There is a lot of advice out there about how to run a real estate business during and after the pandemic. As I wrote in my last article, I don’t have a plan for the future, but in the last two weeks, I’ve started building a framework for a business plan.

The framework is based on my observations as a customer of many businesses and from tracking and learning about new trends. It’s also built on the assumption that trying to preserve the past isn’t the best strategy for moving forward.

Businesses that did not have great customer service before COVID-19 don’t have it now. They are merely making some changes so that they can legally stay open.

It’s important to listen to our clients and prospects. We need to understand what their needs are and base our services on those needs and wants. We really can’t turn poor customer service into great customer service just by offering virtual tours, wearing masks and using hand sanitizer.

I’m basing my framework on the assumption that, in the coming months, there won’t be enough business to keep everyone who wants to sell real estate in business.

Doing business with the companies that don’t care about their customers or employees is terrifying for those of us who live in high-risk households and must constantly evaluate risk versus need as we go out into the community.

When I went to a big box hardware store to pick up an online order, I discovered there was no curbside pickup. There wasn’t any signage to tell me where to go for my order either. The store was crowded, with a lot of foot traffic going in and out.

In every step of the process, store employees came much closer than the recommended six feet. They all wore masks but no gloves. I had to ask for help a couple of times and ended up interacting with four separate people to complete the transaction I started and paid for online.

I was directed through a lumber yard to an area inside the store that was crowded. The person who gave me my order had to get close enough to hand it to me.

When I went to leave, I discovered I had to wait for someone to open the gate. He came right up to my car window and seemed to do a careful visual search of my car. I’m not sure why he didn’t search my trunk, but eventually, he opened the gate. I won’t be going back to that store until there is a cure or until I’ve received a vaccine for the virus.

Now, I’ll compare that experience with the local nursery, where I was told I could just text a picture of the plant I wanted (if I didn’t know the name), and they would find it for me. They said I could pick it up that day — without getting out of my car.

When I went to the nursery, I found that they had totally rearranged it to ensure safety. Suffice to say, I’ll go back. I’ve recommended it to my neighbors, too. I want my business to be like that local nursery.

In another example, I used online ordering and curbside pickup to get some supplies that I needed soon. The website had no information about how long it takes to fill an order for pickup.

I used the online tracking system, which showed that the order was in the process of being filled. No further information was provided, and I couldn’t even reach anyone by email or phone. I got what I needed, but it took a week. If I had known that before I placed the order, I would have planned accordingly. I won’t be ordering from them again.

There’s a small local title company that’s been wiring money to the business bank account after closings. I’ve offered to pay for the wires, but they said they’re just doing their jobs and that no payment was needed.

On the other hand, I recently had a closing with a title company that sent the commission check to the wrong address via UPS. I want my business to be like that small local title company so my clients have fewer worries.

There’s another story I’d like to share. Last time I was in Manhattan, temperatures were in the 40s. It was raining when I arrived. The street vendors were selling souvenirs and umbrellas. During that day, the temperature dropped, and by the evening, it had reached a record low across much of the country. As I walked by the street vendors, I noticed they were selling scarves, hats and mittens. I want my business to be as flexible and agile as those street vendors were.

None of the businesses I want to be like appear to have invested heavily in new technology. They are using technology that has been around for a while, but they’re using it intelligently.

Since I started my company, I’ve called it a client-centered real estate company. I like to use the analogy that we are more like the corner bakery than a factory. We offer handcrafted individualized service, and that’s always going to continue.

My gut hunch is that “small and nimble” is going to be important in coming months and years. Our clients are going to need more service from us than ever before. We will need strategies to help people feel safe as they go through the process of buying or selling a home.

There are people who want to buy or sell real estate but are afraid to do so. I want to be the business that can best serve those people.

Stay well, and please wash your hands.

Teresa Boardman is a Realtor and broker/owner of Boardman Realty in St. Paul. She is also the founder of StPaulRealEstateBlog.com.

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