Seasoned real estate agents have experienced it all — market shifts, inventory shortages, disruption from new technology and business models, recessions, and natural disasters. These experiences allow veterans to better navigate the effects of a pandemic, though there’s still fear about short-term business prospects.
However, new agents don’t have the benefit that hindsight provides to their veteran colleagues. In turn, these new agents are relying now more than ever on the guidance of brokers to help them survive as the rules of engagement have drastically shifted.
Three broker-owners in the new coronavirus epicenters of Atlanta, Detroit and New Orleans sat down with Inman to explain how they’re helping new agents manage their business and personal lives.
Jennifer Kjellgren: Taking a human approach
Since the beginning of March, much of Nest Realty broker-owner Jennifer Kjellgren’s days are spent checking on her nine agents, all of which have less than three years of real estate sales experience.
“I’m trying to be as available as I can to my agents, as a human being,” Kjellgren said. “We have to deal with some of the trauma that is going on at a human level and then look at their business.”
“We’re taking a human approach and letting them know it’s OK not to be OK and that we can talk about it, and we can only control what we can control,” she added.
To keep communications streamlined and stress-free, Kjellgren instituted daily all-hands Zoom video meetings, established a Slack channel where she posts coronavirus updates, and started an email newsletter where she shares business, personal finance, and mental health advice.
“[The video meetings] are not mandatory, but the ability to talk to them regularly about what we were seeing because it was changing by the day, [is important],” she said. “But it’s also for the emotional support, and trying to, without an ‘I told you so’ kind of mentality, explain what happened back in 2008.”
“But, my guys are all in, and they’re all helping each other right now,” she added.
Outside of the office, Kjellgren has encouraged her agents to use the “human approach” with clients, some of which pulled their homes off the market or suspended their home search efforts. Instead of pushing clients to keep deals on the table, Kjellgren tells agents to focus on offering moral support and ultimately doing what’s best for their buyer or seller.
“We’re essential in Georgia, and I think there’s a lot of really bad messaging about how to put that out there to clients. Is real estate life or death? Typically not,” she said. “But we have people who have to move for a lot of different reasons, and we’re coaching the agents that while we are essential at the state level, every single client has a different set of needs and unique goals. It’s our job to one-by-one, help them with that.”
Furthermore, Kjellgren said her agents are employing Larry Kendall’s ninja selling philosophy to strengthen the relationships with their sphere so they’re top-of-mind when the market rebounds.
“When this went down, we started to coach them that when they’re ready to feel productive to do the ninja activities, like calling everyone in your world and see how they’re feeling,” she explained. “Send handwritten notes.”
“So we’re trying to give them extra tools that they can love on their sphere right now, and maybe it’s not generating immediate business, but it’s letting them be productive, it’s letting them get feedback from people, and it’s putting a smile on people’s faces,” she added.
Lastly, Kjellgren said she’s not enforcing any productivity standards and is instead encouraging agents to make time for self-care so they can be 100 percent when it comes time to work.
“The most important thing we’re telling them is to put their own oxygen mask on first before they start helping people,” she said.
Matt O’Laughlin: Looking on the bright side
Twelve years ago, Matt O’Laughlin was a fledgling agent in Detroit looking to build a brand in the midst of a city that was literally and figuratively falling apart as it drowned in debt.
“I personally started my career back right in 2008, which was the worst time to enter the business, this situation is going to create some very strong new agents that will be forced to think outside of the box,” he said.
It’s with that attitude O’Laughlin and the leadership at Alexander Real Estate Detroit are guiding a handful of new agents through the pandemic as COVID-19 cases balloon in the Motor City.
The broker said Alexander had record activity at the beginning of the year, which has given agents some financial security as they’re completing pending deals that started before the coronavirus took hold of Detroit.
