After 25 years, Inman Connect is coming to you. Get ready for the top industry leaders plotting the path forward, new business ideas and opportunities, networking like you’ve never imagined it and tons of exciting new magic, all straight to you. It’s all part of an epic new Inman experience, Inman Connect Now, June 2-4, 2020. Click here to save your seat.

In advance of Connect Now, we’ve asked many well-known members of the Inman community for their insights on how they are working and keeping their businesses moving forward in this time — in other words, How They Connect Now. Here are two responses from two leaders taking the stage together next week. 

Vishal Garg

Vishal Garg

Founder and CEO, Better.com

What’s the biggest change in the way you’re managing your business now? 

Thankfully, I have had the good and bad fortune to go through three economic crises in my career, to date: the Asian crisis in 1997 as a trader at a hedge fund, the 9/11 dotcom bust as an entrepreneur and the 2009 credit crisis as the founder of a publicly traded online student loan company. Previous experience shows me that while the future is uncertain, we can focus on what is in front of us today and the needs of our customers and our employees. When this is all over, it’s going to be a brand new world in which we can not only survive, but thrive. So I try to lead from the front and communicate often with deep empathy that it is scary out there, but we will get through it together. And that quite frankly, it’s good to know how strong we actually are. That we can both survive and thrive. 

How do you find new business in a time like this? 

Market volatility has caused historically low rates, and that has led to a huge increase in homebuyers rushing to refinance. As a digital mortgage lender, we’ve had a unique competitive advantage over brick and mortar lenders and have seen a 200 percent increase in demand since COVID-19 began. We went from $650 million in mortgages funded in February to over $1.5 billion per month in April. Using our online platform, homeowners are able to maintain social distancing and save an average of $3,900 a year through refinancing. As a result of the demand, we’re in a really fortunate position to be actively hiring (1,000 by the end of 2020 with 350-plus onboarded since COVID-19 began).

How do you keep morale up, for you personally, and for your team?

What’s critical is honest, frequent and transparent communication in a straightforward manner that all 2,300-plus employee shareholders understand. We’re in the middle of a crisis the likes of which none of us have ever seen, and we need to be vigilant about its impact on employees. Work-from-home has blurred the 9-to-5, and it can be easy to get trapped in fear and anxiety while working in isolation, which is why I believe promoting self-care is crucial. We’re offering free virtual therapy through Bravely for all of our employees, as well as encouraging employees to take vacation days, even if they’re at home. We’ve set up a work-from-home Slack channel where people can share tips, information, advice and inspiration to help us adjust to this new way of working and also sent out care packages and distributed stipends for office furniture and meals to all employees. For employees with children or folks they have to care for, we’re offering virtual daycare, flexible hours and an additional $250 stipend I personally funded to buy toys, reading materials or whatever they need at this time. I keep my personal morale up by knowing that every customer we are helping to refinance or buy a new home or tap into their home equity is saving $3,900. It’s hard not to get excited by the impact we may be having on someone’s life and use that as motivation in challenging moments. 

Who in the community has impressed you or helped you most during this time?

Agents and their ability to quickly adapt and innovate to virtual listings on Zoom, which will be the new normal in a post-COVID-19 world. The virtual open house is going to bring more digitization to the industry, a shift we’ve been forecasting for some time now. We never thought we’d buy groceries on Instacart or diapers on Amazon; why not buy a house online? Appraisers, home inspectors and notaries are working to help people continue to refinance their homes or buy new ones safely, with respect for social distancing. It’s amazing the way the industry can adapt to keep the engine of homeownership going.

What’s your outlook for the rest of this year? 

As coronavirus lockdown restrictions slowly ease in various markets, we’re seeing signs of a recovery in purchase activity. Better.com saw a 40 percent increase in purchase applications the first week of May, supported by an uptick in searches on Zillow. As work-from-home becomes the new norm, we’re also going to see a macro trend of homeowners leaving cities for suburbia. Fundamentally, there is an entire generation that is now shifting homeownership priorities, choosing homes conducive for working and living safely with access to more outdoor space versus being in the middle of a city center. And as I say often to our customers and employee shareholders, when you’re renting, you are just paying your landlord’s mortgage. A lot of people are going to want to be their own landlord soon.

Can you share a few words about how Inman has helped you grow your business, in bull or bear times? 

Inman continually educates us on the latest real estate market news and innovations. Plus, the events are top notch. Since our inception, Inman has been an invaluable resource to us, and we tip our hats to the hard-working team that makes it all happen!

