In a move sure to make their commercial counterparts wince, more residential brokerages are embracing the death of the traditional office.
At Avenue 8’s Flatiron workplace, for example, there are no desks in the main area, but rather a giant wooden table and a constellation of sofas. There are a couple of conference rooms, a Zoom room and a kitchen, but no pods or cubicles. And it’s not in a conventional ground-floor retail storefront, but rather in a more intimate second floor office space at 900 Broadway.
“The role of the office is really a relic.”
The office is a reflection of how the brokerage — which expanded to New York last year — aims to run its business. Avenue 8’s co-founder Michael Martin said he believes agents do their best work when they’re not at a desk.
“The role of the office is really a relic,” Martin said. “And by virtue of having all of these retail spaces, it becomes very, very expensive for brokerages to run their business. So agents end up bearing the brunt of that cost by paying really high commission splits back to their brokerage.”
As work-from-home has gone from an aberration to standard practice, new brokerages have chosen to reinvent the workplace.
Take Serhant. Rather than open an office, founder Ryan Serhant set up what he’s dubbed a “clubhouse” at 372 West Broadway in Soho. Agents can use hot desks in the space, but no one has an assigned seat.
“Desk hierarchies, definitely pre-Covid,” Serhant said, “and honestly, in my mind, very much got left behind in the early 2000s.”
More studio than office, the space’s primary use is for social media and video content creation, and the clubhouse is designed with an external audience in mind. There are also two podcast studios for agent’s use, along with Zoom booths. Serhant estimates that his brokers create 10 to 15 pieces of real estate content in the space every day.
Serhant said the changing office landscape highlights the importance of the metaverse, where agents can conduct business without having to step foot in an office. In March, the brokerage announced it will have its own metaverse, called UNIVERS, as a virtual operating space for employees and agents.
Though Serhant has replaced the old-school listing photos taped up in a storefront window with a high-production social media feed, its offices are still in areas that attract eyeballs. The brokerage’s new Hamptons clubhouse is located at 103 Hayground Road on Montauk Highway, the main artery to the Hamptons.
“I don’t really care so much for foot traffic, we care for eyeballs,” he said. “And so even though we have a lot of foot traffic in Soho, there’s more drive-by eyeballs on our office than any other location in New York City. And same for the Hamptons.”
Other brokerages opt for more traditional office spaces, however. Avenues, which launched in 2020, has five offices across Manhattan and Brooklyn, with another Brooklyn headquarters opening soon. But it still does incorporate some of the newer approaches, such as hot desks for hybrid workers in addition to assigned seats, and podcast studios and greenrooms at some locations.
In the summer, CEO David Avgi plans to place desks outside the office and offer passersby lemonade and cookies to attract new clients.
Still, Avgi said office culture is vital for newer agents. As a result, each office has managers who can assist brokers in closing deals.
Agents “still have emotions, they have struggles, and they have frustrations. And if you don’t have that home base, and you’re trying to be a rotating office, but you’re not giving any type of support, those agents won’t really grow,” Avgi said. “The only agents that will be fine with that are agents that have their business already made.”