist behind a fortress, a dampened sense of quiet, and a few agents buzzing about in hushed secretive whispers,” she says. “Clients were made to wait in the reception area until escorted to a small, cloistered conference room.”

Young’s redesign broke the shackles of office formalities. Her company space now features a wall showcasing the work of local artists, a private phone booth, and an area for serving refreshments. She hosts receptions, neighborhood meet-ups, fundraisers, and seminars.

“I think the space must fit the business,” Young says. “Adopting an open space plan because it is the latest trend or because the cost savings are attractive is silly, and your agents will rebel.  The space must fit the personality and the energy of the business it supports.”

Taking redesign a step further, Karen Hall, principal broker of @home real estate in Alexandria, Va., converted her two-story flagship office into a full-scale lounge and design center. She combined Nordstrom’s customer service, Apple’s modern technology, and HGTV’s design education into a 4,000-square-foot space.

Visitors smell white jasmine tea fragrance when they enter the office, and they’re welcome to hang out on multiple nearby couches. The coffee table is a touch-screen computer where visitors can peruse listings. There’s also a water wall, three fireplaces, and a kitchen filled with snacks and beverages. Agents can link their iPad to any of the flat-screen TVs for presentations or walk their clients upstairs to the design center for advice. Hall partnered with a local remodeling company to build the 400-square-foot design center where buyers can look at samples of granite countertops and bathroom tile.

Hall’s design efforts got her noticed. She received the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce's Rising Star Business Award in 2013 and was voted Best of Alexandria in 2014 for best new business and best real estate pro.

Back on the West Coast, Living Room Realty’s Portland, Ore., office really does resemble the main room of a family residence, with mid-century furnishings throughout the nearly 2,500-square-foot former car dealership and mechanic shop. Founder Jenelle Isaacson received a Silver Certification for Sustainability at Work for the company’s redesign, as well as the prestigious B Corp certification in 2013 for using the power of business to help solve social and environmental problems.

Located in the city’s popular Alberta Arts District, this real estate office includes an audio/visual installation with outdoor speakers that play music for passersby, who sometimes stop to listen and even dance. Isaacson’s clients — who can sip complimentary tea and coffee — have access to amenities in the office such as big-screen TVs to view listings and a small architectural and decor library onsite.

“Our office design draws customers, and most importantly, helps our agents compete for clients,” Isaacson says. “When our agents bring in their clients for interviews and introduction meetings, the client gets a strong first impression that we are both professional and current. Our offices communicate that our agents are relevant and embrace technology.”

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freelance writer

Mary Beth Klatt is a freelance writer with a passion for architecture and home design.