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While it’s in no way “business as usual” for anyone on the planet, the real estate industry has an opportunity to prove that our vitality is essential to the overall health of our world. As professionals, we owe it to ourselves and to our clients to look for the silver linings in the cloud of the COVID-19 crisis that hangs overhead.
By being proactive in taking steps to stay in touch with our clients, protecting them (and ourselves) when we are out in the field and taking advantage of the opportunities that working from home provides, we will not only weather the storm, but we will discover a pot of gold on the other side of the rainbow.
From communicating effectively with clients to diving into the latest technology, there’s so much you can still do to keep business going. So, here are some tips for working with buyers, sellers, past clients and on your own business during this crisis.
Tips for working with sellers
1. Communicate with sellers
Stay in close contact with your sellers to keep them abreast of how the industry is impacted by regulations surrounding the virus. Explain the status of your local market, and discuss the pros and cons of staying on the market, changing their status to temporarily off the market, or withdrawing their listing. Be proactive by keeping in close contact with clients to monitor if their financial situation or desire to move has changed.
2. Review your marketing
Use some of your free time to take another look at your online marketing and brochure box to make sure both properly convey every feature of your listing. Promotion of properties should tell the full story of the home and all it has to offer, both inside and out, especially now that in-person showings are risky or not allowed.
It’s even more important in today’s market to virtually promote features, upgrades, updates and unique benefits buyers should know about. Make sure that each of your properties has a brochure box with a features list since buyers are more likely than ever to do drive-bys before scheduling.
3. Engage with your clients
Show your clients that you are working even harder to get their home sold by embracing creative strategies. Invite them to create a “Top 10 Reasons Sellers Love Their Home” list. Encourage them to ask their children (if appropriate) to participate or to make their own list and create artwork to go with it.
It doesn’t have to be 10 reasons, but make sure it’s full of positive features that enable buyers to picture themselves making memories of their own in your listing. The list enables you to quote sellers as they share bonus insights about the neighbors and subjective features that you aren’t able to verify and include in your own Realtor-created brochure language.
You could even invite them to create their own video tour to use in your social media posts and online marketing (in which the sellers walk through their home and share features).
4. Coach sellers in analyzing their homes
Invite sellers to play “make-believe buyers.” Encourage them to step outside and analyze their home as if they’re about to pull into the driveway for the very first time. Coach them to look at their home from the inside out with a critical eye and make a list of noticeable flaws.
They should focus first on curb appeal improvements (starting at the front of the house and moving through the main living areas), prioritizing enhancements they can start to make — ones that would have the most impact on improving showing appeal.
As they walk through their home, ask them to visualize how two buyers and a Realtor would fit through the living spaces, and plan to clear large furniture or unnecessary items that crowd the rooms.
5. Have frank conversations about pricing and their motivation
Send your sellers listings to review homes with similar features and of homes in their same price tier so they can better understand how they rank compared to their competition. Also send closed comparables, making a special note of how long it took them to get under contract (as well as their sold vs. original list price).
Emphasize the importance of appropriate pricing in getting their homes sold despite current world conditions. None of us know with certainty what the crisis will do to the real estate market. Have those tough conversations sooner than later to determine what price would be one that the seller would accept to get the sale behind them.
Given the current unpredictable climate, there might not be any “wiggle room.” Remind sellers that if buyers need closing costs, they could be added to the purchase price (if the appraisal is not a concern). A price reduction combined with these tips could get you at the virtual closing table a lot sooner.
Tips for working with buyers
6. Keep in close contact
Stay in touch with your buyers and their lender to keep tabs on industry reaction to the pandemic. Make sure they (and you) are following recommended COVID-19 protocols. Be honest with your clients about your comfort level of showing homes and the increased safety precautions you wish to take if you tour so they know what to expect. Prioritize decisions regarding your (and your family’s) health and welfare above all else.
7. Discuss pros and cons
Have discussions with your clients about the many pros and cons of visiting homes in person during this crucial time in our world’s history. Encourage them to consider screening homes by requesting online tours in lieu of in-person appointments.
If they find a home they’d like to see that doesn’t have a tour posted, ask the listing agent to inquire if the sellers can film a tour on their phones to pass along for your buyer’s initial screening. Also encourage drive-bys. If touring in person is necessary, follow the NAR guidelines.
8. Inform them about possible delays
Talk with your buyers about the pros and cons of making offers on properties seen virtually but not in person. Get familiar with contingencies that could protect them and amendments addressing the ramifications of purchasing during the COVID-19 crisis. Make sure they understand that delays in closing timelines may be inevitable. Ask them to read the COVID-19 addenda carefully so that there are no surprises if the delay timelines are enacted.
9. Engage with your buyers
Stay in close contact with buyers to keep their trust in you as their Realtor at a forefront. Send emails to help them keep tabs on sales statistics of homes in their price range, in their favorite neighborhoods and with their “wish-list” criteria.
