Stroudsburg – I’ve been through a lot of changes in the Pocono real estate market and pride myself on always being part of the cutting edge.  I just didn’t realize how sharp that cutting edge could actually be!

While our Management team was prepared for, understood what to do and reacted properly to the downturn in the real estate market (every real estate boom comes to an end) we were not prepared for the financial meltdown of the banking industry which forced the country (at large) into the deep recession we’re now in.  One of the problems was that there were not nearly as many transactions taking place, nor were the sales taking place at the same price as they had previous.

What ended up happening to the real estate industry was the perfect storm, aimed at what could have been a perfect disaster.  But there was another problem happening at the same time.  The problem was overhead, the expenses.  The market fell so quickly and so fast it was impossible to reel in expenses as fast as the market was falling.  There were three (3) primary areas–1. employee costs, 2. health costs and 3. the subject of today’s blog, office rent.

In an effort to quickly control expenses, we went through a very big consolidation of our (what was at one time) 14 offices.  We are now operating with 2 offices; one being at our Bushkill location and the second being at 304 Park Avenue in Stroudsburg which we consider our corporate headquarters.  Making those decisions was one of the hardest things I have done in my 25 year career, but since I went through a recession previously, I knew what had to be done.  Mobile technology along with the bad economy has forced Brokers to pare down their square footage.

Does that mean that as a leader in the Pocono real estate industry we are done expanding and life is simply going to remain the way it is now?…the answer to that question is, of course, “no”.

Instead, my Managers and I, in particular Dominick J. Sacci, Sr V.P./General Manager, developed what’s called a day desk which (because I don’t like the word virtual) is a desk that’s used by an agent for the day and the next day it can and will be used by another agent at Stroudsburg.  We have 8 day desks located in what we call the North Wing, South Wing and the West Wing.  Each of these “wings” are fully equipped with copy-paper, paper clips, staplers, scrap paper, pencils, pens and are attractively presented to the agent when they come to work that day.  The walls are attractively painted in warm pastel colors and further decorated with plants and motivational posters.  Housekeeping of the North, South and the West Wings is done daily, which includes the cleaning of the waste paper receptacles and Windex-ing the desks as well.

Secretarial services are available through (what we call) Central Processing.  The agent is very well taken care of and all with no office fee.

Printing, scanning and all of the computer and copy/fax services are available to any of the agents who work out of any of the Wings.  We found that agents work more from their homes, but we still encourage they “do business” in the office and that they invite their customer to see their work area.  They can do that now because we maintain the work area, the wings and the Tech Room.

What was a matter of survival has turned into a fun project at a very low cost.

Then, we needed to develop the agent and thus (remember I don’t like the word virtual) came the hybrid Realtor.  The hybrid Realtor is one that works from the corporate office but their home may be located in an area far from the corporate office.  Their market place could be Blakeslee, Lake Harmony, Hamlin, Lake Wallenpaupack, Scranton or even Wilkes-Barre.  We made sure that while they’re outside of the office, they have the ability to link in to any of the software programs that we utilize as well as the inventory and any of the programs available to them just as if they were in the office.  As I suggested, today, most agents operate from home anyway and this is just an added extension for them.  The best part of this is that the agent can market themselves 24 – 7.

We are very sensitive to the needs of the Realtor so when the hybrid Realtor does come into the office, we make sure that they are comfortable and well taken care of.  A huge red carpet is rolled out for them.  We wouldn’t have it any other way.  I’m happy to say that we are very pleased with the way the Agents are reacting.  And what a recruiting tool.

What this has enabled us to do is keep our overhead low while still maintaining a strong market presence that includes all of the Poconos, Pike and Monroe county, as well as Northeast Pennsylvania at large.

We’re developing now (meaning we’re expanding) a format for a very small branch office or what we call a “coffee shop”.  This is an office that has a conference room, reception area and for all intents and purposes…that’s it.  It’s a place where the agent will meet the customer and feel comfortable that they’re able to get to know the customer before they go out on the road.  While these “coffee shop” offices may or may not be open 7 days a week, the overhead that it takes to run them is small when compared to maintaining a full scale office with desks, telephone systems and such.  It’s all about overhead in todays (and tomorrow’s) real estate market.  I don’t think you’re going to see that change even if another real estate boom would happen.

Our first “coffee shop” will be in Mt. Pocono and scheduled to open January 1st of 2011.  The location is great for walk-ins and, in the end, won’t cost much at all; very little overhead.

After that expansion, we’re targeting other very high traffic areas and towns.  Whether it’s Honesdale, New Hope, Jim Thorpe, Lake Wallenpaupack or even at ski areas themselves, all are a part of our expansion plans.  Appreciate that the market has not changed yet, but when it does we want to be right there!

Well… the cutting edge, that’s the place to be and certainly where you need to be if you want to exceed in the real estate field today.

Thomas R. Wilkins is the author of this blog.  Wilkins is CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Wilkins & Associates and was the first franchisee to become a BHG Broker in June of 2008.  At the height of the market Wilkins maintained 14 retail offices and had over 100 fulltime agents.  Today, he maintains two offices with 80 agents and 7 potential agents going through schooling at the time this article was written.