Our world is living in an unprecedented time. I don’t think anyone could’ve imagined what our country and the rest of the globe is experiencing with the spread of the COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus.
Schools, businesses, restaurants, bars, places of worship and other gathering places have closed indefinitely due to the spread of the virus. Travel restrictions are forcing many Americans to scrap travel over the next couple of months. I just canceled my upcoming vacation to the United Kingdom as a result of the prohibitions on air travel to and from the United States.
People are flocking to many retailers searching for toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Some of the behavior of shoppers at grocery stores and large-box retailers is just downright outrageous. They’re scooping in to buy up any inventory on the shelves of these “must-have” items. Not to mention, I don’t even want to look at my 401(k) investment account balance, as the stock market has been plunging to levels we haven’t seen in years.
As we move through this season of uncertainty, agents and managing brokers need to consider how to best manage their businesses and clients in the weeks and months ahead. Over the past few days, I decided to quickly write down my thoughts on the outbreak and its impact on real estate professionals — especially those who read my column. Here are some simple ideas to consider:
1. Don’t panic, and remain calm
Keeping a sense of peace and calmness in your life is critical right now. The amount of information conveyed to us by the easily accessible 24/7 news cycle is overwhelming. The instantaneous communication of information on smartphones, laptops and tablets fuels the stress and anxiety many people are feeling right now.
I would encourage everyone to limit time spent on the internet and cable news sites. Stay informed, and keep abreast of information presented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other governmental agencies, but limit the amount of time listening to all the so-called “experts” giving their opinions and advice on the virus. Remain objective as you see and hear the information and advice that’s thrown at you.
2. Continue to work, and maintain a sense of normalcy
It’s critical to your business and your own sanity to continue working during this virus outbreak. Even though you might need to limit direct physical contact with prospects and clients, there’s still work you can accomplish.
Please communicate with your current clients to answer any questions they may have. Moreover, reassure them that you’re working on selling their homes or searching for properties that will best fit their needs. Don’t stop marketing your current listings as many people need to find a home due to planned downsizing, job relocation or other circumstances.
If you have closings scheduled, make sure everything is coming together so that your sellers and buyers can reach the “finish line” of their transaction. Clients will expect agents to continue to represent them and their interests even during difficult times.
3. Don’t stop prospecting and marketing your business
Depending on how long the coronavirus stays around, the real estate market throughout the U.S. is more than likely to slow down. Certain areas of the country will be impacted more than others, but we’ll all probably see a reduction of activity.
In the past, when the real estate market was in a slow period, I increased my prospecting and marketing efforts. One idea to consider is taking time to call your sphere of influence and other prospects to see if they’re faring well during this present health crisis. Your call should not center on you and your real estate business, but on them and your concern for their welfare.
When the time comes in the future for them, or someone they know needing your services, they will remember the conversation. They’ll know you care simply because you took the time to reach out to them. After the call, send a handwritten note as a follow-up to express how much you enjoyed chatting with them.
4. Stay informed on your local real estate market
You must remain knowledgeable of what’s happening with property listings and sales in your particular geographic area. Clients and prospects will ask you questions in the days and weeks ahead about how the market is handling the impact of the COVID-19 virus. I believe agents who know the current condition of their market are the first ones people will turn to when they need real estate services.
5. Be encouraged — ‘this, too, will pass’
The coronavirus will run its course — hopefully, sooner rather than later. When it does, I predict agents will be busier than ever. I’m confident there will be a large number of buyers and sellers who are patiently waiting for this pandemic to pass before they purchase or sell a property.
People must have places to live, and they need professionals to shepherd them through the process. If history has taught us a lesson (9/11 and the Great Recession), real estate always bounces back, as it’s one of the consistent fundamentals in our national economy. You need to be ready!
6. Stay healthy
It goes without saying that if you’re ill, you can’t work. Follow the necessary CDC precautions by avoiding large gatherings, physical contact with others and regularly washing your hands after touching surfaces. Good common sense should be considered when it comes to staying healthy.
