Adam Contos, CEO of RE/MAX, sits down with Inman to discuss how he’s leading one of the nation’s largest franchisors in a time of uncertainty.

As global markets slow and the real estate industry grinds to a halt, real estate companies are taking decisive action to support their tens of thousands of agents.

RE/MAX, under CEO Adam Contos, is allowing brokers to defer franchise fees, giving agents free access to the company’s newest lead nurturing tool and plans to roll out other education tools for agents.

It’s a time of uncertainty in the industry, due to the rising spread of the coronavirus, and global markets suffering. That makes it a time where leadership is even more important. Contos spoke with Inman Thursday about how he’s leading his company in such an uncertain time.

Adam Contos speaks at Inman Connect New York in January 2020. | Photo credit: AJ Canaria of PlanOmatic/Inside Real Estate

RE/MAX, like a lot of franchise businesses, has a unique setup: You’re the leader of this big company, but there are also a lot of leaders within RE/MAX in terms of brokerage and franchise owners. What is some of the guidance you’re giving other RE/MAX leaders right now to share with their teams?

Leaders follow leaders. They don’t necessarily listen to what they’re told. They follow what they see. That’s really important fundamentally in this day and age, because leaders have to be present, they have to be in communication and they have to be providing a sense of mental leadership, as well as a functional direction of items to consider doing.

First of all, leaders who are hiding right now are not leading, and realistically they should not call themselves leaders — they’re just participants in society at this point. Leaders, make sure that you’re present because people need to understand the direction of your organization, your business, your community, yourself. Leaders inspire, and the inspired lead.

We’re all in this together, and we have to band together as leaders — it doesn’t matter what business you’re with, doesn’t matter what real estate company you’re with, whether or not your with a franchise or an independent — we’re all in this together as human beings and leaders. You need to step up and lead. People being led need to become leaders and echo these things because society needs to hear them. There’s fear out there still. To sum it up in one statement: be present.

The second thing is, you have to have confidence and enthusiasm. Even during the most challenging times when people are afraid of what could happen medically, physically, emotionally or structurally in their business, you get what you focus on. If you focus on creating results, that will help us make our way through these things. If you focus on the potential dismal outcome, and that’s all you look at, then guess what? That’s where you’re going.

It’s like [race car driver] Mario Andretti said, “Never look at the wall. Because if you look at the wall, you’re going to hit the wall.” Look at where you want to go and focus on that and that’s where you will take yourself and your business. We can’t think one thing, say one thing and do another. We have to all be in alignment, as leaders, as a society.

The direction of this is not significantly convoluted. Let’s pay attention to our health and hygiene and our social distancing and our ability to suppress the spread of the virus. And let’s take care of each other as good human beings and be there for each other. Strangely enough, that’s also how business works.

A lot of the stuff we’ve talked about in previous conversations, and something you talked about at R4 and Inman Connect in New York, was this emphasis on conscientiousness, human kindness and decency in everything, but especially in business. How much more important is that now when?

I hate to rewind and replay — to use a Gen X term, I guess — but you’re 100 percent correct. The story hasn’t changed. Good leaders and kind people need to be good leaders and kind people right now. That’s what it boils down to.

History always has a way of repeating itself. Because of that, we know how to deal with this. We just get focused on chaos and impulse and that causes us to become emotionally charged, and that’s when we do damage to relationships and to each other, and we impulsively make decisions that are not in our best interest or the best interest of others.

To that point, what are tangible steps that you’re taking to be visible? What are some things other leaders can adopt?

I am on daily videos, daily communication with my team, and more than anything, I’m digitally transparent and digitally present. That’s really the best way we can utilize where we’re at in society today. The best way of being in front of each other is by using our digital capabilities.

A text message and the emails from companies that says “our response to the coronavirus” is not doing much of anything except just notifying people that their business is not open. What they need to do is, first of all, show that they care as a human being and not just via words. They need to be present the next day, and the next day, and the next day, and let people know, “I might not be in front of you right now, but if there’s something I can do for you, let me know because we have to contribute to society and help each other.”

