Home Office How-To

By Christopher M. Leporini, REALTOR® Magazine

For most real estate professionals, the question isn’t whether to work from home, but how much time to spend working there. That said, a well-thought-out home office can shield you from home-based distractions and boost your productivity. Set Up Your Home Office in a Weekend, by Faithe Wempen (Prima Tech, 2000; $24.99) offers advice on how to put together an effective home office, whether you’re starting from scratch or looking to improve your current workspace to optimize your home-office hours.

This book breaks the process of putting together a home office into a series of short assignment, including selecting a workspace and outfitting it with the right furniture and equipment to support your business, among other tasks. Although the book encourages readers to work at their own pace, it’s premise revolves around squeezing your home-office project into a single weekend:

  • Friday night. Evaluate whether working at home is right for you, where your should locate your work space, and whether you’ll need professional help, such as a contractor, to accomplish your plan.
  • Saturday morning. Review the logistics of setting up your home office, including researching business permits and zoning, and choose ergonomically-sound furniture.
  • Saturday afternoon. Select computer equipment and develop a telecommunications plan for Internet, phone, and fax lines.
  • Sunday morning. Establish a business plan, design cards and stationery, and consider your marketing and advertising strategy. You can probably skip this section, which is geared toward helping neophyte entrepreneurs establish start-up home businesses.
  • Sunday afternoon. Review finance and record keeping issues, including potential home-office tax deductions and liability insurance.

The first three sections–which concentrate on planning the office’s layout and equipment–will prove most useful for real estate professionals. (The latter chapters’ advice on marketing and business planning is too general to prove useful for most salespeople.)

Preparation is essential to create a practical, affordable home office. “Saturday Morning: Setting Up your Office Space” introduces you to the components that make up a successful home office. For instance, you’ll need to make sure that you have adequate lighting and enough space to meet your needs. The book also advises that you consider the following questions:

  • Where should you locate your office? If you’re going to make cold calls from your office, make sure that you have a quiet, isolated area to work. A separate room, with a lock on the door, located at the end of your house might be appropriate to prevent interruptions. Conversely, if you need to keep your eye on your kids, you’ll need a more central location.
  • Will you need a place to meet clients? If so, the pathway that your visitors will take to get to your home office is an important consideration; a route that winds past dirty laundry baskets and discarded Barbie dolls doesn’t present a professional appearance. Also be sure your office has adequate space for seating for visitors and adequate storage to ensure a business-like, uncluttered appearance.
  • Are there enough electrical outlets? Make sure that you have enough electrical outlets for hardware such as PCs, scanners, printers, DSL modems, and fax machines.

The equipment that you use to furnish your office is equally important to your productivity, contends Wempen. The book doesn’t provide recommendations for specific models or brands, but does supply checklists, tables, and worksheets to assist you in making purchasing decisions. The author also suggests budget, mid-range, and expensive estimates for furnishings such as desks, chairs, and file cabinets and (in later chapters) for computer hardware such as PCs and printers.

“Saturday Evening: Your Connections to the World” concentrates on telecommunications, including Internet connections and phone lines. These technologies are crucial to communicating from your home office with customers and your brokerage. The book recommends that you set up a separate phone line for your home office. This ensures that customers are always greeted in a professional manner, rather than a quick “hi” from a family member. It also guards against “phone clog” generated by other family members tying up the line. The book also reviews phone features, such as multiple lines, speaker phones, and caller ID.

Another important decision will be your Internet connection speed. If you will only use the Internet to check e-mail and occasionally browse the Web, then a standard 56K analog modem and your current phone lines will probably meet your needs. On the other hand, if you send house photos to prospects and distribute your e-mail newsletter from your home office, an investment in a DSL or cable connection might be worthwhile.

Supplemental materials include two appendixes and a CD-ROM. The first appendix supplies online resources that might be valuable to business owners who work from home. The second summarizes the Schedule C tax form for sole business proprietors. The disk contains free software including anti-virus, scheduling, and accounting software.

For some salespeople, a kitchen table might provide an adequate home workspace. However, if you require something more elaborate, you’ll need to start with a plan. With Set Up Your Home Office in a Weekend, a functional workplace is only days away.

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This post was contributed exclusively for REALTOR® Magazine.

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