Trudy Stewart couldn’t work for more than six months after sustaining a serious injury. After some time and rehabilitation, she wanted to get her real estate business moving again, but she knew she’d need some help. She decided that it was time to hire a virtual assistant—someone who works remotely and provides professional assistance with administrative, creative or technical tasks.
“It was magic from the start,” says Stewart, broker associate at Keller Williams NW in Tampa, Fla., of her hire. “After my first interview with her, I knew she was the one. There was even an emotional connection. She kicks butt so much.”
Within the first month of having a virtual assistant, Stewart sold her most expensive property, and within four months, she did $4 million in sales. She says knows that she was able to accomplish so much in such a short period of time because her VA helped her get organized, which allowed her to focus. The VA took over much of the administrative tasks that Stewart would have taken, freeing up time so that she could focus on securing clients.
Stewart who has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, finds that tasks like email, for instance, can send her whirling. If she needs to find a particular email or reference, she’ll have the best intention to do so, but gets distracted and loses an hour or more. Her virtual assistant, Ally, helped her by creating folders and putting emails in the appropriate folders so Stewart can find them more easily and without the risk of distraction.
“That alone has saved my life,” she says.
If you are thinking about seeking the help of a virtual assistant, here are some proven steps Stewart and two other brokers around the country have used to find success:
Step 1: Make Sure You Know Which Tasks Can Be Delegated
Virtual assistants can free up valuable time so that real estate professionals can focus on what makes them money: selling houses and helping agents.
A VA can do many of the administrative tasks brokers want to offload, but it’s important to make sure the tasks you’re delegating don’t require a license.
The National Association of REALTORS® website offers a list of State Statutes and Regulations for unlicensed assistants in many states. It shows rules and guidance on what these assistants can and cannot do when helping you with a real estate transaction.
For instance, the North Carolina Real Estate Commission says unlicensed assistants cannot show properties for sale to prospective purchasers, solicit listings or management contracts from prospective clients, or discuss listings, offers or contracts.
However, in that state, an unlicensed employee can perform tasks like receive and forward phone calls and messages, submit and edit listings to the multiple listing service, place For Sale and For Rent signs as needed, and request necessary public record documents like deeds or tax information.
Step 2: Determine What Tasks You Want to Offload
When AnnMarie Janni decided a few years ago that she needed an VA, she wrote down all the tasks she didn’t like to do and those she didn’t need to do.
“That is where your job description starts,” says Janni, CRS, founder and team leader of Element Realty Group at Allen Tate, REALTORS®, in Cary, N.C.
Janni has two VAs that help her with roles such as scheduling and responding to clients and service partners and keeping her on track.
One “researches my crazy ideas, too,” she adds, explaining that the company just moved into a historic home where she wanted to host more events.
“It’s a great space for client events,” Janni says. “I’ve had lots of ideas about that, such as an Easter egg hunt, music under the oak tree, and client photo shoots. [One of the VAs] did a lot of research for those, such as the costs involved and permitting needed.”
Her VAs also keep the client database clean and updated, help to plan client events, and send mailers. They help her keep track of her personal schedule as well, and, with the extra time she has thanks to the administrative tasks being taken care of, Janni has more time to get to the gym and volunteer at her children’s schools.
Step 3: Understand the Cost of Hiring a VA
As with anything else, a VA isn’t free, and it’s important to understand the costs associated with hiring them. VAs are found through a variety of resources: job boards, friends and family, word of mouth and VA-specific agencies. Where you find your VA, how many hours they work and the scope of work they’re responsible for are all factors when it comes to determining their pay.
For example, Stewart’s VA, Ally, who is located in the Philippines and works remotely for her 20 hours a week, receives $800 per month. Stewart used Cyberbacker, an agency dedicted to providing administrative assistance and virtual assistant support, to find Ally.
Ally is so productive and focused that Stewart finds she often doesn’t have enough tasks to fill Ally’s time, so another real estate professional in Stewart’s office uses Ally as well. They split the $800 fee evenly.
Janni notes that when it comes to hiring a VA, quality matters, and that means choosing someone whose value matches their fees.
“If you are trying to pay just $2 an hour, that’s what you are going to get,” responds Janni. “Some VAs out there charge that.”
Of Janni’s two virtual assistants, she pays the client care manager about $400 per closed transaction.
“She is paid per closing and per listing. That’s great for us because if we are not busy, we don’t have a guaranteed salary that we have to pay,” she adds.
Step 4: Start Your Search for the Right VA
Terry Lajoie has been using virtual assistants for more than 10 years. She brought hers on out of necessity after a bad car accident in 2012.
“I had to find a way to keep my business [going] while I couldn’t do a lot of things. I needed administration support,” says the associate broker at Lajoie Home Team Brokered by eXp Realty in Amherst, N.H.
Her VA, a client of one of her team members, is a stay-at-home mom who needed some extra money. Lajoie called her to ask if she’d like to work for her virtually. During their discussion, Lajoie learned that the woman also had a background in photography, so they worked out an agreement for both administrative and photo-specific tasks.
Regarding pay, Lajoie finds that the rates vary as well. Since VAs are part-time and contracted, they often come with their own pay structure.
“I’ve had people that were hourly at $10–$15 per hour. I’ve used services that charged $500–$1,500 per month for 20–40 hours, and they provide someone who is overseas. Transaction coordinators and photographers are typically paid per transaction or job.”
Lajoie finds that the benefits far outweigh the costs and credits the growth of her business to having a VA. Thanks to the time she’s recovered by offloading administrative tasks and getting better organized, she jumped from being a solo $3 million producer to a having a team of two other agents and producing $30 million.
“That’s the true value of a virtual assistant. The caveat is your virtual assistant gives you a multitude of time back. Use that time to generate more business,” she says.
You might not know someone personally who is looking for a job as a VA, but there are many places to start your search.
- Ask for recommendations from people you know, especially those in the real estate business who have used VAs in the past. You can also post an opening for the position at your local association.
- Use local social media groups or post a job opening on social media platforms.
- Research virtual assistant staffing agencies such as fiverr, Upwork, Boldly, Work at Home Vintage Experts, FlexJobs.com, Cyberbacker and We Work Remotely.
Step 5: Start Strong with Clear Communication
Communication can make the difference in your relationship with your VA. It’s also important to recognize that like any other hire, not every situation is successful. Set clear expectations and communicate often, especially at the beginning of the relationship. Janni encourages others who are working with VAs in the beginning to offer a detailed job description and to set clear expectations. You also want to communicate clearly about pay rates, cadence and process.
It will take a few months to get into a rhythm, so make sure you’re in the right mindset. Find out how much they want to communicate with you and which platform and mode of communication they prefer. Schedule regular communication. If a Zoom call or phone call is needed, block it off in both of your calendars.