1. Ownership of a Broker’s Office
Only real estate brokers can own and maintain a real estate office in Florida. A broker is someone with a minimum of two years real estate sales experience, who has completed advanced coursework, and passed the 72 Hour Broker Pre License Course, as well as the state exam, to become a licensed real estate broker. Florida’s real estate law prohibits real estate salespeople, or licensed sales associates, from office ownership. Real estate sales associates work from the broker’s office, where they are registered, under the employ and guidance of the managing broker.
There is a multitude of factors brokers must consider when opening an office. Location is a very important factor, and the broker needs to consider if the office is located close to target customers. He or she must also consider their office’s proximity to other competing brokerages. A well-located office will also provide customers with adequate parking, and be located in an area, or street, that it can be easily viewed by passing customers. On starting a brokerage business, the licensed broker could be working on their own, or with a small team of associates. When renting or purchasing office space, the broker must also consider the growth of their brokerage firm, when employing more associates, and whether the office will meet the needs of a growing sales team. Once a broker has decided on the location of their office, and other necessary factors, they must then meet the legal requirements, in order to legally operate a brokerage.
2. Attributes of the Broker’s Principal Office and Branch Offices
It is important for sales and broker associates, as well as licensed brokers, to understand the legal requirements, formation, and operations, that a broker must adhere to, in order to set up his or her own brokerage. Sales associates will be educated on the basics of brokers office requirements, within the 63 Sales Associate Pre License Course, and tested on their knowledge of the subject when sitting their state exam for licensure.
A broker may operate more than one office, with the main office, registered as the principal office, and other offices registered as branch offices.
Florida Statute sets out the legal requirements, that brokers must follow when setting up, and maintaining a brokerage.
All brokers’ offices must be registered with the DBPR, by submitting an application and paying the applicable fee. At least one member of the brokerage firm must be a licensed broker. The real estate office must have at least one enclosed room and be located in a stationary building. The office must have space to conduct real estate closings and transactions in private. In order to comply with Florida regulations, the broker is required to keep any real estate files and records in the office. This ensures that all documents are readily available for inspection by the real estate governing authority. An exception to the office’s location is that it may be in a broker’s home if local zoning permits it and if the broker displays a proper sign.
In the event that a broker wishes to conduct business from an alternative office location, other than that of his or her principal office, then the alternative office will be required to be registered, as the broker’s branch office. A broker may have multiple branch offices, as long as each branch office is registered with the DBPR, and the appropriate fee is paid. All branch offices must also have their registration renewed every two years. Sales associates registered under the employ of the brokerage, are then permitted to work across the broker’s principal office and registered branch offices.
Temporary shelters, in use by a broker’s sales associates, may, or may not be considered as a branch office, depending on the tasks carried out, and the duration of the use of the shelter. For example, a temporary shelter will not be classed as a branch office, if the purpose for the shelter, is to provide protection for sales associates and customers, on a construction site. This could include a construction trailer, located on a subdivision.
3. Brokerage Sign Requirements
Every broker is required to maintain a sign on or about the entrance of the principal office and each branch office. Signs must be positioned to be easily seen by any person about to enter the office. Each sign is required to be posted on either the exterior or the interior entrance area of the office (Section 475.22, F.S.). Each office entrance sign must contain the name of the broker as registered with the FREC, as well as the trade name if any. For a partnership or corporation, the sign must include the name of the firm or corporation or trade name of the firm or corporation, together with the name of at least one of the brokers. In addition, each sign must at least display the words “Licensed Real Estate Broker” or “Lic. Real Estate Broker.” (No other abbreviations are allowed.) With the passage of the changes to Section 475.22, F.S., effective July 1, 2003, there is no longer a minimum size requirement for the letters in the sign. If the broker maintains a registered office in his or her residence, the office entrance sign is not required to be posted on the front door or outside the home. The sign may be posted on the exterior of the door to the actual office.
If an employing broker, wishes to include a sales associate or broker associate on their brokerage sign, they must not include their name next to that of the licensed broker. The associates’ name must be separate, and clearly, state their license type
4. Accessibility – Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
A brokerage office, by law, is considered public accommodation, and a commercial facility, therefore the location of a real estate office must comply with any federal and state laws, regarding physical and mental handicapped accessibility. Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) governs Florida real estate office accessibility. Brokers should be aware of these laws when opening a brokerage office and may consult a local inspection department, or consultant, to inspect the property, to ensure they are compliant with the law. The Americans with Disabilities Act also applies to brokers with registered home offices. The office must have a minimum amount of clearly marked handicapped parking spaces. The law requires a ramp for wheelchairs and rooms inside the office big enough to accommodate the wheelchairs. Any work or renovation to a real estate office must comply with ADA guidelines. A broker setting up their office should consider all of these factors when choosing a location.
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