Engage with them by encouraging them to start gathering information the lender will require for loan processing, and suggest that they take some of their free time to further explore loan programs and compare lenders so that they are sure to choose the best loan officer and product when they are ready to offer.
Encourage them to have honest discussions with you and their lender about any situations they are facing that may impact their purchase (including any temporary layoffs or changes in financial situation). With so much negativity in the world, take every opportunity to point out silver linings, like historically low interest rates and less buyer competition.
Tips to share with past clients/homeowners
10. Ask them to keep track of records
Remind people that they can turn being cooped up inside into an opportunity that will pay off in the future whenever it’s time to sell their home. Encourage them to start a folder of home improvements they’ve made throughout the years and use it as a place to log annual maintenance, record replacement costs and keep track of ages of heating/air conditioning units, roof and other important systems/utilities. They can even keep booklets, receipts and other handy information in a convenient location inside the binder.
11. Motivate them to start decluttering
Encourage homeowners to start that long-overdue decluttering, offering advice from a Realtor’s perspective. Explain that they should focus on the main level first (the garage or basement area is less important to keep organized than their kitchen, main living areas and master bath and closet areas).
Offer suggestions for the process, like putting unused items in boxes and moving them to the basement if they have a hard time parting with “junk.” If they haven’t gone through the box in six months, it’s likely safe to donate so it can be enjoyed by someone who will be blessed by their “hand-me-downs.”
12. Encourage them to organize a folder of photos
Inspire homeowners to start an online folder to store seasonal photos of their home. It can also include “before/after” photos if they complete improvements a future buyer would appreciate to have documented.
Go one step further, and invite them to set reminders on their calendar to take quality digital (cell phone is fine) photos of their property during different seasons. They can upload photos that showcase views in the winter, lovely sunsets or sunrises, fall foliage and flowers blooming in the warmer months.
13. Tell them to make a list of maintenance projects
Encourage homeowners to take a slow and intentional walk around the outside and inside of their home. Then, tell them to make a list of major and minor maintenance projects they’ve been putting off. Now’s a great time to make a plan and budget for completing those updates (or to check some off the list if they have the skills to earn some sweat equity during this downtime).
Remind them that many people wait until they sell to invest the time and money into improvements and then wish they had prioritized sooner to enjoy the benefits of the updates before handing the keys over to the buyer.
Suggest that they bite the bullet and begin pricing out big ticket items on their “to-do” or “dream” list. Invite them to contact you to brainstorm about the potential return on costly improvements. Offer your expertise and guidance to ensure they make an educated decision about their monetary investment vs. projected future impact on market value.
You can advise them virtually. Just encourage them to share photos or videos with you so you can better visualize their property and educate them on the potential return on their desired updates.
Tips to consider as Realtors/brokers
14. Connect with clients
Connect with clients online by starting an online newsletter, creating a blog posting schedule, opening a business Facebook page or making timely posts on your existing websites and social media. Ask for likes on your Facebook page, update your LinkedIn profile and jump into the world of Instagram, if you haven’t already launched a presence on that popular platform.
15. Ask for referrals
Contact past clients, and ask for referrals you can utilize in advertising. Sites like Realtor.com, Zillow and more have templates that make asking easy with the click of a button. You can even have a drawing for a gift card for clients who submit reviews to motivate them to take a few minutes of their downtime to send in a review.
Send emails or handwritten notes to clients, friends and colleagues to check in with your sphere and send them your best wishes during these times. Reach out to old leads. Also, follow up with buyers and sellers who have dropped off the radar with a kind “thinking of you” message.
16. Dive into the latest technology
Take time to dive into the latest and greatest technology available, which will help you take the lead in this shifting market. Being a leader in new strategies and emerging technology can set you apart from the competition. A great way to learn what’s new and hip is by doing some good old-fashioned online “stalking” of top producers in other parts of the country. Then, start experimenting with a strategy you discover that no one else is doing in your local market.
17. Invest in online training
Invest in online training (most are quite inexpensive), and get designations and extra certifications in areas in which you want to specialize. Work on continuing education credits to get them out of the way before crunch time when they are due. Realtors should consider enrolling in broker’s licensing courses (even if you never intend on running an office). The added credibility of being an associate broker is well worth the 180 hours and approximately $800 invested.
Taking steps every day to look for the many opportunities to shine through the stormy days of the COVID-19 crisis will enable the health of your business to withstand these trying times. Be purposeful in sharing your expertise with your sphere and making time to master new skills that will be a blessing for future business.
Embrace this opportunity to be of service to those you want to serve, including yourself, and somewhere over the rainbow, long after this crisis is over, you’ll be glad you did.
Beth Medved Waller is an associate broker with Keller Williams Realty in Front Royal/Warren County, Virginia. Connect with her on Facebook here or here.