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One of a number of articles for Florida Realtor, the magazine of the Florida Associationof Realtors.

Personal Assistants: Multiply Your Earning Power

by Stephen Morrill

A personal assistant can act as a multiplier of the real estate agent's time and, in the process, multiply the agent's income too. But the fit has to be right between PA and agent, the assistant has to be qualified to do the job, the agent has to be comfortable with delegating authority, and the agent's broker has to be willing to assume some risk in exchange for a more productive seller.
The PA concept originated simply: If the agent just had a "gopher" to run errands, the agent could concentrate more on selling and less on licking stamps.

Kathy Courtney, of RE/MAX Realty Wellington in West Palm Beach, did this three years ago, hiring a high-school student to work part-time. Today Courtney has three assistants, two of them "personal" assistants and one buyers specialist.Two of the three are also licensed agents.
" I don't like to call them 'buyers agents' because that gets confused with the dual agency issue," Courtney says.

Some agents stay with one "right-hand" assistant, somewhere along the scale from gopher to a licensed-realtor clone of the agent. Others intentionally expand rapidly and develop very specialized PAs. John Eynon, a top producer with Watson Realty Corp. in Jacksonville, was forced to hire more PAs to deal with the added business generated as a result of hiring the first one. Eynon went from no PAs and 65-70 sales a year in 1990, to three PAs and 134 sales last year.

Kirk Kessel a broker/owner (and agent) in Melbourne, may be the extreme example. "I had an assistant from the time I started," Kessel said. "No one told me I wasn't supposed to do that. Since my second year I've been the top seller in my board of realtors."Kessel today has seven employees: a call coordinator, a listing coordinator, a pendings coordinator, a relocation specialist/office manager who also handles corporate relocations, a specialist in telemarketing, and two showing agents.

Hiring a PA can be traumatic for the agent accustomed to hands-on work. R.E. "Rick" Miller, with Smith & Associates in Tampa, says "I just don't like to delegate much workload. We have a lot of responsibility as licensees." Miller did finally hire a PA, then lost her, now admits to feeling a little frustrated, and will hire another when the opportunity presents itself. "I'm in limbo right now," Miller says.

" It's a scary thing to say o.k., you take over," says Nikki Ubaldini who, with husband Gary, operates a mini-company within the RE/MAX Mutual Realty office in Clearwater. "If you're scared (about hiring someone), start with one part-time. Get a feel for it. Learn to delegate. Give them some small duties, those things that are time-consuming but important to our business."

There were glitches, poor employees, even PAs who took the training and left to become competing realtors, but all the realtors we spoke to were pleased, overall, with their PA experience.

" I was tired of working seven days a week, 10 hours a day," said Fran Strawn, with Ann Cross Inc. Realtors in Winter Park. "I had been in real estate for fifteen years and I finally decided, three years ago, to start working smart."

Even then, Strawn looked for almost one year for the perfect PA. "She's wonderful. She does all the research, puts together my buyer's packages helps with open houses, writes all my ads. She keeps me focused on the things that need to be accomplished in any given day."

Gary and Nikki Ubaldini do their own ads, but agree with Strawn that having a PA is liberating.
" Family time is very important to me,' Nikki Ubaldini said. "But its also important to keep up the quality of service. This allows us to balance our time better."

" I put my emphasis on transaction processing because that's where the money is," says Courtney. "But I do have a licensed realtor to assist. I'm very comfortable handing her the transaction once we have a written contract and then she takes it through to closing for me. I go to the closing but she does it."

Client opinion of the personal assistant concept seems to be a non-issue. John Eynon says, "I tell the clients what the functions of each personal assistant are, and that if they need to talk to me I'll call them back. They get treated better, probably, by my assistants than they would if they talked to me."

" Clients expect what you tell them to expect," Courtney says. "Educate them to the fact that you're set up just like a doctor's office or a lawyer's office, with a staff of specialists. Do that, and that's what they will expect."

But there's another person in this equation: the broker. How do brokers feel abut PAs, and how do they feel about certain legal issues relating to their use by agents?
Courtney says, "The enlightened broker realizes that the person with the assistant will be able to produce more and so that will bring more money to the broker. So the enlightened broker is thrilled."

Bob Glaser, president of Tampa-based Smith & Associates likes PAs even though he feels they're superfluous in his office.

" We have in-house staff for all those functions, for all of the listings," Glaser says. "But top agents have PAs that work on other marketing things that just fall off the menu. Special caravans, or things of that nature that would not be the day-to day work for the office staff."
Nancy Hogan, with The Prudential Florida Realty in Miami, says, "I don't think they (top producers) would want to just turn over their file to an independent person who's providing the same service to everyone in the office. They want to do one step better, top provide a service that nobody else did."

" Liability is a big bugaboo," says Steve David at Century 21 Tri City Realty Inc., Ft. Lauderdale. "Offices are finding it's a case of the tail wagging the dog. They've got this big producer, and they'll do whatever it takes to make that producer succeed. In reality, there's a whole bunch of liability because the line is very narrow as to what is and isn't a licensed activity. From what I have seen there are PAs that violate that line every day of the week."

" It's a reality for us," says Michael Good, president of Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate Inc., West Central Florida office. "It's our job to make (PAs) a benefit for the brokerage. We encourage our top people to continue to develop their business through use of PA training and in selection."

Despite the problems that arise&emdash;and problems do sometimes arise&emdash;the bottom line is that PAs are here to stay, that top producers and those who intend to be top producers are going to use them, and that realtors who successfully use them will look back at the time when they didn't have a PA and wonder how they got by.

" I know how scary it is to have to hire one," says Nikki Ubaldini. "But you've got to do it if you want to increase your numbers&emdash;and have some sanity left."

— end —



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