Inman founder Brad Inman kicked off December’s Connect Now conference with some sage advice about how agents can continue to thrive through uncertain times.

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The magic of a new year was short-lived in 2020, as the coronavirus shifted from an epidemic to a pandemic that brought some of the most powerful nations to their knees. In the months since, 73.3 million people have been infected, and nearly 1.6 million people have died from COVID-19, economies collapsed, unemployment rates boomed, social justice movements captured our attention and everyone figured out to navigate a new normal — including the real estate industry.

To kick off the last Connect Now of 2020, Inman publisher Brad Inman reflected on the year that was, offered nine pieces of advice about how to navigate what’s next, in terms of public health, the economy, technology, consumer needs, and much more.

Here’s what he had to say:

The vaccine will be a turning point

The first wave of vaccinations has kicked off in the United States, starting with healthcare workers and high-risk citizens, such as the elderly. Although a majority of Americans won’t be eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine until the spring, Inman recognized there’s still plenty of hesitancy about it, with some downright rejecting the idea of ever taking it.

“First, that COVID menace. Yes, the vaccine is here. Good news,” he said. “Some of you do not care because you will not even take the vaccine, [and] okay, I accept that.”

“But for the rest of us, we all want frontline workers and the elderly to be at the front of the line. It’s so important,” he added. “We’re still anxious, we don’t really know when the dates are when we might get the vaccine, but I think the important thing here is that it will come and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Personal feelings about the vaccine aside, Inman urged everyone to remain patient while leaders create the best plan of action that protects public health and moves the economy forward.

“Stay safe,” he said. “One thing we’ve learned in the last year that anything can happen and expectations can knife you in the back. So lower your expectations on everything.”

Take advantage of innovation

The past year has been filled with mergers, acquisitions and innovations, with Zillow digging its heels into iBuying, CoStar acquiring Homesnap, and a plethora of platforms reaching their end-to-end goals. Instead of being wary about these moves, Inman encouraged the Connect Now crowd to embrace change and identify how these innovations can improve your bottom line.

“[These innovations] mean more tools for you to do your job better,” he said. “It also means more competition amongst companies that deliver you leads and customers.”

“This, I hope, could lower your customer acquisition cost, but you must stay super informed, be ready to try new things after you do your diligence, and find new ways to partner and deliver options to your customers,” he added. “And remember, work tirelessly during this time to continue to digitize the transaction.”

“The dividends for this will pay off over the long term in so many ways, making it easier to buy and sell real estate and making it easier for you to deliver services in a really smart way.”

Buyers are moving — keep up

The pandemic transformed the hustle-and-bustle of city life from a benefit to a health threat. In response, buyers and renters saddled up and moved to spacious and affordably priced suburbs and small towns — a trend that’s unlikely to end with 2020.

“People aren’t just looking at pretty houses, they’re looking for new towns, new counties, new regions, new states and even new countries,” he said. “Working from home is changed the landscape; it’s given us a new freedom to think differently about where we live and why we want to live there.”

As a result, Inman said agents must expand their knowledge base and referral networks to effectively help consumers on their homebuying and homeselling journeys.

“They’re looking for new locations with an emphasis on safety and quality of life [and] they need new data and new information to understand these new areas,” he added. “Never have you been more valuable. Your community expertise has never been more important.”

Be there

Inman said real estate agents are pillars of their communities and they must work harder than ever to build trust. “The scars from 2020 will reshape our view of the world. My guess is for decades to come,” he said. “Your local presence gives you an invaluable advantage with your customers.”

“Leverage your community position, leverage your community expertise, be there for your neighbors and for your clients,” he added.

Help your buyers leverage low-interest rates

The one bright spot this year has been historically low interest rates, which has made borrowing more affordable than it’s been in nearly a decade. Inman reminded agents of their responsibility to help buyers wisely wield this tool, which can set them up for long-term wealth.

“Remember, low rates are a gift; they’re the best thing that could happen to the real estate market,” he said.  “Many buyers are flush with new savings because they saved more in 2020 and they have more buying power due to low rates, but your job is always the same: Guide them smartly not to make stupid decisions.”

Inman also said agents must guide those who struggled through 2020 and need help with quickly offloading a home or finding a new, more affordable abode.

“Some of your clients in this growing economy will feel more emboldened, but others will be left behind,” he said. “Your job is to be there for everyone.”

Use alternative financing tools to help sellers make a move

Inman said bustling home values and low-interest rates could push sellers to start listing their homes. However, sellers are wary about carrying two mortgages or falling into other financial potholes during a dual transaction — that’s where bridge financing comes in.

There are innovative new bridge financing vehicles being started by a whole bunch of different companies that will help move-up and move-down buyers make this bridge between selling and buying much easier,” he said. “So what does this mean for you? Well, you must be more creative in finding and closing sellers.”

“Tap into the new bridge loans and bridge financing options and tap into iBuyers,” he added. “It’s a source of demand. These tools and these options can make your customers’ lives easier.”

Lean into advocacy

In addition to a public health and economic emergency, 2020 brought a plethora of civil rights, human rights and housing rights issues to the forefront. Instead of shying away from these discussions, Inman encouraged agents to dive in and advocate for change that benefits the most vulnerable.

“We all know when our communities suffer, so does the real estate market and so does the industry,” he said. “Your grassroots involvement has never been more important [and] this is the time to speak out, have an opinion, and get involved.”

“The stakes are high,” he added. “Advocate tirelessly for fair housing, and other community actions that you deem will help your cities and your towns, no matter what your political persuasion.”

Protect yourself

Despite some headwinds during the first and second quarters of the year, the real estate industry has flourished with plenty of professionals and companies reporting banner Q3 and Q4 results. However, Inman asked agents to heed the story of Icarus and temper their emotions.

“Don’t let your wings block your vision and neglect what may be going on around you that you don’t notice because you’re so excited about your success,” he said. “2021 may look different, but we don’t know. Prepare for an adjustment.”

“This is shaping up to be the decade of unexpected events, so don’t get over-leveraged,” he added. “I always tell people personally to deploy your capital really smartly and always put a premium on putting away some savings.”

Reputation is key

Lastly, Inman reminded agents to guard their reputations and integrity in a highly social world where every word and action is displayed for everyone to see.

“It seems like everywhere we turn someone is watching us virtually. Never have there been so many snoops, probing, investigating, observing us and collecting our data,” he said. “Now, what does this mean for you? It’s pretty simple. You can choose to fight the loss of your privacy, and I would recommend it.”

“But reputation and integrity have never been more important, so always try to do the right thing,” he added. “Don’t be paranoid, but don’t be stupid.”

Lastly, Inman thanked the Inman staff and readers, and made a promise to resume in-person Inman Connect conferences in 2021.

“Who could have ever expected what would happen, but I think all of us, each of us had an opportunity to reflect, get close to our family and our dearest friends,” he said. “In many ways, this was a turning point in a lot of our lives in a very positive way [and] next year is going to be very eventful.”

“I know one thing I want to do is get together with all the friends I couldn’t see; I missed so many, so many of you so much,” he added. So I’m going to make a promise today that we will be together next year. Yes. A live Inman Connect for 2021. That’s my promise to you today.”

Email Marian McPherson

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