While some real estate groups took time to rest and reset during the pandemic, The Packer Group kicked business into high gear, and it’s positioned to complete the most transactions per month it ever has as a team.

This July, Inman’s editorial theme is Teams — what it takes to build and join one, how to optimize your team for summer 2020, and even when to consider leaving one. And if you’re not already a subscriber to our Teams Beat email newsletter, sent every Thursday, sign up now.

When the coronavirus shut down the state of Michigan, real estate was deemed a non-essential service, and many agents took the opportunity to sit back, relax and treat it like a vacation. But not The Packer Group, a Coldwell Banker team that operates outside of Detroit, Michigan. “I just refused to accept that reality,” said team leader Jeff Packer.

We recently touched base with Packer and his director of sales, Jerry Yatooma, to talk about how their market has fluctuated over the course of the pandemic and how they’ve used the past few months to ramp up business while waiting with baited breath for the time they can hold client appreciation events again. Here’s what they had to say.

Inman News: How many team members do you have?

Jeff Packer | The Packer Group

Jeff Packer: We’ve got a total of 16 of us on the team, including me. I’ve got six that fall on the operations side and nine that fall on the sales side.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a team during the pandemic?

Packer: In Michigan, real estate was one of the things that was not seen as an essential business by our governor, so we got shut down. The hardest thing to face was the mindset that was born out of that. We saw a greater part of our industry kind of just cave in, for lack of a better way to put it, and just said ‘Ok, we’re not essential, so we’re going to go ahead and treat this time as basically a vacation and take time off.’ And as a team leader, from my own perspective, I just refused to accept that reality.

So our biggest challenge was overcoming that industry-wide mindset locally and refusing to follow suit, and trying to then find new and creative ways in which we could continue to do business in a very different world where we could not do so, physically, anymore.

Jerry Yatooma | The Packer Group

Jerry Yatooma: One thing that helped was we still continued to do daily meetings to keep everybody engaged and to drive home the point that this is not a vacation. It was basically the same approach that we take every year during the holidays. While other agents may be using it as a vacation, we’re not. So, go enjoy time with your family, but still work, because if we’re not putting in the work today, we’re really going to see the effects of this shut down three months from now.

Fortunately for us, we’re seeing the effects of not being on vacation with the way that everybody on this team has been able to produce over the past couple of months. I think it allowed us to improve our social media presence. We did a lot of webinars, and we had some pretty good engagement considering it was really the first time we’ve ever done anything like that. It was pretty successful and we’re seeing some of the benefits of it right now.

How has your market changed over the past few months?

Packer: Leading into this, we were having one of the better springs we’ve had. The Detroit market is pretty transient as it is, and so we’ve had some really, really good strong seller markets.

We had a unique opportunity to sit down with Dr. Lawrence Yun, who’s the National Association of Realtors’ chief economist, in February, and he had given us an outlook and everything he was saying just really supported what we were seeing on the front lines: We had a shortage of inventory. We had a buyer demand that was really high due to the interest rates being low. We saw that one of the greatest opportunities was new construction because that’s where we’re going to be able to get our inventory from because we’re not getting a lot of inventory from resales.

So we had a great in talk in February with him on all of this, and we’re positioning ourselves to be ready to take advantage of the continuing growing real estate market in our area.Everything was looking that way up through mid-March.

Then when COVID hit the state more locally, even a couple of weekends before the actual shutdown occurred, we were seeing really strong multiple offer bids, well over-asking price, and all of these indicators that would say we’re in a really, really strong market. Obviously, with the COVID shutdown, everything kind of hit a pause button. So then we got really acclimated to trying to figure out these virtual solutions, and we even still sold quite a bit of stuff.

From a team perspective, year-over-year looking at 2019, we probably were down 50 percent, but the positive thing is we were still selling at least 50 percent of our goal that we would have had during a time that we couldn’t do so physically. That, to me, showed signs that the market was really strong.

I had one property that we had six offers on during the shutdown. The only way these buyers saw the home was through a digital showing experience, and we still created a multiple offer situation on that property. And we’re not talking about a low-price property, we’re talking about a half-a-million-dollar property, which in our area, is a significant price point.

As a result, my team had the best month we’ve ever had the 15 years that I’ve been in business, we closed 30 transactions. To give you perspective, this month, July, we are on pace to close 50 transactions. So that’s what we’re seeing right now, is that there was this pent-up demand and we’re reaping the benefits of that and almost doing twice as much work as in our normal market.

What are your team’s strengths, and how have you made them work for you?

Yatooma: A lot of people talk about being customer-focused or centric, but we truly are. Ninety-plus percent of our business is from past clients and referrals. When Jeff started building this team, that was the primary focus — to make sure that we’re taking care of our clients from beginning to end, and we continue to do so with the life of this team.

We’re very picky when we bring on members of our ops team and agents to make sure that they fit into our culture. There’s plenty of people out there who have the ability to do the job, but are they truly going to fit into our belief system of being client-centric and of it truly being a family, helping one another out?

I think that’s what really sets us apart from a lot of other agents and teams: We truly care about our clients, we want to do what’s right for our clients and not necessarily what’s right for ourselves financially. Ultimately, it’s their goals that we’re working towards. They all have their own real estate goals in mind and it’s our job to help them achieve those goals, not our own personal goals.

Packer: To add to that, we have not been afraid to innovate and find solutions around issues that we feel don’t support that founding value that we get business because we do a great job for the customer. The minute we stop doing a great job for the customer, they’ll find somebody else who cared more deeply than we did for them, so our goal is to never be satisfied and always be looking for ways in which we can improve that.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Packer: I think all of us are excited to get to a point where we can get together again with clients. We throw client appreciation events and that’s one thing that has kind of been taken away from us.

We had to cancel a golf outing that we do every year that helps raise $20,000 for a charity. We go and serve as a team every year to the inner city and do neighborhood cleanups and things like that, and as of right now we’re waiting on pins and needles to find out if we’re going to have an opportunity to even be able to do that this year.

The ability to sell real estate in-person is back and so we’re seeing the benefits of that, but it’s the other stuff, the ability to connect on a more personal level with our clients through client appreciation events, that we’re missing.

But we may not be able to that in the same way that [we could] in years past, and that saddens me, but my hope is that in time we’ll be able to get back a little bit more to business as usual.

Email Lillian Dickerson

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