We all know real estate companies assist consumers in buying and selling houses. However, many people are unaware that real estate firms can also serve as a resource to businesses in the relocation of employees - at no cost to the company.

The advantages of seeking a real estate firm to help with relocation are many. Small-business owners, in particular, may lack the resources necessary to seek and place the employee they are looking for.A real estate firm takes the burden off the business owner by introducing a city and its amenities, such as cultural events, recreational activities, quality of life, to a prospective employee who is considering a move. How does it work?

Larger real estate firms typically offer area tours and relocation packets including maps and magazines about what to do and see, and information about schools, the community, cost of living and the general area.

As part of a relocation program, a real estate brokerage also has the resources to help a business locate rental properties and homes for prospective employees. Needs and preferences (geographical area, price range, etc.) are assessed by a counselor and an agent most suited to that criteria is selected.

At a real estate firm that actually has a relocation department - usually larger firms - a relocation counselor serves as the liaison between a transferee and real estate agent. The agent can send market information on housing, if the transferee requests, and can also schedule a home tour. The agent can also select communities and homes to tour based on needs and preferences of the transferee and advises him or her of the positives and negatives.

Once a company decides to hire an employee and the employee agrees to relocate from another part of the country, a real estate firm can continue to provide the company with a number of services that benefit both parties.

One service is to develop a market analysis that helps the employee assess what it will take to get his or her current home in selling condition. Included as part of a premarketing plan, a market analysis is one of the hottest trends in the nation.

Helping a transferee sell his or her house quickly saves a company money because the new hire is on the job sooner rather than later. The benefits to the employees are obvious - a less stressful move resulting in a quicker return to productivity.

A real estate firm may also have the resources to serve as an in-house mortgage brokerage as part of a relocation service. A person transferring from Utah can prequalify for a loan in Salt Lake, for example, and close anywhere in the country if the lender is approved there. Prequalifying also puts the transferee in the driver's seat, so to speak, with regard to negotiating because he or she has already qualified for a loan.

A real estate company can also manage a transferee's property - taking care of the yard, paying utilities, and such - should it not sell before he/she needs to relocate. If the firm is the listing brokerage for the property, there usually is no charge for this service except for maintenance and utility bills.

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Before selecting a real estate firm to assist with relocation, an important consideration is whether or not it is affiliated with a national relocation company, particularly one that is reputable and well-established. The advantage of a national affiliation is that it provides a Realtor with a solid network of real estate professionals across the country. This, in turn, translates to an excellent buyer base for a transferee.

Some real estate firms that offer a relocation service are affiliated with a national relocation company; some are franchised - most are not. PHH Homequity is the oldest and largest relocation company with approximately 40 percent of the market and a network of 450 brokers and 55,000 agents. Other large firms are Coldwell with approximately 20 percent of the relocation market and 44,000agents, and Prudential with approximately 18 percent market share and 30,000 agents in its broker network.

It's important for a small-business owner to establish up front the relocation benefits it is willing to provide to a prospective employee. Ask yourself this question: "What am I willing to pay for?" Moving costs can range anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000, depending on distance. Other considerations include whether to pay for the closing costs on a transferee's new home and/or whether to provide a purchase guarantee on the transferee's existing home. Experienced relocation professionals can help a business define and establish its relocation policy.

Dave Mansell is vice president and managing broker for Mansell & Associates, Utah's largest independent residential real estate company and the exclusive broker for PHH Homequity in Utah. He has served as a member of the organization's national Homequity Principals Advisory Council.)

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