Three real estate companies that have evolved from the traditional brokerage model are now sharing their cutting-edge success stories.

Three very different real estate companies are pushing the envelope when it comes to brokerage models, and it’s most obvious in the look and feel of their office space.

During the final session of the REALTOR® Broker Summit in Denver in June, brokers discussed what this changing face of real estate looks like and what it means to clients.

NextHome, Inc., one of the three companies represented on the session’s panel, focuses on smaller offices with 20 agents or fewer and building client services and technology around that setup. Launched in January 2015, the company already has 101 offices in 35 states.

“Our belief is that the future of this business is small offices,” says NextHome CEO James Dwiggins, adding that his company’s offices are as small as 800 square feet with a coffee bar–style collaborative work environment.

Since the majority of today’s buyers and sellers are part of Gen X and Gen Y, Dwiggins says his company is actively trying to recruit younger agents and establish a culture that reflects their client base.

When Dwiggins set out to launch NextHome, he surveyed buyers and sellers to understand what they want from a real estate company. “This industry is notorious for recycling ideas,” he says. “We asked consumers to help build our brokerage.”

One thing Dwiggins and his team learned from respondents is that they don’t care for yard signs. In fact, they see signs as simply a billboard for the agent. So NextHome took a new approach, adding graphics to yard signs that signify the numbers of bedrooms, bathrooms, and garage stalls in the listing.

They also added a mascot to their signs’ branding: Luke the dog. The point of the small plastic pup is to be taken from the yard and played with by neighborhood kids. Luke comes with contact information on his collar so that parents can call if they end up with Luke. It’s also a lead generation tool.

“He’s become very viral,” Dwiggins says. “People love it because it creates conversations; agents can talk about the company with neighbors.”

At NextHome’s corporate office in Pleasanton, Calif., employees have standard-issue Nerf guns and monthly social events. They strive for a fun, caring atmosphere.

“Agents leave when there’s a lack of leadership and lack of culture,” Dwiggins says. “We recognize culture starts at the top and we want agents to feel appreciated.”

Culture is a huge part of business at Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Go Realty in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area, where a lot of thought has been put into office spaces, agent support, and client experience.  

AnnMarie Janni, broker-in-charge of the Go Realty Holly Springs office, says customers won’t find a receptionist behind a front desk when they walk into one of the four Go Realty offices. Instead, everyone in the office greets them with, “Welcome to Go!” 

“We want every agent to feel like it’s their office,” Janni says. So all four offices can be accessed with a single key, and they all share the same Wi-Fi password and wireless printer connection.

The space is an open concept, but if agents need a quiet area to make a phone call, they have small rooms called “Zen dens.”

Each office has a social event once a month, and agents are encouraged to invite clients. “We try to have fun when we can because sometimes real estate is brutal,” Janni says.

New agents get at least one day of training at every office, and the program aims to help them get a sale within their first 90 days on the job. Retaining agents is also a top priority for Go, Janni says, so the company adds value by bringing in speakers or focusing on agents’ individual needs. For instance, Go has a program called “Level Up,” which helps mid-level agents establish a plan for doubling their business.

Then there’s eXp Realty, which has taken the virtual brokerage into the mainstream. All agents and brokers meet and interact in a cloud-based office and education campus. Agents and brokers create an avatar and log in to the platform, which resembles a college campus. The online experience is similar to a first-person, immersive video game where you can talk and interact with other people’s avatars through your computer.

“There’s a misconception that it’s a cool, sterile work environment,” says Jason Gesing, eXp Realty’s president. “But we have baby showers in there, foot races, and speakers — and executive meetings are open to all.”

eXp is also a public, agent-owned company. Launched in 2009 by founder and CEO Glenn Sanford, the model was established in direct response to the challenges of meeting fixed and rising overhead associated with brick-and-mortar offices.

eXp has never used paid advertising to recruit agents, choosing instead to grow by word of mouth. Today, the company has more than 1,240 agents in 38 states and Alberta, Canada. Gesing says the agent-owner mindset has helped build loyalty and retention. And it shows: Revenues for the first quarter of 2016 totaled $7.1 million, up 107 percent year over year from $3.4 million.

Agents’ satisfaction is also surveyed quarterly, and if anyone ever answers a question with less than an eight, leadership follows up with that person directly, Gesing says.

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