Adena Hefets

Adena Hefets

Cofounder and CEO, Divvy Homes

What’s the biggest change in the way you’re managing your business now? 

COVID-19 has clearly changed the way that companies have to operate. No matter what type of company you are running, you are paying greater attention to: (1) cash runway, (2) how to drive greater innovation, and (3) how to navigate a more volatile macro environment. The pandemic has also changed how I interact with my team. We’re now spread out geographically and communicating solely online, which feels less personal. I miss the in-person moments, and I know a lot of my team does, as well, so we’re being proactive about bringing the team together for both work and social purposes (biweekly check-ins, virtual happy hours, a virtual book club, etc.)

How do you find new business in a time like this? 

We definitely saw homebuying activity slow down during the shelter-in-place period; there were fewer consumers out shopping. Across America, showing volume decreased about 50 percent during the shelter-in-place period from the start of the year. However, we’re finding now that the shelter-in-place orders have been lifted, there has been an increase in volume. The pandemic has made people rethink their priorities. More than ever, families want a home to call their own. Divvy makes this possible during a time when getting a mortgage has become even more challenging. We’re also fortunate to work with amazing Realtors in each of our markets, many of whom are guiding clients through the homebuying process as we speak. Divvy provides a unique solution for real estate agents because we give their clients a way to get into the home they want even in cases where they might not qualify for a mortgage, so the agent gets to be the hero who made it happen for the client while still getting their regular commission. It’s a win-win-win. During this in-between time, we dedicated our design and engineering resources to build an even better experience for our real estate agent partners, which we believe will give us an advantage in the long run.

How do you keep morale up, for you personally, and for your team?

I think part of it is recognizing that this is just a different situation than most of us are used to and trying to give people the tools they need to be successful, whether that’s hardware for their desk at home or weekly check-ins or hosting a virtual happy hour for the team. The other part is keeping the focus on our mission to make homeownership accessible to everyone, which is what unites and drives us all. We decided to use this time to double down on projects that drive creativity and growth. For example, we’re redoing our agent portal for Realtors to have a truly magical experience when bringing their customers onto Divvy’s platform. Our hope is that we come out of this period even stronger than before and with a broader set of tools to help both our agent partners and our customers. I think by setting goals that are achievable, which lever up to our long-term company goals, we’ve been able to keep everyone on the team (including me) hungry and focused on making Divvy better. We’re excited to keep growing the company in 2020 and beyond.

Who in the community has impressed you or helped you most during this time?

I have been so impressed with agents. They continue to be insanely motivated to help customers find homes despite it being challenging to go on showings. We applaud their commitment to their customers and drive to help people realize their dreams of homeownership.

What’s your outlook for the rest of this year? 

Given where unemployment is, it does seem like home prices might soften. As you know, the equity markets are much more liquid than real estate. As a result, when equities drop, it sometimes takes years to see a similar impact in real estate. However, with 35 million-plus Americans unemployed, there is a risk of folks not being able to pay their mortgage, resulting in a large number of foreclosures, which would increase inventory (or supply). There are currently almost 4 million homeowners in forbearance. If those people are able to come out of it and continue paying their mortgage after the crisis, that will help the market stabilize. If not, it will lead to more properties hitting the market. At the same time, fewer buyers will be able to access a mortgage due to the tightening of approval requirements, so we might see higher supply plus lower demand, which means lower home prices. We think Divvy will be a great option for people who might not qualify for a mortgage in the current conditions but who still want to move into a home and enjoy the benefits that come with that. Before COVID-19, we expanded our presence into five new cities across the U.S.: Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio, St. Louis and Tampa. We believe we’re poised for growth in each of these markets, and we are excited for the challenge.

Can you share a few words about how Inman has helped you grow your business, in bull or bear times? 

The agent connections are incomparable! We love working with Realtors, and Inman has connected us to them in all different economic environments. There’s really nothing else that compares.

Inman Connect Now connects virtually June 2-4, 2020. The digital event offers standout speakers, incredible networking opportunities, and the chance to forge business breakthroughs and build new relationships to last a lifetime. Don’t miss out — register today.

Show Comments Hide Comments

Comments

Sign up for Inman’s Morning Headlines
What you need to know to start your day with all the latest industry developments
Success!
Thank you for subscribing to Morning Headlines.
Back to top
We've updated our terms of use.Read them here×