Beyond Bricks & Mortar

By engaging with her clients via social media, Jennifer Bunker has found success with her own virtual brokerage.

September 1, 2009

A champion of the virtual brokerage, Jennifer Bunker seeks to run the most efficient real estate business possible. But face-to-face contact still has it place.

Jennifer Bunker
CRS®, GRI, Broker-Owner
Coldwater Creek Properties of Northern Utah, South Ogden, Utah

Years in Business: 7; became a real estate practitioner in 2002; opened brokerage in 2007
2008 Gross Sales: $6.7 million on 28 transaction sides
2007 Gross Sales: $6.8 million on 29 transaction sides
Number of Offices: 1
Number of Sales Associates: 5

Why she opened her business

I left Coldwell Banker to start a virtual brokerage. I'm a planner. My thinking was that if bad times come, and they will, this model will serve me well. We have no overhead expense except for E&O insurance. There is no central location. All my agents work from home. My view is that brick-and-mortar offices are unnecessarily wasteful. They produce a glut of paper and consume excess resources.

How She Handles client meetings

When we need a quiet place to go, we'll meet at a local restaurant. After we go on a home tour and the client has decided to write an offer, I take buyers there for a Coke or a piece of pie while we write it. Clients are OK with it.

How She Connects with the next generation

Even though I'm a baby boomer, I'm really focusing on how to connect with Generation X and Generation Y. The way I see it, most boomers only have one home purchase left to make in their lives, while younger buyers have many. They are the future of the market. In terms of how they communicate, buyers in their 20s and 30s want short and fast blips and beeps, not phone calls. I send them URLs with listings and they run them by their own networks of friends and contacts. Real estate salespeople who don't know how to connect with these generations are missing the boat. These communication methods save resources as well.

Getting the word out on Facebook

Facebook and other social media sites are my main methods of marketing. I use Facebook to make meaningful connections with colleagues, clients, and potential new clients. I check on existing clients every day via their "status updates" and stay attentive if something important is happening in their lives.

If I see that my client's baby is sick, I get in touch on Facebook to see how I can help. Other people notice that. I've gotten many referrals from people who see my comments to other clients. I also post helpful new items there about things like the home buyer tax credit. Because I do this, I'm first on their minds for a referral when one of their friends needs a real estate professional. I still send postcards and make phone calls to boomers because that's what they want, but I'm focused on applying social media to my business.

Her greatest teacher

In 2008 I was diagnosed with breast cancer and took time off from June through December. Cancer was my greatest teacher, and I was a good student. I've always believed that no matter what happens in life, it's how you react to an event that defines who you are. Cancer taught me to become a better mother and a better broker. It taught me to stop resisting the good things in life and to expect the best for myself and my business. Mostly, it taught me to slow down and listen to the people around me. My brokerage has benefitted enormously from that.

Her management strategy

I tend to recruit experienced salespeople. All but one is an associate broker. I require that they do twice the amount of training per year than is required by the state, and many of them have designations. Even though we all use a lot of technology, we have a monthly brokerage meeting face-to-face. Even in the virtual brokerage model, it's important to look them in the eye once in a while to be sure they're retaining what is important.

How she jump-started business after seven months off

I became more active on Facebook. I invited my clients to join me there. Soon, I had 10 buyers and two listings. From there through trial and error, I learned how to engage even more clients via social media. Soon, I had more buyers than I could handle. Today I have a steady line of people to serve and feel more confident about keeping my pipeline full than I ever have.

What's on the horizon

I'm watching the development of Web 3.0 and "cloud computing." Eventually much of our real estate documentation and listings will be available to us via the Internet, wherever we are, rather than residing on a particular computer. It fits in nicely with the efficiency model of my virtual brokerage.

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Wendy Cole

Wendy Cole is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.