One of the things I love about the real estate business is its perpetuity. Even during down times, there are always properties being bought and sold, and there are always people who are in the market. Business may slow down or change, but it rarely stops.
The current fear surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic — and the vast number of interruptions it’s bringing into the personal and professional lives of people around the country — points to the need for brokers and owners to create continuity plans. With a plan in place, they can keep business running and provide client services even under the most difficult circumstances.
Creating a continuity plan
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is waiting to respond to crises after they occur. For many brokers, the current situation — with self-quarantines, containment zones and financial volatility — was almost unimaginable even a month ago.
To make your business disruption-proof, it’s important for you to dig deep and begin imagining a variety of scenarios. We live in a complicated world, and more and more, we’re experiencing extreme events, weather and illnesses. Instead of hoping for the best, you owe it to yourself, your staff and your clients to prepare for the worst.
How do you create a continuity plan when you’re not sure what you’re preparing for?
Create a contingency team
Although your team will no doubt be composed primarily of senior staff, you might need to bring in additional insights from consultants, legal and financial experts, and affiliated professionals like lenders and title companies.
Even though you oversee the big-picture operations for your company, there will be logistical details that you overlook. By bringing in additional voices and perspectives, you’ll ensure a more coherent, comprehensive planning process.
Determine essential services
How will you deal with scheduled closings? How will you effectively market properties? Which members of your brokerage should be in the office, and which should be working from home? Decide ahead of time who needs to be on-site and who can collaborate remotely.
Find out what you’re missing
Once you have determined what your plan will be, find out what resources you need to provide to ensure it’s workable. Conduct a gap analysis — a study of how far you are from being able to implement your plan — and begin to fill in the missing pieces. This might involve training, equipment, communications tools and other strategies to ensure that you’re ready for the unexpected.
Create recovery procedures
Once it’s time to get back to business, how will you help people in your brokerage recover? What can you do about transportation challenges, property and equipment damage and market changes? How will you help clients deal with damage to their listings? How will you create resources for your valued staff and agents?
Revisit and improve often
Once you have a plan in place, you’re only at the starting block. From there, you need to continue to revisit and refine your plan, ensuring that it’s responsive and up-to-date. Every new crisis — whether in your local market or elsewhere — is an opportunity for you to learn from others and improve your planning.
Communication is key
The most important thing you can do, now and throughout the days ahead, is to communicate. There are so many stakeholders involved in your brokerage business — reach out to each one.
Whether you’re educating current clients about market changes and transaction management, implementing new processes for your agents and employees, or coordinating with lenders and settlement agents to facilitate current transactions — detailed, proactive communication is essential.
What can you do right now?
Here are some of the things you can put in place right now to prepare for the days ahead.
- Review NAR’s guidelines to develop your brokerage’s best practices regarding client interaction, open houses and office processes. Clearly communicate with agents and clients about the specific processes you are implementing to limit transmission and to keep everyone healthy, both at work and in your brokerage’s listings.
- If you haven’t already implemented a virtual meeting platform at your brokerage, it’s time to do so. Ensure that everyone knows how to use its features, including screen-sharing and video.
- Create an environment that encourages honesty and openness, including the ability for agents to find backup, if needed, when they’re feeling less than a 100 percent. Implement a buddy system so that no one ever feels pressured to keep an appointment or show a house when they are experiencing symptoms of illness.
Finally, remember to listen to local and state authorities and follow their recommended guidelines. Emulate the qualities you want to see in your agents and staff — being calm, responsive and prepared — and provide the resources they need to do their jobs, no matter what tomorrow brings.