While you probably have stocked up on paper products, hand sanitizer, water and other supplies, have you planned how you will conduct your business if there is a quarantine due to the coronavirus (COVID-19)? If not, now is the time to start planning.
The real estate industry has already embraced conducting business virtually, whether it’s writing digital offers, using transaction tracking platforms or negotiating on Skype and Zoom. COVID-19 will probably hasten this process. Consequently, there’s no better time than now to completely embrace going virtual.
The benefits of going virtual
In 1997, I founded RealEstateCoach.com as a virtual company. Working virtually from a home office has created the following benefits:
- A huge reduction in operating overhead.
- A 60 percent reduction in vehicle expenses.
- By eliminating the commute to and from the office, a major reduction in stress plus more time for both my business and personal life.
- Since we only hire independent contractors (ICs) who have their own taxpayer ID number, LLC, corporation or are paid through Upwork, there is no need for tax withholding, health insurance and Workman’s Compensation. They are also responsible for providing their own tools and systems.
- By working virtually, we have access to the best talent nationally and internationally, rather than being limited to who is available locally.
How to set up your home office
An extra bedroom, a basement or even a dining room can make a great office. If you don’t have a separate room you can convert, consider using a portable room divider like the ones from Versare or a curtain divider like those from Zenfinit to divide your basement, dining room or even master bedroom to create a separate work area.
Under no circumstances, however, should you ever your work in bed. Failure to separate your work area from where you sleep creates a double whammy: sleepless nights and drowsiness during the day.
Best practices for working at home
- Get out of your pajamas or gym clothes so your body doesn’t feel like it’s a day off. Your brain associates work clothes with working.
- Before you sit down to work each day, grab your earbuds and listen to three to five minutes of music that makes you want to dance or snap your fingers. This creates a peak performance mindset by synchronizing the left and right hemispheres of your brain.
- Identify the top three things you need to accomplish today to hit your business goals. Accomplish those first.
- Identify your personal peak performance times (are you an early bird or a night owl?) Tackle your most difficult tasks during those times.
- Keep your personal work area clean and clear of distractions, even if you have to put everything in a box behind you. This makes it easier to stay focused.
- Schedule regular breaks where you walk away from your desk and move around. Better yet, tap into that music that syncs your brain.
- Whenever possible, schedule breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same time each day. Avoid working through your meals and never eat at your desk.
- Commit to having at least one real estate free day per week.
Virtual tools you will need, especially if there is a quarantine
Chances are you’re already using most of these tools, but if you, or your area, are quarantined, here are the must-haves:
- High speed internet to maximize your use of time.
- Digital signature platform.
- Digital versions of all documents required for the sale, preferably in a PDF.
- A digital marketing plan that includes social media.
- An upgraded Dropbox account to share photos, videos, virtual tours, plus transaction-related documents. (Google Drive is clunky, and no one knows whether Google tracks the data stored there.)
- A Zoom.us account for conducting video meetings, presentations, and staying in regular face-to-face contact with your clients, friends and relatives. Pay for the professional version.
- A tripod for your phone for shooting video and/or a laptop or iPad that has a quality camera. Since sound quality is the most important element in a video, use your earbuds or a professional microphone.
Managing your business from your home
If there is a quarantine in your area, here are some of the trickier problems you may encounter:
Video and computer renderings are not a substitute for seeing a property in person. If you are unable to show the property, you could ask the sellers to let the buyers in and give them a credit or gift card for handling that part of the selling process.
It’s common for multiple unit, tenant-occupied properties to be listed as “drive by only, subject to interior inspection.” The buyer views the interior of the property after the offer has been accepted. This minimizes the risk of exposure for everyone.
Delays with transactions
DocuSign and several other companies provide transaction tracking platforms that automate notifications and keep all parties to the transaction up-to-date remotely. Because everything is date stamped, these tools are also a tremendous risk management tool.
Ask your broker or association if they have drawn up language that addresses what happens if one of the parties is unable to complete the transaction due to COVID-19.
A secondary issue is whether the inspectors, appraisers, or mortgage, title and/or escrow officers are unable to complete their part of the transaction in a timely fashion.
No matter what, discuss these potential issues with your clients plus any other service provider that you use to close the transaction. Create a contingency plan whenever possible.
Have your clients designate a power of attorney
For any client who places a property under contract, suggest that they designate a power of attorney. This increases the probability that the transaction will close on time, even if you have to extend the possession date and negotiate a leaseback due to COVID-19. A brokerage in San Francisco had to add a coronavirus contingency clause to a contract to keep a sale on track.
Make sure the house is deep cleaned before buyers take possession
Even if the sellers haven’t been ill, the house should be cleaned with bleach, anti-bacterial wipes and the carpets steam-cleaned prior to the buyers moving in.
Let’s hope that COVID-19 burns itself out by summertime. If not, the entire industry is about to take a giant leap towards becoming more virtual during the next 12-18 months as COVID-19 runs its course.
Bernice Ross, President and CEO of BrokerageUP and RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, author and trainer with over 1,000 published articles. Learn about her broker/manager training programs designed for women, by women, at BrokerageUp.com and her new agent sales training at RealEstateCoach.com/newagent.