Thanks to changes in how consumers scout real estate purchases, the real estate office no longer draws the same level of foot traffic and workplace interaction as it once did. But through the creation of a virtual office space, eXp Realty seeks to preserve water cooler banter in an industry where listings gravitated to cyberspace.
Jason Gesing, CEO of eXp Realty, may not be able to visit with most of the company’s 3,100-plus agents and brokers each day in the break room, but might run into any one of them on the company’s cloud office, a digital workplace that looks like a World of Warcraft expansion but works like an office and professional development center. “Now we can learn from, share information with, get to know and develop referral relationships with people who aren’t just in the cubicle next to us or in the same market area but may be thousands of miles away,” he says.
It’s been useful to Fort Myers agent David Nitsche, who shows on his laptop how he can walk into an auditorium and attend a seminar or to meet up with an agent in a different market to get information from their MLS database. He walks an avatar designed to look like himself out from the classroom-like lecture space into an area that looks almost like a bar. While you can’t get real refreshments here, you can hear people more clearly the closer you get, allowing conversations with groups of agents or more intimate meetings with individuals. In one space, you can even go to tables with sound proof cones so only those in that space will be heard over the online communication.
Nitsche “walks” to a sign inside the lobby to the campus to inspect a calendar of today’s events. He clicks a button and suddenly the calendar fills his own computer screen. The same sort of thing can be done during presentations or if other agents want to share specific information with others in the cloud office. “if someone is presenting something on a screen, you can blow it up on your own screen.
Using the same underlying technology today that drives the online game Pokémon Go, eXp Realty creates an immersive campus where any agent in the country can go for a variety of reasons.
Gesing said the popularity of the firm with agents around the country has grown rapidly; the company boasted around 864 agents in January 2016 and nearly four times that number now. Of course, it’s not just the Sims-like office that attracts agents. The company doesn’t do franchise agreements, and instead encourages agents to become shareholders. “Some come in who have been paying a 4 to 7 percent royalty to a franchiser, sometimes not certain what value they get in return bt paying it long enough they forget they are paying it.” Instead, agents can buy shares in eXp World Holdings, the realty company’s umbrella parent, at a discount price.
Once in, Gesing says the cloud technology allows real estate professionals a water-cooler workplace environment that’s been slowly disappearing in an age of online listings. And with agents in some 170 MLS markets in 48 states and two Canadian provinces, there’s also tremendous opportunity for cross-market sharing of hard information and local knowledge.