Sure, software makes things easier for the real estate industry. But Bill Watterson put the trade-off much better than I ever could in this Calvin and Hobbes comic strip:
Technology does speed business up to a supersonic pace - and even with the best tools, you might find yourself struggling to keep up.Well, like Ouroboros - the snake eating its own tail - tech has the solution to the very problem it’s caused: virtual assistants.
While the term ‘virtual assistant’ might conjure up some image of Rosie the robotic maid from The Jetsons the reality is very different. A virtual assistant is actually a living, breathing person. Through the magic of the internet, they can offer freelance work to help you out with pretty much anything you can think of - all without the need to go out and buy another desk.There are a few downsides to not having someone actually in the office. But as we mentioned in our blog on outsourcing, hiring virtual assistants certainly has its benefits:
- It’s a less risky way to hire: wages are usually negotiable, and because they work from home you don’t need to pay for any more equipment. It’s also possible to hire ‘on demand’ - you can hire assistants for as long or as little as you like.
- It’s a great way to grow your business: virtual assistants are a great way to free up some of your agents’ precious time so they can focus on getting out in the field meeting new clients and listing more properties.
- Things don’t need to be emotional: because freelancers are contractors, they inherently understand that their hours are dependant on the success of the company. You don’t need to feel bad about putting an end to the relationship. It’s not an issue. Not for them – nor the legal sector.
- It simplifies your accounts and administration: when hiring an in-house employee, you need to follow several large, leather-bound volumes of rules and regulations that simply aren’t there for virtual assistants. They pay their own taxes, cover their own benefits and work from home.
A quick Google search will reveal plenty of services online where you’ll be able to find virtual assistants to suit your needs - Elance.com and Freelancer.com to name a few. (We recommend you shop around on a few sites to find the right person for you).
Does your real estate agency need a virtual assistant?
Okay cool - so virtual assistants are a thing. But how can they help you? We got in touch with Sharene Rule from LJ Hooker Applecross, Western Australia on her experience hiring one.What made you realise you needed a VA? “We manage a lot of large land estates, and the over the last financial year we were struggling with a ridiculous volume of listings - around 120 per sales person. Sounds like the dream, but it was getting hard to keep up with all the administrative work. In particular, data entry into Rex was becoming a huge task.”How’d you find out you could hire someone online to help you with it? “Another LJ Hooker office referred us to a website called ‘Upwork’. They already had two virtual assistants helping them and told us we should try it out. We posted a job description explaining what we needed and pretty soon we had a response from someone who said they had experience with Rex.”How have they been so far? “It’s been a huge help. They usually work around 5 hours a week for us. Because our virtual assistant is mainly focused on data entry into Rex, I can send her everything I need added into the system via email. Marketing descriptions, contact data, property details, enquiries and feedback - they take the email and add it in for me.We set them up on their own account with our generic LJ Hooker email, so they’re technically logged into the system under “LJ Hooker Applecross”. Having their own separate account enables me to filter contacts, properties and other records by the 'created user’. I can also see the 'updating user' and when it was last updated on individual records - so it makes things easy to keep up to date with.”Are there any limitations you’ve noticed? “Well obviously they’re not in the office, so filing is out. But we don’t have to pay for more equipment, so the the pros and cons are pretty balanced. There are cases for virtual assistants, and cases for hiring someone to come work in the office. You just need to decide what’s going to be the best fit for your situation.”Have you ever considered outsourcing other tasks? Marketing stuff like social media or website management for example? “We don’t really need to worry too much about that sort of thing. However, I can see the benefit for other agencies. There are plenty of people with all sorts of skills freelancing online: web developers, graphic designers, social media gurus, you name it.”Will you continue working with them? Do you recommend others try it out? “I would definitely recommend others try this.If you’re a sales or admin person, and you needed or wanted someone to help with the back-end administration stuff because you find you don’t have time - definitely give them a go. It’s generally quite cheap, and there are some great people available to assist you. Also, if you think you want a PA but you’re not sure, a virtual assistant is a great stepping stone.We probably won’t continue working with ours forever. We knew when we hired them that we’d inevitably have to hire someone full-time - though they’ve been invaluable during the transitional period.”