By Esther Muller

The Real Deal
December, 2004

Time for a quick quiz.

Question: What’s the difference between $2.8 million and $1.6 million?

Answer: A personal assistant.

According to the 2003 National Association of Realtors’ member profile, Realtors who don’t have a personal assistant had a median sales volume of $1.6 million in 2002. That’s compared with $2.8 million for Realtors who have at least one personal assistant.

Yet faced with this irrefutable fact, many brokers still shy away from hiring an assistant. Many defer because of the costs involved or the time it takes to hire and train an assistant.

Douglas Heddings, a vice president at Douglas Elliman and managing director of the Heddings Property Group, has embraced the assistant concept. He hired assistant Ervin Hechavarria in 2002 — “One of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” Heddings recalls. Since working with Hechavarria, Heddings has hired another assistant to help manage his burgeoning office.
“I could not have achieved this level of success so quickly by working as a solo practitioner,” he notes.

Because this is such an important topic and there’s so much information to share, I’m going to devote two columns to this subject. This article will focus on planning to hire an assistant.

The first item to consider is deciding whether or not you need an assistant.
“If you feel overwhelmed, are missing key deadlines, or are giving away referrals, then it’s time to get an assistant,” says Jeffrey Rothstein, an executive vice president and director of sales at Douglas Elliman. “Or, you simply want to take your business to the next level and you need another person to help you to achieve that goal.”

Finances are a consideration. According to Rothstein, who teaches continuing education classes on hiring assistants, you can offer a flat hourly fee between $15 to $20 or a base salary of $20,000. (Note: The latter depends on the assistant’s professional background and industry expertise.
It can go as high as $60,000.) As part of the wage package, you may also consider a percentage of your net commissions and/or a holiday bonus. And you can split 50-50 any referral business the assistant brings in.

Rothstein has additional advice: “The assistant should be employed through your brokerage firm as an independent contractor for tax purposes. Some organizations require that you pay for that person’s benefits, including health insurance.” If you decide to self-pay, talk with your office sales manager, accountant and attorney regarding taxes, state and local regulations and Social Security issues.

Next, outline the tasks you want your assistant to handle. Keep in mind that you will need to invest time to ensure that those responsibilities are handled according to your specifications and to industry requirements. “In the beginning, you’ll probably devote 100 percent of your time training your assistant,” says Rothstein. “That’s an enormous responsibility, but you need to build a successful foundation from the outset.”

Be prepared to delegate. “This is the biggest obstacle for most brokers,” says Eileen Spinola, senior vice president at the Real Estate Board of New York. “Don’t get an assistant if you are unwilling to cede some control.”

Stay tuned for next month’s column, which will cover the logistics involved in hiring and working with an assistant.

Ms. Muller is the master teacher at The Real Estate Academy.