As part of Inman’s month-long focus on the New Productivity, we are publishing in-depth Inman Handbooks on the topics that matter most right now. Today: How to reopen your business this summer. Next up: How to sell a home without setting foot in it.
The past few months have been a wild and scary ride for many. Still, with states beginning the process of reopening the economy, plenty of real estate professionals are excited to get back to work and return to some sense of (new) normalcy.
However, as many leaders in the industry, like Brad Inman, have said, it won’t be a return to business as usual. It’s important for individual agents and brokerages to be thoughtful about making preparations now for the day when all business can be conducted in-person again, even if it’s with social distancing and other protocols in place.
As you prepare to reopen for business, consider the following steps to take along the way.
Table of Contents
- Stock your office for cleanliness
- Brief your team on sensitivity
- Reinvent your office events
- Update office tech
- Track visitors and make checklists
With many individuals and businesses having joined the cause since the start of the pandemic, it’s much easier to obtain personal protective equipment (PPE) now than it was a few months ago. Although it may be second nature to many agents by now, be sure to stock up on face masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and cleaning products (without hoarding them and contributing to shortages) so that you can be ready to welcome clients into the office even if they aren’t prepared with PPE.
“Our office definitely has a whole protocol as they start to reopen,” Nicole Dankworth, a Realtor with Keller Williams North Seattle, told Inman. “Masks are required and there are sanitation stations. No more than four people [are allowed] in the elevator at a time. And we’ve also spaced out desks so that if we have clients or agents in the office at the same time, there’s more space.”
Beyond replenishing PPE supplies, some offices may feel the need to install a new air purifying system, some of which can actually deactivate viruses in the air by disturbing the virus’ protein membrane.
Some offices may want to follow Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines by installing physical barriers in an office, rearranging furniture to create at least six feet of distance between employees, closing off communal areas and staggering work shifts and breaks. The CDC also has recommended guidelines for how to clean businesses and workspaces, as well as an online self-evaluation businesses can take in order to help determine whether or not they’re ready to reopen.
Be sure to also stay up-to-date on regional guidelines for reopening, and how you’re specific state and county are directing businesses to operate.
“We are using the Massachusetts safety standards as our approach to reopening the office,” Heather Miller, broker of Cape Cod Real Estate Group, told Inman in an email.
If you and your associates expect visitors and employees to follow certain protocol when entering the office or a home for showing, it may also be helpful to communicate expectations through signage at a building’s entrance in addition to doing so verbally and/or electronically in advance. Such measures help eliminate confusion and preempt any excuses for someone coming into the office unprepared.
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Tensions had already been high for a long time because of fear and conflicting opinions about how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and to what extent PPE like face masks and gloves should be used. But, things really came to a head last week when the killing of George Floyd set off a wave of protests across the U.S. and other parts of the world, some of which have transformed into violent confrontations with the police.
Dankworth said there have been some uncomfortable encounters between her team members and their clients in recent months when a more confident agent and buyer come in to view a home right on the tail of another more cautious and skeptical buyer already viewing the home, and it feels too close for comfort.
“If one of us is doing a showing, and another comes in to do a showing who’s more comfortable with that … There have been conversations,” Dankworth said. “It’s better to be overly safe and cautious.”
If the pandemic and recent protests have taught us anything, it’s that now is the time to create bridges with others and try to be sensitive to points of view that differ from your own. If you haven’t already, engage your team in a dialogue about how to best approach interactions with clients and between team members in a cautious and respectful manner during this particularly trying time. Many have suffered job losses, illness and death of loved ones over the past few months — and many more have been redlined over the years because of racial bias.
Take the time to have hard conversations with your team about how to elevate those voices that historically have not had the platform to be heard. Engage a diversity and inclusion trainer or a sensitivity trainer, and strive to educate yourself on how you can be part of the solution.
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The days of crowded open houses, summer barbecues and happy hours have come to an end. But that doesn’t mean that your team needs to give up on the idea of office events altogether.
For instance, Chris Austin, broker of the Austin Home Team in Kansas City, Missouri, said although his team used to host client events with upwards of 300 guests, they’ve started to think outside the box for activities to engage clients this summer.
“We are starting to plan outdoor events that would focus on one-on-one interaction,” Austin told Inman in an email.
“[We’re] planning a family photo event, where our clients can schedule a specific time to bring their family to an open air area to get their family’s picture taken. That allows us to control the environment and serve a lot of people at scheduled times to avoid crowds.”
Get creative and take things outdoors in smaller numbers, or organize something where people can participate from their cars. For instance, Austin’s team also has a dumpster event in the works where clients can come and drop off their old electronics or other hazardous waste without leaving their vehicle.
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Although the real estate industry was already on a clear path toward integrating technology into everyday transactions, the pandemic certainly fast-tracked the industry’s progress into a digital age.
Seeing a virtual tour or doing a Zoom walk-through with an agent may not be enough for every buyer to commit to a property. But, since many individuals are seeking to minimize in-person interactions right now, the more ways a buyer can see a home digitally before any in-person meetings, the better.
And if a client doesn’t need to physically come into an office to close, even better. Right now, the helping hand of technology can make the decision to buy or sell much easier on a client, which they will thank you for.
Just a small update to a smartphone with a better camera can make a big difference in what agents can offer clients.
“The iPhone 11 [camera] tends to work better,” Eric Hernandez, broker of NOLA Living Realty, told Inman. “So, one of the agents in our office, I bought her an iPhone 11.”
That said, it’s important to remember that it’s the integration of a personal touch in tandem with good technology that helps tip the scale for a buyer.
“I’m a firm believer in technology isn’t what sells real estate,” Hernandez added.
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In the event that an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19 comes through your office or in contact with employees, it will be helpful to have a system in place for tracking all in-person appointments, including when and where they occurred and who was present. This will help public health officials efficiently conduct contact tracing and inform individuals who have come into contact with anyone who is COVID-19 positive in a timely fashion.
Though it’s especially important when you know someone in your office has come into contact with a COVID-19 positive individual, office brokers and managers should remind employees regardless to monitor their health and stay home if they are not feeling well.
“[We] may [create] a series of health questions and a checklist of requirements such as masks, gloves and booties prior to in-person meetings,” Miller said, regarding her strategy for reopening.
For many individuals, grabbing a face mask on the way out the door has become second nature. But, that doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to forget one in the rush to meet someone for a showing. Creating a master checklist for team members to reference before any in-person meetings will help keep operations running smoothly and avoid anyone being caught in a situation where they feel uncomfortable or have to cancel a meeting.
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