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If you’ve never hired a virtual assistant for your real estate business—or if you haven’t found a VA that knows how real estate offices work—you’ve been waiting for this BAM interview

Stacy Sutter, the president and owner of Summit VA Solutions sat with BAM co-founder Byron Lazine for the first full-form interview he’s ever given. And among the many topics they discussed (more on that in a bit), he revealed how (and why) he started the company. 

Sutter launched Summit on April Fools Day 2018 with two assistants he’d worked with in previous businesses. And he had plenty to say about the value of skilled and knowledgeable virtual assistants and why he works exclusively with VAs from the Philippines. 

He also revealed—

  • His attitude toward clients who disrespect their VAs
  • The advantages and biggest challenge of running a 100% virtual business
  • How agents can and should prepare for upcoming changes—and how a skilled and motivated VA is the secret weapon for today’s agent of change

He and Lazine also discuss the housing market, specifically his take on whether we’re likely to experience another foreclosure boom in the near future. 

Read on for some of the highlights. Then make time to enjoy the full conversation

How Summit VA Solutions began with two ride-or-die VAs and $6,000

As Sutter describes it, he went from being the “HUD king of Houston” to an REO business owner before starting Summit VA Solutions. 

He started Summit with two assistants he’d worked with before—Bernadette Canero and Cecile Animas—who had long since proven their value and who then took on more prominent leadership roles. 

Lazine was one of Summit VA’s first clients, thanks to an experience had in Doug Edrington’s Chattanooga office. He also brought up how the large family culture factored into the dedication he’s seen in the VAs he’s worked with in his own businesses. 

Sutter has lived in Southeast Asia, so he understands the family concept behind his VAs’ work ethic.

To be very honest, I will fire a client before I let them be abusive to a VA. And the problem is that, you know there’s two types of people: there’s folks like you who recognize their skill and their ability and you appreciate that and you pay them well and you reward them for doing a great job…and then there are the people who think of them as poor, cheap, uneducated labor that lives in the third world. And the sad part is just because where they were born dictates how they’re treated. Even in Asia, Filipinos are kind of looked down upon, but in reality, they’re probably smarter than the people they’re working for…

Stacy Sutter

President and owner of Summit VA Solutions

Virtual vs back to the office

Lazine referenced the ongoing push among business leaders across the U.S. to get people back into the office. But Sutter is the only person on Summit’s staff that lives in the U.S. Everyone else is based in the Philippines.  

So, the question had to be asked: “What are the disadvantages of going fully virtual and not having everybody in the same place?” 

The biggest disadvantage is not being able to walk up to their desk, put your hand on their shoulder, and have a conversation with somebody. I think that’s probably one of the biggest problems that we all face since COVID: the lack of…being able to communicate person to person, face to face. I get around it. If I’m speaking with an employee or a staff member or VA, I make them get on Skype with me. I read body language. I don’t want to talk to you just over the phone.

Stacy Sutter

President and owner of Summit VA Solutions

One of the ways Sutter prioritizes daily communication with his teams is through daily virtual (Skype) meetings. It’s not the same as meeting in person, but at least it gives people on your team a chance to see each other’s faces and get a sense of how everyone is doing. 

My staff meetings are face-to-face once a week. My chief operations officer and I meet face to face every morning regardless of what’s going on for about 30 minutes. It’s that nterpersonal contact that is kind of weird and kind of hard to get over… I’ve had staff members on camera crying and really you just want to reach through the camera and just go, ‘Here go ahead and cry on my shoulder and we’ll make this right and we’ll get you taken care of and we’ll take care of your family or whatever the problem is.’ You can’t do that virtually…

Stacy Sutter

President and owner of Summit VA Solutions

The Challenges of Being Fully Virtual in Real Estate

Lazine asked Sutter if he believes too many real estate brokerages built on brick-and-mortar locations—and whether switching to virtual is inevitable, at least for some. 

I think probably there’s always going to be a place for brick and mortar offices….Most agents work out of their car, let’s be honest. I think the brick-and-mortar needs to be there so that you have a place that’s not Starbucks to meet your client. And I think…with the settlement, you’re going to see the level of professionalism go up in our industry. And when that happens you’re going to need a place to meet your clients. 

This whole, you know, we’ve got a building that’s got 300 agents sitting in a bunch of cubicles, I think those days are gone.

Stacy Sutter

President and owner of Summit VA Solutions

Reimagining the Real Estate Office Space: Virtual or Brick-and-Mortar

So, if massive real estate offices with communal hubs are on their way out, what does that mean for brick-and-mortar real estate spaces? Lazine asked Sutter how he envisions the future real estate office and its chief purpose. 

A series of small conference rooms [with] four or five offices for maybe top producers that actually want their own office space. But…most agents don’t need an office. You know, my experience working in a large brokerage with 300-plus agents in it is you spend a lot more time chit chatting and not being focused on what you’re supposed to be doing that day. You end up with a copy machine and three copies takes 20 minutes because you had to talk to everybody on the way back to your office.

Stacy Sutter

President and owner of Summit VA Solutions

Copy machines aren’t the only social hotspots in today’s large real estate office. And while there’s nothing wrong with agents connecting with each other at work, for many, the pull toward those social hubs can easily sabotage their productivity goals for the day. 

The big thing is having some type of open…whether you call it a bullpen or open, communal workspace, and that can lend to what you’re talking about where there’s more distraction in that central location of the office than there is productivity.

Byron Lazine

The future of real estate

So, what does all this mean for the industry in general?

First off, the average real estate agent is well over the age of 50… I’m 58 and…technology moves so quickly that even though I am in a very technical side of the industry, it’s already passed me by. And honestly at 58, I’m not in a position, nor do I want to be in a position where I have to go learn it. I’ll hire somebody to do it—which is where I see agents in my age category going. My average client is probably in their mid-to-late 30s, early 40s solo agents that understand they have to do all this stuff, and they just don’t have the time.

Stacy Sutter

President and owner of Summit VA Solutions

That’s where skilled and real estate-savvy virtual assistants come in. Both large teams and solo agents benefit from having these game-changers on their team. But solo agents in particular are at a serious disadvantage without one. 

We’re almost split 50/50 down the middle between really large teams and solo agents… That’s starting to shift a little bit more towards large teams, and I figure it’s probably going to shift that way more. But for that solo agent, they’ve got to find a way to be productive [and] still provide the service that everybody’s expecting because every time something new comes out, the big teams can jump on it, invest the money in it, hire somebody that knows it to do it. And the solo agent really doesn’t have that advantage. 

So that’s where I see them being able to hire a 26-year-old virtual assistant with a degree in Mass Communications to come in and run their videography, edit their video, post all of their stuff to social media. I think that’s really going to be the big turn between the declining numbers, the level of sophistication that’s coming to our industry, it’s important that they get that help. Otherwise, if they don’t compete, they’re not going to be in the game.

Stacy Sutter

President and owner of Summit VA Solutions

Watch the full BAM interview for (so much) more.