As the novel coronavirus spreads and business-as-usual slows or screeches to a halt in many areas, communication between real estate agents and clients is more crucial than ever.

The biggest mistake agents and brokers can make right now? Not using this time to shine as trusted real estate advisers by crafting responsible, thoughtful, factual and compassionate messaging.

Our responses as individuals and brokerages will define us for the rest of our working lives. It’s going to be brutal, but if we continue to point to the true north that is our unwavering commitment to our clients, we will emerge better than we were before.

“The last thing you want to do in a crisis is put blinders on and ignore the big purple polka-dotted elephant in the room,” Theresa Maloney, president of Silicon Valley-based Cogenta Communications, recently said.

“Not hearing anything from you is worse. Then people start making up their own narratives,” added Maloney, who has more than 25 years of experience with crisis communications during several market swings.

Some agents might assume their audience, exhausted by our 24/7 news cycle, doesn’t want or need to hear from them.

But they’d be wrong.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, where we’ve been under shelter-in-place orders since March 16, our brokerage’s first email, blog post and social media messages related to the effects of COVID-19 on our market logged our highest click-through rate ever — over 50 percent.

People are feeling isolated, anxious and hungry for communications as the pandemic shakes up our economy.

Like everything in life, there’s a right way and a wrong way

Whether you connect with your sphere of influence via emails, social media posts, videos, print — or all of the above — you are obligated to share assurances and information in the most thoughtful way possible.

“This has to be a priority,” said Abio Properties Associate Broker Elisabeth Watson, who took the lead on preparing our communications.

For us, ensuring that our first messages included the best information and tone — personal yet authoritative — wasn’t easy, especially when news about interest rates, financial markets, and the wisdom of holding open houses changed at least three times on the day we planned to push out our communication.

We started by forming a leadership council of experienced agents and brokers to strategize, check and double-check our messaging.

And then we followed these guidelines:

1. Utilize the 3 Cs of crisis communications

  • Compassion: Acknowledge that we’re all in this together and experiencing the same impacts, uncertainty and new reality that’s changing by the day.
  • Confidence: Communicate in a voice that conveys your personality as well as confidence that you are doing everything in your power to provide accurate information.
  • Competency: Along with providing assurances, give facts you can back up. Don’t over-reach and pretend you have all the answers if you don’t (and you probably don’t).

Brokerages and agents who communicate quickly and often, even if they don’t have all the answers right away, will make a lasting impression on their clients, advised Mary Tindall, a Florida-based brand strategist experienced in crisis communications.

“Make it about your clients, not about you,” Tindall said. “Focus less on ‘our official response to this circumstance’ and more on meeting their needs with clarity and empathy.”

2. Don’t assume you have nothing to add to the conversation

Some agents assume their SOI has “email fatigue” after being flooded with communications about the virus. You know it’s overload when you receive COVID-19 messages from every single business you ever set foot in. Even Lululemon.

But from our recent experience with high open rates and clicks, we know clients are eager for specific real estate information.

3. Get your facts straight

It’s your job is to stay up-to-date with your market’s MLS statistics, interest rates, and financial market trends so you can answer your clients’ most pressing questions.

To keep informed as broker-owners, we are sitting in on Zoom conferences with industry leaders discussing the real estate market, bond market and interest rates and then sharing that info with our agents.

We are also constantly in touch with agents so we know which mortgage brokers, title, permitting offices, etc., remain in operation. We are asking agents to share what they know — everything from virtual tools that work to mortgage loan and refinancing delays.

Stay tight with your brokerage community; this isn’t the time for shady competition that flouts shelter-in-place orders and endangers public safety in pursuit of a commission. We, for example, joined with many Bay Area brokerages to set clear guidelines, including no in-person showings and not letting appraisers, inspectors, photographers, etc., into a property in person, even if the property is vacant.

When you share this pertinent info with your SOI, include links to reputable websites so readers can take a deeper dive if they want.

4. Be personal

Social distancing does not apply to virtual communications! Your tone should be warm. Bring your personality. Readers will gloss over dry copy.

We love how agents and brokerage are letting their personalities shine through by ending their messages with an uplifting or funny (but not irreverent) “We’re all in this together” quote, meme or video.

Now more than ever, people need to know they are in your thoughts.

5. Be brief

You don’t need a preamble that explains everything that’s happening in the world. Get to the point. In fact, get to the bullet points, which are easier to digest than long paragraphs. The question-and-answer format also works well, too.

6. Write a relevant email subject line

How many emails have you received recently with the subject line “COVID-19 update” or “A letter from (fill-in-the-blank company name)”? And how many of those did you open?

Want more engagement? Be specific with your subject lines and headlines. Make it clear you have important information or can fulfill a need.

We like subject lines that ask a question, like this: “Buy, Sell or Wait? COVID-19 and Bay Area Real Estate.”

7. Include next steps

All good crisis communications include a “What’s next?” section. (A great example is this update from North Berkeley Wealth Management.) Share your next steps and calls-to-action (CTAs):

  • How often you will send updates. (We are planning weekly emails and blog updates, plus daily social media messages that vary between informative and light-hearted entertainment about our shelter-in-place, work-from-home lifestyles and BINGO.)
  • Assurances that you can move fast as circumstances change.
  • Assurances that this situation won’t last forever, and when normal everyday living resumes, you are ready to move swiftly on behalf of clients.
  • If you’ve worked through market swings in the past, such as the 2008 housing crisis, invite readers to chat with you about how you helped clients weather a storm.
  • Suggestions about what clients can do in the meantime: home improvement projects, DIY projects, decluttering, getting financial documents in order, etc. Repurpose your content.

The difference between crafting a good communication and a bad one is like the difference between hiring a good home stager (and scoring above-asking bids) and not staging at all (and watching a property languish on the market).

Your legacy when this is over could sustain your business for decades and drive your survival.

Linnette Edwards and Cameron Platt are co-founders of Abio Properties, a boutique real estate brokerage launched in 2016 in the San Francisco Bay Area. They are passionate about building an indie agency that embraces a culture of transparency, collaboration, innovation, fun, and family. Linnette is a top 1% producer and broker associate with nearly 20 years in the industry. Cameron is a “recovering” attorney and broker with more than 17 years of experience managing agents and running a top-producing team.

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