So I think the number one thing that a leader can and should be doing right now is video, period. I’ve been saying that for quite some time. We have to stress these things like this more and not necessarily talk about what direction the market is going and things like that. Ultimately, what we have to worry about is what we do as people and as leaders and that is how we will determine our outcome on the backside of this.

Adam Contos speaks at RE/MAX’s R4 event in February 2020. | Photo credit: Patrick Kearns

Well, we do have to talk a little bit about the real estate market and where it’s going. Can you describe what you’re seeing in the marketplace right now?

First of all: We’re going to be okay. That’s not to say that this is going to be over tomorrow because it’s not — let’s be realistic here. This may take quite some time to get through. How long that is, nobody knows. But what we do know is in our space, what is effective is ensuring we are part of the community and we’re helping people.

All those people [in your community] are the same people that are in your phone that you have helped buy and sell houses in the past. They just want to know that we care about them. Not that we’re trying to tell them what interest rates are and not that we’re trying to tell them there’s no better time to sell because that’s not what you should be saying to people. You should be saying to people, “Is there anything I can do to help or support you? If there is, please let me know.” That is worth more than your market report right now. If they want to know what the market is, they’ll ask you because they know what you do. But what they want to know is that you care.

So where’s the market going? Right now it’s all over the place. There are some places where there are a lot of transactions still occurring, and there are other places where transactions are falling apart or people are stepping away from the table. Where you live is different than where I live. We’re in localized markets and things are changing in all of the markets in the U.S. Some of them are impacted less than others, but realistically, there’s no telling what’s going to happen. Nobody has a crystal ball with this. Nobody can say, “Last time we had a pandemic where the country shut down, here’s what happened in the real estate market,” because it hasn’t happened.

We have to, as an industry, do our very best to maintain our calm leadership and maintain helping communities and be ready for when — and I don’t say if, I say when — people decide it’s time for them to get back into the marketplace. If they’re still in the marketplace, let’s support them and help them safely to the best that we can and help them complete what they need to complete or begin when they want to begin. Just be safe about it.

What are specifics that you’re hearing from agents in terms of concerns about their business or things they need help with right now?

There are really two different sides to this coin. One is people who have caught up in fear and are saying, “What do I do?” And the other one is people who have decided they’re going to reach out, help, communicate, be confident and move forward.

The solution to fear in business is action. Once [your community] sees that you’re interested, they become interested and we mutually help each other and that helps agents move passed fear. If agents stay in the fear mindset, they will translate that to whoever they talk to, be it a buyer or a seller, just somebody who they’re talking to. And that person is not going to be interested in doing business with them, I can guarantee it.

Society continues to move forward, we just have different variables right now than we’ve had in the past. Ultimately, we know that the market was on a steady rise over the last three years and once this situation clears up, that’s going to come back and continue to happen most likely, because we all want to see a better tomorrow than we saw yesterday. That’s just the reality. What I tell agents is, 1) make sure you have a solid business plan and understand how you’re going to talk to your community and show you care. And 2) stay in touch with them. Now, if you take a step back and you look at what is this business based upon, it’s based on those two things to begin with.

Does the public nature of the company hurt your ability to support agents at all right now? Obviously, RE/MAX is not alone in that the entire global economy is trending downward and a lot of companies are losing half or a third of their market cap. Does that impact your ability to support agents at all?

We’re interested in supporting our agents and I think what you find most public company CEOs have realized in this day and age, that if they provide amazing service and treat their customers and their community really, really well, then the shareholders will realize the benefit out of that.

I’m not going to say that anything is stopping me from helping my customers and my community the best that I can except for the efforts that I put in. I look in the mirror every day, and I don’t blame the public markets for anything. I look at and go, “How can I help you?”

Dave Liniger, who founded RE/MAX, and is still around as the chairman, has been through so many different cycles, recessions and booming markets. How much does that help you as a leader to have that wisdom you can tap into?

I love the wisdom and the information that I get from Dave. You can’t deny the fact that that man has been through so much in this world. I was talking to him yesterday, and he said, “Everybody views today and this situation as extremely challenging, but just as humanity has faced massive challenges in the past, this too shall pass.”

Email Patrick Kearns

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