“We’re a small indie brokerage with 30 agents or so located in the heart of downtown Detroit,” O’Laughlin explained. “Detroit currently has the third-highest rate of COVID-19 cases, and [we’re] also under a stay-at-home order that is prohibiting us from showing any property.”
“We were fortunate enough to have the best January and February I’ve seen in a decade,” he added.
O’Laughlin is pushing agents to continue generating business by shifting to virtual listing presentations and tours, and allowing buyers to place a contingency in their offer that extends inspection time.
“Lots of brokers, us included, are offering virtual tours,” he said. “With the whole world at home, this is a great way for a new agent to still market a property to a prospective buyer.”
“Even if the buyer writes a long inspection period in their offer until the buyer can physically walk the property, we’re still encouraging l them to write the offer,” he added. “So we’ve had a couple of deals go under contract that way.”
Lastly, O’Laughlin said they’ve encouraged all their agents, especially the new ones, to attend weekly virtual meetings that feature tax, finance and business professionals who are providing advice on how to apply for federal assistance.
“Every Tuesday is our office sales call (normally done in person) where we get caught up on the state of the market and the relief options that are available to an agent being a 1099 employee,” he said. “Today we had a local tax accountant well versed with 1099 employees to answer all questions for the available options, whether it be a new agent needing to file for short term unemployment or a seasoned agent applying for a Small Business Administration grant.”
“Next week, one of our preferred lenders will be on the call to answer all mortgage-related questions and what lenders are saying about market conditions,” he added. “Our title company partner has been on each call to help answer new closing procedure questions including the new curbside closing they’ve rolled out.”
Francesca Brennan: ‘It’s all temporary’
Francesca Brennan has had more than her fair share of life and business-altering experiences as a Realtor in New Orleans. She navigated the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the British Petroleum Oil Spill in 2010 that devastated all of Southern Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.
And according to Brennan, those experiences are what make her an effective mentor for Entablature Realty’s two newest agents, both of which have been in real estate sales for less than a year.
“I’ve shared my experiences, and I’ve stayed in it, and I’ve made a career out of real estate,” she said. “You have to go through the downtimes to appreciate the good times.”
“We’ve been encouraging them that this is temporary and that the market will bounce back,” she added. “This isn’t the first time New Orleans has seen a hit. The Gulf Coast and south Louisiana we get hit every couple of years, it seems like. There’s something that pushes the market in a different direction.”
Much like other brokers, Brennan said she’s doubled-down on offering agents additional support, which includes virtual coaching sessions and $500 gift cards to cover personal needs.
“I had a 30-minute business brainstorming session with Richard last night,” she said, referring to Richard Herbert, one of her newest recruits.
When it comes to marketing, Brennan said she’s encouraged agents to brush up on their social media and virtual listing presentation skills, which they didn’t utilize as much before the pandemic since New Orleans is a small highly social city.
“We’re certainly utilizing virtual, video walkthroughs, more than we did a month ago,” she said. “New Orleans is a convivial city. We usually get really great turnout for broker tours and open houses because people like to be out and about and talk.”
“When it comes to social media, I told the agents that ‘You don’t want your social media channels to dry up,'” she added. “You want to stay on the periphery so when the markets open back up, you’ve been softly touching your clients through your social media channels. But, you don’t want to brag.”
“There are so many people who aren’t in the position to be celebrating right now, but you want your clientele and your network to know that you’re still working, you’re still available, and the market is still alive.”
Despite the lack of face-to-face interactions, Brennan said both new agents have managed to keep the deals rolling in — evidence that even a pandemic doesn’t keep New Orleans down.
“People in south Louisiana are resilient, and the market comes back,” she said. “New Orleans is a unique and wonderful place, and we always have people moving to the city. So what I try to impress upon the agents is that it’s temporary.”
“Even during the economic downturn when we saw larger cities close by, Houston, Dallas and Atlanta, really having a surplus in housing for 10-plus years,” she concluded. “New Orleans is small but mighty, and we bounce back a little faster than those larger markets.”