Panelists at the Inman Connect Now Midwest Regional Breakout session discussed their strategies for navigating the pandemic, how they’re planning for contingencies and where they see the market headed next year.

“We’re looking into the future” Tommy Choi, co-founder of Weinberg Choi Residential, said at the beginning of Connect Now’s Midwest Regional Breakout Session on Tuesday. Choi and Angela Raab, Branch Manager at F.C. Tucker in Indianapolis, co-moderated the regional breakout session that explored topics ranging from suburban migration to generating leads in a low inventory market to how to prep your business for the future.

“There’s not many people who stayed the same [during the last few months],” Raab said. “There was either this massive increase in business, or agents really took to heart shelter-in-place.”

“And I think it’s important to acknowledge — there’s no judgment here,” Raab added.

Suburban to urban migration

Choi and Raab started off the regional breakout session by speaking with Amanda Schroder, an agent with Keller Williams in Milwaukee, and Matt Laricy, managing partner of the Matt Laricy Group in Chicago, about residential market trends in their areas over the past few months as the coronavirus pandemic has evolved.

Schroder and Laricy both noted trends away from more densely populated apartment and condo buildings in the city to more suburban areas or city apartment buildings with fewer units.

“We did notice a decrease in showings. There was a dip pretty much across the board [initially],” Schroder said. “But that didn’t last very long. It has picked up in the last 30 to 50 days pretty significantly and we’re seeing high demand. The down side is we’re seeing really low inventory, like winter numbers…”

“I think most segments in the country are seeing low inventory,” Laricy said. “Although the market is performing very strong, it’s very segmented in what types of properties are performing well.”

Laricy went on to explain that in Chicago, high rises are less popular than they had been before the pandemic, and a lot of people are more interested in small buildings and tree-lined streets — areas where they may not feel as trapped.

Regarding the luxury market, Laricy and Schroder agreed that it’s slowed down significantly since the pandemic hit.

“The luxury market is probably as dead as I’ve seen it since ’08,” Laricy said. “When markets get difficult, the rich hold.”

“I don’t know if it’s exactly on par,” Schroder said. “But we’re definitely seeing higher inventory in the luxury market. In the last 12 months, we’ve had 17 sales, so we don’t have a ton of inventory in general, but there’s nine months of inventory right now. But you’ll see some drop in the original [listing] price.”

Although the luxury market isn’t necessarily booming in Milwaukee, Schroder noted that the secondary home market is certainly moving quickly as a result of COVID-19.

Lake [houses] within an hour or two of downtown are getting picked up in a week,” she said. “They want somewhere to go that’s not at home that’s safe, so they’re opting for a lake house instead.”

As a result of many downtown businesses either being closed or severely restricting business, Laricy said there’s less incentive to live downtown for many, prompting them to move out to the suburbs more quickly than they might have previously.

As for the foreseeable future, Laricy and Schroder see hope for 2021.

“I think the end of the 3rd, 4th quarter is going to be the worst,” Laricy said. “But come Q1, I think we’re going to have the best quarter in real estate that we’ve had in a long time.”

“Life downtown is back, festivals, events, and the first-time homebuyer wave is huge,” Schroder added.

How to up your leads in a low inventory market

During the second panel of the Midwest regional breakout session, Raab spoke with Negeen Masghati, assistant manager at Baird & Warner in Chicago, and Sean Carpenter, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker in Columbus, about how to cultivate leads in this low inventory market.

Carpenter described a strategy he calls the “4H Club,” in which his Hs stand for writing handwritten notes each day; reviewing his “hot sheet” of market data each day; wishing friends on Facebook “Happy Birthday;” and doing a series of what he calls “High 5s”: five forms of interaction with several different social media accounts.

“I feel like everyday I put seeds into the ground that could cultivate into leads,” Carpenter explained.

Masghati shared how she’s taken a nurturing approach to interacting with clients during this uncertain time in order to build on future leads.

“I wanted to add a little joy to my client nurturing,” Masghati said. “So one of the first things I did was a movie night box, it was really simple. I mailed it out to my top 50 clients.”

She added that “it was really just something to break the real estate conversation.”

Masghati’s firm also starting using a client gift giving website called LoLo, which supports local businesses while organizing and sending out gifts to client contacts.

Carpenter and Masghati also discussed the need to shape clients’ mindsets right now, as many feel uncertain about the housing market’s stability.

“When you say ‘low inventory’ that can really scare buyers,” Carpenter said. “So let’s shift our mindset to tell people that it’s ‘fast inventory,'” a term he said would also mentally prepare sellers and buyers for their journey ahead.

“[It] turns it into a positive story that we can tell as a professional real estate agent,” Carpenter explained.

Carpenter also noted that although Zoom has been an invaluable resource for many during the pandemic, lots of people are also “Zoomed out,” so now might be the time to think of other creative ways to connect.

“I suggest agents try to build their business around what they like to do themselves,” said Carpenter. “So, what I do is, ‘Conversations With Carp Over Craft Beer in Columbus,'” an idea inspired by Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” television show.

Overall, Carpenter and Masghati agreed that now is the time to communicate with clients from a position of wanting to be helpful, and not trying to make any hard sells.

“You have to just take advantage of this opportunity to connect,” Masghati said.

How to future-proof your business

Choi and Raab ended the session by speaking with Malcolm Landenberger, team member and associate at RE/MAX Advantage in Nashville, and Lucas Howard, CEO of the Lucas Howard Group in Grand Rapids, Michigan, about how they’ve transitioned their businesses during the pandemic and how they’re trying to position themselves for future success in an uncertain world.

Howard noted that Michigan was “shut down hard,” and the biggest takeaway for his group was “being prepared mentally and in every aspect of our business.” He said his team carefully dissected every single point in the transaction to determine how they can be more efficient and fix anything that was broken. “Preparation equals success, and we’re going to continue to refine that weekly.”

Because business was so restricted in Michigan, Howard’s group started thinking outside the box, and ended up shipping out Ricoh Theta cameras to clients so that they could capture their own 360-degree video tours.

Landenberger, however, came from a fairly unique viewpoint in that he had just transitioned to real estate at the beginning of the pandemic and relocated to Tennessee from Michigan.

Making such move at the start of this crisis, “streamlined my business,” said Landenberger. “I’m only working with serious buyers and sellers.” He added that it’s made asking questions, like ‘Hey, are you pre-approved?’ easier.

Howard and Landenberger used their time during stay-at-home orders to connect with clients in any way they could.

“When I was locked in my home, I called every single person I’ve ever done a transaction with,” Howard said. “I personally got 26 pieces of business.” He added, “This time period made me realize, ‘Luke you’re an idiot, you’ve gotten away from this.'”

“I’ve just been reaching out to all the people in my database,” Landenberger said. “And the most important thing is follow-up, and the way I’ve been following up is through video, even if it’s just to say ‘hi.’

“The ultimate goal is to show people I’m just a normal person, just like them,” said Landenberger in regards to using video. “That they’re reaching out to a friend rather than somebody they don’t know.”

At the end of the panel, Landenberger and Howard both emphasized the importance of keeping a focused mindset and planning ahead for the long-term.

“Preparation equals success,” Howard reiterated.

“As long as you’re proactive and not reactive, it’s going to make a big change,” Landenberger said.

Email Lillian Dickerson

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