Tomorrow's Office: Homeward Bound

The trend in office usage can be characterized in three words: home, sweet home.

May 1, 1996

More practitioners are setting up home offices as primary or secondary places of business, say industry observers. The trend has been particularly noticeable the last three years. Economic as well as technological factors are behind the change.

Despite the popularity of the household work space, not everyone is suited for working at home. In some cases, trying to work out of a home office can hurt productivity.

One sign of the popularity of home offices can be seen in a late 1994 survey done for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OFREALTORS®' Publications group. The survey showed that 76 percent ofREALTORS® have a home office space. Twenty-nine percent of those with home offices described that work space as their primary real estate office.

Here are some of the factors behind the growing use of home offices:

Sophisticated technology has become more affordable. With a personal computer, software, and a telephone modem, real estate professionals can call into a local MLS from a home office and do all the data manipulation that they used to have to go to the broker's office to perform.

"Advanced technology has dropped in cost to the point where it's now within reach of practically everyone," says Pat Zaby, CRS®, a Dallas real estate instructor and president of Prep Software. Zaby paid $5,000 for his first laser printer in 1985. Today you can buy comparable equipment for $500, he says.

Brokers are encouraging salespeople to work at home. As competition heats up, brokers are trying to reduce overhead by cutting back on the size of their office space. Some are urging salespeople to stay at home and to refrain from coming to the brokerage office except to use the conference room or to attend a sales meeting.

One-person real estate companies are becoming more popular. Part of this trend may be related to the rise of the 100 percent commission concept, observers say. Rather than paying a management fee to a broker, salespeople start their own one-person company and cut their overhead by working out of a home office.

"Working out of your home is the ultimate extension of the 100 percent concept," says Robert L. Prall, CRB, president of Real Estate TeamMates Inc., a Houston franchisor that provides marketing and other services to small real estate companies.

In 1991, 4 percent of brokerages nationwide were one-person offices, according to studies done by NAR's Research group. In 1994, that rate jumped to 13 percent, says the Research group.

Will everyone eventually work out of a home office? No, says Mike Parker, CRS®, a sales associate with RE/MAX Affiliates, Fort Mitchell, Ky. "The majority of salespeople don't have enough self-discipline to work out of a home office by themselves."

In an effort to reduce his desk fee at the brokerage office, Parker recently asked one of his full-time personal assistants---a licensed salesperson---to work out of a home office. Within a few months, Parker noticed that the assistant's productivity had declined. Parker believes that working at home was distracting. "Most people-oriented personalities, such as salespeople, need to be with other productive people to work at peak efficiency," he says.

Walt Albro is a former senior editor for REALTOR® Magazine.

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