1. Like agents, brokers need to maintain a sense of normalcy in their office
There is no question, real estate firms will feel the effect of the coronavirus on their business. Still, operations must continue to support the production agents are contributing to the company’s bottom line. Transactions scheduled to close in the coming weeks will continue, and agents will expect to receive their commission checks from their broker.
At our company, we still see a good amount of sales activity, even with the various restrictions imposed in our market area. Agents will continue to need answers from their broker on a wide-array of questions and issues. They’ll need the brokerage office to meet with clients, make copies, scan documents and more.
2. Stay in touch with your agents
One of the fundamentals of good brokerage management is the consistent engagement between the broker and the agents in the office. Staying in front of agents is more important now than ever. I would encourage every managing broker reading this column to call each agent on their office roster to see how they’re doing and if the virus is impacting them.
Showing concern for agents during a difficult time is one way to help in long-term retention efforts. Utilize voice, email and text to communicate with everyone under your broker’s license.
3. Move office meetings or training events to an online platform
One of the ways to keep the COVID-19 virus from spreading is by “social distancing.” The CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) are promoting the idea of increased physical space between individuals as a way to stop or slow down the spread of this highly contagious disease.
Brokers should consider temporarily moving meetings with their agents to an online platform such as Facebook Live, YouTube Live, GoToWebinar or Zoom. These are inexpensive, easy-to-use programs that can provide brokers a way to deliver training and present valuable information to agents without getting out and risking possible infection. Let agents know this is temporary, and live office meetings will resume once the risk of infection is over.
4. Keep your agents and staff encouraged
As I previously noted, the COVID-19 virus will most likely dissipate in a few months. Managing brokers need to remain optimistic and upbeat. The broker sets the tone for the office, and it’s critical to staff and agent morale, as well as and the production of the office.
Reinforcing the fact the office team will “weather the storm” and soon return to normal operations will encourage everyone. Conversations in the office should not center on the latest news about the coronavirus, but on what’s happening in the local and national real estate market or latest trends in the industry. Keep the discussion focused on real estate and on non-health-related topics!
5. Double-up on cleanliness within the office
If there is a benefit we will acquire from the coronavirus, it’s that we all are washing our hands quite a bit more and keeping both our office and homes cleaner! Agents, clients and employees are expecting businesses to enact cleaning and disinfectant standards as the country battles the virus.
Your entire office should be thoroughly cleaned at least twice a week (if not more frequently), and all public areas in the office should be disinfected at the end of each workday. You should place hand sanitizer bottles throughout your office. The CDC provides specific instructions on how to clean and disinfect surfaces we touch, as well as the recommended frequency of cleaning. Go to the CDC’s website for additional information.
6. Watch your balance sheet and cash flow
Any business that wants to remain in operation must know where it stands financially. Numerous real estate firms have spent a considerable amount of money over the past several years on office expansions, software and technology upgrades, improved printers and copiers, furnishings, and other equipment.
Now is the time to improve the monitoring of the firm’s income and expenses. Forecast your cash flow for the next 30 to 60 days, so you have an idea of what is “coming in” and what is “going out.”
The company payroll should be your No. 1 priority, followed by building lease or mortgage payments, utilities and needed expenses for the operation of the office. Wait on big-ticket items such as copiers, computers, printers, furniture, office space and additional staffing until the economy improves.
7. You need to remain healthy, too
Like agents, managing brokers need to safeguard against infection of the COVID-19 virus. Follow the same guidelines I noted for agents. Your agents need for you to be well and available so you can be there for them when they need you!
I have no idea what the days and weeks ahead will bring for those of us who make a living selling and managing real estate. However, I do know that with adequate planning and preparation, we can get through any challenge the coronavirus throws at us.
Take the time now to ensure your business prepares for any disruption and inactivity it might face soon. If you know what’s coming and how to handle it, you’ll be better equipped to survive a crisis. Remember to use common sense in all of your decision making.
John Giffen is Director of Broker Operations for Benchmark Realty, LLC in Franklin, Tennessee. He is the author of “Do You Have a Minute? An Award-Winning Real Estate Managing Broker Reveals Keys for Industry Success.”