By Yvonne Dick
Real estate professionals in Canada have a variety of options for where they conduct their business. Some pay a franchise fee to have a desk of their own inside a branded office. Others strike out with their own franchise company as a broker/owner. Then there are the independent agents – those who work under a smaller franchise where their brand expects them to pay their own expenses and set up an office where they live. Finally are the agents who are completely free, or those who work with a brand but do not have a local branch office to work out of and do not wish to start one.
One option for agents who have no office is to write offers in a public place. This is part of some independent contracts – that the in-person business can be conducted only in public rather than from home. Cafes, libraries and community centres can be popular places for these transactions.
But what about privacy? Is your client or prospective client going to be comfortable signing a deal to buy or sell their home, a thing of great value, in the same place they can get an espresso and a doughnut to go? There is always a risk of everyone who walks by seeing confidential information, and of course the agent or client being overheard to their disadvantage.
Virtual office space and co-working spaces are becoming much more popular, especially among real estate companies. Kane Willmott, co-founder of IQ Office Suites in Toronto, says he knows what it’s like to be an agent in search of a place to do the work.
“My partner Alex Sharpe and I have our own real estate company. We’ve operated out of shared workspaces for years. In 2012, we decided to open our own workspace building.”
Willmott says the move has helped them elevate their brand by being located downtown. “Most business people who use co-work spaces want to be where the people are all working, so they can interact and network. They find they really like the energy of a large workspace with people around.”
Co-working spaces such as IQ Office Suites in Toronto, or Unit B in Edmonton, centre around a few models of available space. They also feature company-grown extras unique to the location and clientele of their buildings.
The most basic level of a virtual office is a mailbox address in a prized location. This is then forwarded to the customer’s real address. Email and website packages offering similar cyber services can also create a business presence for a home-based company. Board rooms can be rented for meetings.
The next step up is a room with sitting and standing working space for laptop users, but no cubicles. Semi-private co-working spaces may have walls or half-walls. IQ Office Suites offers lockable filing cabinets with many of their configurations; these are used only by the member, who has the key to their cabinet.
Closed-door office space is also routinely available. Sometimes a closed space has a shared reception with other offices and at times it has more than one desk, so that it feels more social, working with a few others in the same room.
Including Internet access and utilities, and adding on-site amenities is a big part of what makes co-working spaces attractive to real estate professionals.
Willmott says the most popular locations are near public transit in the downtown core. The company’s customers include Realtors and come from a variety of industries including communications, law, finance and graphic design. “They want to work in an office they love and in the area most likely to attract good partners, affiliates and customers,” he says.
Technology continues to change the way that business is conducted. For those who feel isolated or need something more than their current home office setup, co-working spaces may just fit the bill. Human beings are social creatures. Although we may love being our own boss, there is still a part in many of us who yearn to have a place to go where everyone knows our company, our job and our name.
Correction: This article was corrected from the original to change the opening date of the workspace building, and to update the occupations of most users.