John Barrentine realized more than two decades ago that he needed help in his real estate business. He needed to hire a personal assistant.
“I hadn’t treated my business like a business. I was selling real estate, but I was young and still immature,” says Barrentine, CEO and team leader of RED Real Estate Group at Keller Williams Miracle Mile in Los Angeles. “But finally taking the responsibility of paying someone else’s salary reframed my business life and made all the difference in the world.”
He says when younger agents ask him what he would have done differently, he responds that he would have hired an assistant much earlier in his career and paid them more than most people think is the right amount.
“It does come down to compensation,” he explains.
Many successful real estate professionals hire a real estate assistant—or multiple assistants—to grow their business—or at least get it more organized. In fact, 14% of REALTORS® have at least one personal assistant, and 71% of those personal assistants are licensed, according to the 2019 National Association of REALTORS® Member Profile. Within that grouping, 53% of personal assistants are employed full-time, and 60% work exclusively for one REALTOR®.
If you’re considering hiring an assistant, here’s advice on how to get started.
What Real Estate Assistants Do and Want
Vanessa Rosenblum, president of Pro REA Staffing, works with real estate professionals across the United States who are searching for assistants. She recruits, hires, and places experienced real estate assistants, sales managers, and transaction coordinators with real estate companies of varying sizes.
She found Barrentine one of his assistants and continues searching for someone else to join his team. “An agent’s job is to focus on dollar-productive activities like prospecting, negotiating deals, and showing properties,” says Rosenblum. “Everything else, an assistant can do.”
Assistants who don’t have a real estate license must follow guidelines of what they can do legally. If licensed, they can do everything a real agent can do.
Some of her real estate assistants don’t want to be agents, usually because they don’t want the added risk, pressure, and crazy hours. “The personality of a real estate assistant, in general, usually includes liking stability, routine, and safety. They like to have things organized, and they like to support somebody,” Rosenblum says. But they often choose the real estate industry because it can be exciting. They get to be involved in a very important transaction in someone’s life, and they get to see pretty homes, too, she explains.
But there are some who become real estate assistants in hopes of one day becoming an agent. They spend a few years training under a broker or top-producing agent, and then go off on their own.
Many assistants she recruits have worked as assistants someplace else, often in the corporate world or for a small business. Some come from the hospitality world because it’s very customer-service oriented. These days, most real estate pros are seeking assistants who are also comfortable with technology.
What matters most when hiring an assistant is that everyone involved shares the same expectations, Rosenblum says. Some brokers and agents don’t want to hire an assistant who’s going to leave them in a few years and become an agent. Others like the fact they are mentoring a future agent in their office or team.
Shawn Marchetti has worked as a personal assistant for 10 years, the last two with Barrentine as a client care manager. As an assistant, she likes that Barrentine and everyone in the office makes her feel like an important part of the team. “Every day is different, every client is different, and every circumstance is different. With that comes the importance of patience and adaptability,” she adds.
When to Hire an Assistant
When you can’t get to your most important tasks and feel overly stretched, it’s probably time to get some help. “You hire an assistant when you are not doing enough of your top 20 percent activities,” Rosenblum says. “You don’t have time to prospect, and you have nothing left in the pipeline.”
It’s OK to take baby steps, she adds. You don’t have to start with a fulltime assistant; you can start by hiring a transaction coordinator. “There are so many of them out there. It’s an easy thing to get off your plate,” she says. “You can also hire a virtual assistant for your marketing.”
There are pros and cons of hiring a virtual assistant, Rosenblum says, They can’t run errands, organize your office, or buy snacks for an open house.
How an Assistant Helps an Office
The mother-daughter team of Marlene Rubenstein, ABR, SRES, and Dena Fox, who operate the Rubenstein Fox Team at Baird & Warner in Highland Park, Ill., recently hired a fulltime assistant for their office. They were looking for someone who can work independently and who is loyal and trustworthy.
“She’s licensed and highly skilled,” says Fox. “She has 10 years of real estate experience. Her understanding the nuances of the business was big for us.”
Their prior assistant went into sales, and she’s become quite successful at it. Their current assistant’s primary focus in the office is to offer backup support to everyone. She sets up inspections and handles open houses and showings when they need her. Fox says their assistant has become very hands-on in the business.
“We work long hours and we work hard. It’s not a 9 to 5 job,” Rubenstein says. “But we also want to respect that people have lives outside the office.”
Though it’s important to understand that most people won’t get everything they want in an assistant, especially in the beginning. But by having an established culture and positivity in your office, the assistant will quickly feel a part of it, Rubenstein says.
“It’s wonderful to have someone who can come in and sync with us, especially when we are traveling. There’s never a gap in our services,” she says.