In challenging times, it’s a smart idea to revisit the fundamentals of good business. This April, go Back to Basics with Inman.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic is creating a very challenging time for real estate professionals throughout the United States and Canada. Almost all of us are under a “stay at home” or “shelter at home” directive from our state or local governments, and any interaction between family, friends, clients and business colleagues is by way of online video portals or the telephone.
Property showings are slowing somewhat, and both buyers and sellers are nervous about moving forward in purchasing or selling a home right now. This current season we find ourselves in is unlike anything any of us have experienced in our lives. Hopefully, all of us in the real estate world can return to some sense of normalcy sooner rather than later.
I am talking with our company’s affiliates every day to see how their businesses are doing through the crisis. Some of our agents are closing transactions booked back in late February and early March and are seeing well-earned commission checks. Others are trying to keep recently bound contracts between sellers and buyers from falling apart.
A couple of questions I ask everyone I speak with are: “Have you reached out to your sphere of influence to check on them?” and “Are you still prospecting for business?” Many agents are proactive by doing extra work to keep their real estate practices in forward motion as well as seeking new ways to find new sellers and buyers. However, other agents are struggling to “stay afloat” amid a rapidly changing market and an economy that is heading toward a possible recession.
All seven of our company’s branch locations remain closed to agents and the public. The principal broker and administrative staff are the only personnel working in the office. As a result of locked-down offices, online sessions have become the best way to stay engaged with agents. Last week, I participated in numerous office and training meetings held for our over 1,100 agents via Zoom and GoToMeeting. One question I asked in many of these virtual sessions was, “What are you doing to reach out to everyone in your database?”
Many agents admitted they had not picked up the phone to stay in touch with those who might consider using their services or know of someone they could refer to the agent. I stressed to everyone who participated in these meetings the importance of doing the work to maintain a sustainable real estate business during this uncertain time.
In June 2019, I published a column on Inman titled “Don’t Ghost Your Clients: 8 Inexpensive Ways to Keep in Touch.” The focus of the article was to stay top-of-mind with clients after the closing, as it is an essential way to keep your pipeline full. I want to take the foundational ideas of that column and apply them to knowing how to keep your pipeline full amid what is happening in your ever-changing local real estate market. The following are some ideas for you to consider as you manage your business moving forward:.
1. Pick up the telephone and call everyone in your database
The least expensive marketing tool in your business toolbox is your phone. A brief phone call to everyone in your database – especially past clients – is the best method to reach out and stay in touch. Begin with those who you believe are most likely to refer a friend, business colleague or family member to you who might need to sell or buy a home. (Remember, long-term success is tied into ongoing client referrals.)
Next, look at your current hot prospect list and call everyone on it. The conversation for any call should center around how the person on the other end of the line is coping during this pandemic. Ask about their family and inquire if they need anything that you might be able to assist them with or offer a resource for any need they might be facing. Keep the conversation personal and DO NOT discuss real estate unless they ask you first.
Trust me: Everyone appreciates a phone call from someone who cares about their well-being. I would encourage you to schedule 10 – 15 calls per day, possibly more if your database is extensive.
2. Follow-up every phone call with a handwritten note
Once you hang up the phone, grab a notecard and write a personal message to the person you spoke with, letting them know how good it was to talk with them. Handwritten notes are always read, and they leave a lasting impression on the person who reads them. Keep the note brief and always include your business card as a way to remind the client or prospect you are in the real estate business and are never too busy for their referrals.
3. Drop off a COVID-19 care package at your client’s doorstep
In my column from last June, I mentioned offering clients and key prospects an “item of value” — something that will be appreciated by the recipient. Now might be a good time to put together a small “care package” you could drop off on a doorstep containing items your client or prospect might use over the next few weeks.
You could include a homemade face mask, travel tissues, a roll or two of toilet paper (if available), hand sanitizer (if available), fresh baked goods, a coloring book for the kids, a gift card to a restaurant offering carry-out dinners, etc. Be creative and always attach your business card or other printed piece noting your contact information. I would suggest creating a personalized message expressing your concern for the client/prospect and your desire to help out during this time of “stay-at-home” directives.
4. Utilize online meeting portals to reach out to clients and prospects
When I was selling real estate full-time, I would hold numerous seminars for different buying demographics in my market. These gatherings were always well-attended. Many of these meetings would be geared toward first-time homebuyers, while others might be directed toward seniors who are looking at downsizing from a larger home to a smaller one. Since physical face-to-face meetings are limited at the present time, virtual options are the next best thing.
Online meeting portals such as Zoom, Google Groups and GoToMeeting are excellent options to hold client seminars on a variety of topics. Some subjects to consider for these get-togethers could cover homebuying and selling, mortgage lending, new construction, investment properties, etc.
Also, you might want to host a virtual cocktail hour or client appreciation party. Or, maybe a virtual neighborhood block party could bring your neighbors together and strengthen relationships with those who live around you. All of these ideas are great ways to network, catch up with clients and friends, and create new connections among those who participate. Again, be creative!
5. Try to maintain your current marketing efforts
Now is not the time to stop your personal marketing and brand promotion. At some point soon, I believe this coronavirus will be behind us. In the meantime, you need to remain focused on continuing your marketing, so you stay “in-sight and in-mind” with clients and prospects. If you reduce any of your planned 2020 marketing and promotion efforts due to the current market slow down, you might not be remembered by those who need real estate services when the economy begins to recover.
If you need to reduce your marketing costs due to income reduction, consider cost-effective alternatives that will not affect your messaging. For example, instead of spending money on mailing out a multi-page newsletter to your database, temporarily utilize an email platform like MailChimp, Contactually or Emma as an alternative distribution method. If you are ordering print materials in full color, now might be the time to produce them in black and white. Expensive personal promotion items could be put on hold until the economy improves. Look for low-cost items that can still carry your branding, but not burn a hole in your pocketbook.
6. Volunteer in your community where the need is highest
State unemployment claims are increasing as each week passes and many people are in need. Community-based agencies are working overtime to meet the demand for those who have recently been furloughed from their job or permanently terminated.
Many food banks, homeless shelters and other low-income support services are seeking volunteers, food and other supplies during this challenging time. Calling your clients and prospects to participate in community food drives and fundraisers is a great way to stay connected with your sphere of influence, but more importantly, have an impact on those in your backyard. There are significant needs right now in every city in America. I believe Realtors are always willing to take the time and effort to address critical needs head-on.
Try not to be a stealth agent during the COVID-19 crisis! Make it a priority in your daily schedule to connect with current and past clients as well as everyone in your sphere of influence. It is amazing the impact a simple phone call or personal handwritten note can have on a real estate professional’s new business pipeline. Personal contact continues to work — reach out today and plant those seeds now so your business can benefit from the harvest in the weeks and months ahead.
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.”