A Field Guide to Personal Assistants


 REALTOR® Magazine  |    August 10, 2006
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With more people working in the real estate industry than ever before, the pressure is on for you to provide better service than your competitors. But with so many other tasks to manage — from writing ads to handling paperwork — how can you find the time? Many real estate practitioners have found that working with a personal assistant gives them the ability to devote time to selling and prospecting — which help them make more money — while knowing that someone else is handling the day-to-day business tasks professionally.

What Personal Assistants Do

According to the 2005 National Association of REALTORS® member profile, approximately one in five REALTORS® have at least one personal assistant. Fifteen percent report having one personal assistant, and 4 percent report having two or more personal assistants. Personal assistants perform a variety of tasks, including:

  • Process new listings and enter them in the MLS.
  • Photograph listings.
  • Send mailings to past clients or prospects.
  • Manage closing paperwork.
  • Schedule listing presentations, closings, and appointments.
  • Order inspections.
  • Prepare comps.
  • Place/track advertising of listings.
  • Write ads.
  • Send progress reports to sellers.
  • Prepare escrow files.

Benefits of working with an assistant

“If you don’t have an assistant, you become the assistant,” says real estate trainer Terry Watson of Chicago-based Watson World Corporation. Every minute that you spend on paperwork, producing newsletters, or setting appointments is time that could be spent on bringing in more sales, networking, prospecting, working with clients or relaxing with family.

Determine if you need an assistant

How do you know when the time is right to hire a personal assistant? That depends on a lot of things, most notably your business volume and how much free time you would like to have. Real estate trainer and speaker Ed Hatch, CRS, of Ed Hatch Seminars, informally surveyed some top salespeople and found that the majority decided it was time to hire an assistant when they had reached 25 to 35 transactions.

At that point, “there’s too much transactional maintenance and personal promotion to do, so time with family falls apart,” Hatch says. Other ways to determine if it’s time include:

  • Calculate whether your sales volume has plateaued.
  • Determine if there are goals that you have been unable to accomplish.
  • Keep track of your activities for a week and determine if you train a counterpart.
  • Calculate your worth per hour and compare it to what you might pay a personal assistant.

Types of personal assistants

Licensed personal assistants

Just more than half, or 52 percent, of personal assistants hold a real estate license, according to the 2005 National Association of REALTORS® member profile.

To a great degree, whether you hire a licensed assistant depends on what tasks you want your assistant to complete and what the license law requirements are in your state. The laws of the real estate licensing body in your state and the policies of your brokerage also may affect your decision.

If you want your assistant to be able to do many of the listing and selling activities that you currently do, the assistant must be licensed. Some of the duties that could only be performed by a licensed assistant include:

  • Independently developing and placing advertising copy.
  • Showing properties.
  • Explaining a contract or other documents to a client.
  • Discussing the attributes of a property with a prospect.
  • Collecting or receiving money from a prospect.
  • Conducting an open house.

Unlicensed personal assistants

In general, if your assistant will perform only clerical and administrative duties, such as making appointments, sending out materials you have prepared, placing ads you have prepared, updating contact databases and files, arranging for inspections, obtaining documents for closing, and having keys made for listings, the assistant probably doesn’t need to be licensed. Most states also permit unlicensed assistants to add or delete information on the MLS, access property lockboxes, place signs on properties, and act as a courier to deliver documents.

Virtual assistants

Virtual assistants, or VAs, are usually home-based administrative support specialists who, in real estate, use the Internet to carry out many of the same tasks as in-person assistants. They work in remote locations and communicate with you primarily through e-mail or by phone.
Helpful Web Sites for Finding a VA

  • REVA Network.
  • International Virtual Assistants Association.
  • AssistU.
  • Staffcentrix.

Where to recruit

To find the best personal assistant, you can use some of the same strategies that you use to prospect for buyers and sellers. You’ll want to network with friends, family, clients, customers, your doctor, your butcher, your pastor, or church group — anyone who might express interest or offer leads on candidates for your personal assistant position. But be sure that if you hire a friend or relative or the children of friends and relatives, you won’t feel restricted in managing the person.

You might find the perfect candidate right under your nose in the form of a brokerage secretary, a part-time or new salesperson who needs paycheck security, or another salesperson’s assistant who has the time to work for two salespeople. Candidates for licensure also might appreciate gaining experience before branching out on their own. An already trained assistant also will save you a lot of time. If you’re willing to train the candidate in real estate basics, contact an employment agency. That way you’ll find someone with clerical experience. If networking doesn’t produce results, run an ad in the paper, post notices at high schools or colleges, or solicit leads through the local real estate licensing school.

Compensation structures

Once you know whom you want to hire as your assistant, you must determine how you’ll pay that person. According to the 2005 National Association of REALTORS® member profile, real estate practitioners compensate their personal assistants in a variety of ways:

  • 37 percent are paid hourly.
  • 24 percent receive a salary.
  • 15 percent receive a cut of the commission.
  • 7 percent get paid per task.
  • 17 percent have other arrangements.

The best way to determine the prevailing wage in your area is to contact your local chamber of commerce, employment agency, state employment office, and other salespeople in the area who’ve hired assistants. And before you hire an assistant, consult your accountant to discuss the compensation method and tax ramifications.

How much you pay an assistant is inherently linked to the tasks the person will perform. If you need a secretary, hire a temp or a student and pay the prevailing hourly wage. But if you want the person to work with clients and customers, you may want to evaluate a salary and bonus structure.

Reprinted from REALTOR® Magazine, (www.realtor.org) with permission of the National Association of REALTORS®. Copyright 2006. All rights reserved.”

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