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Starting Soldera

by: Vern Uyetake, The boardroom at Soldera Properties includes a large flat screen TV with Internet access, which Patrick Krause demonstrates.

At any Weston, Four Seasons or Hilton resort a business center with Internet access, a photo copier and fax machine helps travelers stay ahead of the game.

With exciting things happening all around, these professionals need a place where they can get work completed quickly and efficiently.

Work hard. Play harder, right?

Several rooms within Soldera Properties' downtown Lake Oswego office resemble the hallmark hotel business center - organized, with cutting-edge equipment and complimentary beverages for all.

Started on St. Patrick's Day, the new real estate company has been lucky, already gaining notoriety for their vivid signs of Tuscan yellow and orange in front of houses for sale all around town.

But it is what's inside the company that has its five owners beaming with enthusiasm.

'Soldera means to bring together from the root word 'solder.' And we also like the fact that the word 'sold' is going to be on every one of our signs no matter what,' said Patrick Krause, president and principal broker with the company.

Started by five local real estate professionals - Krause, Debbie Todd, Claude and Maureen Bonfiglio and Joe Fustolo - the partners are all part owners of the company founded upon the importance of adapting to the changing real estate market, which not only includes house trends but also Realtor trends.

Todd said that more and more Realtors are working from home but desire first rate tools and a beautiful, professional place to bring clients.

'With this concept in mind,' Todd said, 'we have created a program for those agents that want office suites and those that prefer to practice as virtual agents but desire their own boardroom, first rate presentation electronics, separate computer rooms and privacy when they do come in to work in the office.'

Maureen Bonfiglio said that she's worked with first time home buyers, those wishing to downsize and families needing more space over the past few months.

And with Soldera's hundred current listings in the metro area, she said that over the past few months their distinctive signs have gotten many compliments.

'Our signs just popped up like flowers blooming in the spring,' Maureen Bonfiglio said. 'Boom. There was Soldera.'

The virtual Realtor

Soldera's physical building - at 201 B. Ave. Suite 290 in Lake Oswego, above Umpqua Bank - accommodates its 13 licensed real estate agents, but not everyone gets their own office. And that was the point.

'We found that after doing a significant amount of research that the industry is working towards a virtual Realtor - a person who doesn't always come into the office,' Krause said.

Fustolo said that Soldera Realtors can choose to work from home or in the office and still have access to a portion of the office with many public and private work stations.

'With a stylish, progressive office environment, we offer innovative presentations on flat screen TVs, Internet phone systems (and) an integrated email exchange system,' said Fustolo.

Soldera's office space is split into two areas - one, a portion for private offices and the posh waiting room and the other, a separate common suite.

Here, agents can use any of the three computer work stations hooked up to an industry printer, make private telephone calls or conduct a meeting in the boardroom.

'This is where we have all our staff meetings,' Krause said of the boardroom. 'When a client says, 'show me what a virtual tour (of a home) looks like' I can pull it up on the (television) monitor.'

A large flat screen monitor is operated from a wireless keyboard and mouse in the boardroom. Krause said it's convenient for pulling up listings and tours of homes to show clients before they take to the streets in search of a home.

The kitchen next door, Krause said, is for everyone.

'When customers and clients come here they can select the beverage of their choice, anything from bottled water to an array of fine wines,' Krause said.

He continued, 'We want to make this an environment so they're comfortable when they buy a home. It's looking for a home almost in a home-type environment.'

Spare the fees

All the decorating throughout the office - plush leather couches and chairs, oversized abstract paintings, hints of marigold and vivid red - gives personality to the space.

Agents can be comfortable in this home environment because their fees are lower than at other real estate firms, Krause said.

At a typical real estate office where each agent has their own desk, agents pay their employing brokers a desk fee, even if they're often away from their desk.

'It's like these offices are sitting empty but these agents are paying $20,000 to $30,000 (a year) for their desk fee. We're trying to provide ways to provide (for our Realtors' business) but also cut the overhead,' Krause explained.

Krause said fees at Soldera are kept to a minimum and Realtors don't have to pay franchise fees - the percentage charged to each agent off the top of each commission to their franchisee brokerages.

The fee comes off of the commission before the broker receives it and splits it with the other agent involved in the transaction.

The current market makes it very difficult for agents to afford the high desk fees and franchise fees that many brokers charge. Empowering agents rather than growing the brand and power of the broker is the emphasis at Soldera.

'Our fees are nothing like that which you compare to anyone else,' Claude Bonfiglio said. 'We eliminated all the nickel and diming. It's our draw.'

Another draw could be that the agents hope to work towards a paperless office environment by sending messages to clients via email, printing only pages that need signing by clients and keeping purchasing forms online.

Krause said that he and his partners started Soldera to fill a niche in the market.

'There is not necessarily a right way, but for us, (we) felt like the model out there was outdated,' Krause said referring to offices filled with cubicles that are often empty. 'There's a real opportunity here to cater a company to how Realtors actually work.'

By getting agents out into the field with the proper technology, he said, they are able to meet clients.

'Buyers and sellers are not in the office,' Krause said. 'You have to get out there.'

Krause said he's happy the company is starting small and hopes to stay small.

'Our goal is to surround ourselves with top notch Realtors who are also great people, not just high volume producers,' Krause said.

He continued, 'The way our fee structure is set up, we don't automatically take a portion of a Realtor's production. Once that dynamic is established, the firm's business relationship with the Realtors working here is changed in a way that we feel is very positive and more productive.'

All owners agreed that they want Soldera to remain boutique in size.

'I think we fit really well here,' Claude Bonfiglio said of the company's size and location with the First Addition neighborhood. 'We just want to be better and more effective owners as we grow to be a company that is sensitive to the agents.'

The Bonfiglios said that each of the partners have different officer positions, which rotate each year. As of now, Maureen Bonfiglio and Fustolo are the vice presidents, Claude Bonfiglio is the secretary, Krause is the president and Todd is the treasurer.

'(This) simply means nothing accept signing checks,' Todd said, 'and I have signed a lot of them.'

Todd said that over her 20 years in real estate she has learned to prefer working in a smaller, more intimate environment that she says is geared to the success of the agents and their clients.

'I had the opportunity to work with some fabulous agents, and when I got to know the partners that I currently work with, we all had the same philosophy about supporting our agents - working with ethical, morally charged individuals,' Todd said. 'We don't want to be big, just the best.'

For more information, visit the Web site at http://www.solderaproperties.com/.