Brokers Share Space, Rent, and Camaraderie Without Joining Franchise

February 1, 1998

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.--It was an idea, like so many others, born out of need.

As the manager of a 14,000-square-foot commercial property with 3,000 square feet of vacant space, Judy Wilson in 1997was looking for tenants.

At the same time, as the owner of an independent brokerage in Tallahassee, Fla., she watched with more than mild interest as her competitors were swallowed up or joined franchises.

She didn’t want to give up her independence, and she had a hunch that there were others who felt the same way. “I just felt that I could find practitioners who didn’t want to spend the kind of money you have to spend to be part of a franchise but who'd like to have a place to interact with other practitioners,” she says.

So she put out feelers for a concept that is not at all uncommon in the legal and medical professions but isn’t widely used in the real estate industry. She contacted other small brokerages and sold them on the idea of creating The Realty Centre, a building that would house individual brokerages along with perhaps a related business or two.

Her hunch paid off. In the space of about 10 weeks beginning in September, the vacant space vanished, and there are now seven new tenants in the building: Wilson Realty of Tallahassee Inc., Jan Soto Realty, Ann Fisher Realty Inc., Cochran & Co. Realty Inc., Citimax Inc. (a commercial leasing business), Turner Properties & Investments (a builder), and Mortgage Loan Associates (a mortgage broker).

“It’s not a franchise. I lease individual offices to practitioners for their own companies, and I lease to related businesses,” Wilson says. “We have a common waiting room and conference rooms and an MLS computer and copier, but everything else is strictly their own.”

“I save on my ad rates because we buy a block ad that advertises The Realty Centre and includes the name and logo of each of our businesses,” says Tommi Cochran, owner of Cochran & Co. Realty Inc., who recently left a nearby RE/MAX franchise to strikeouton her own.

She and the other brokers say they’re saving considerable money on franchise, administration, and office fees.

“I think there are people out there who want to be independent but feel they’ll be isolated,” Cochran says. “When you're part of a franchise, you constantly hear the message that you're part of a team, and that’s important. I don’t feel isolated here at all.”

Being part of The Realty Centre not only helps sole practitioners escape isolation but also brings them referral business--something Cochran says she didn’t get at RE/MAX. “Since being here, I've had one of my listings sold by Judy. She had the right client in the right price range, and she knew about my listing.”

To comply with state laws, each company has its own logo and broker's name on its door and on the front of the building. Each brokerage handles its own escrow account, and there's no shared receptionist. Some have installed phones in their offices; others use cell phones.

“Our office rent ranges from $163 to $390 a month, and that includes taxes, the MLS computer, and phone access to the MLS; it’s hard to beat that,” Wilson says. Rents also cover costs of the common areas.

Ann Gallagher, president of the Tallahassee Board ofREALTORS®, who knows each of the practitioners at The Realty Centre, applauds the idea. “It takes guts to go off on your own,” she says, “but they have the support of one another.” In a city the size of Tallahassee--about 200,000 residents--“you have to do something to stand out, and that’s what they’re doing,” she says.

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