“The New Normal” is a multistory Inman series exploring what’s returning to normal after the pandemic fades and what will never be the same. Don’t miss Part 1 What if the brokerage of the future isn’t a brokerage at all?, Part 2 What if real estate agents never go back to the office?, Part 3 What if agent pay was more than just commissions?, Part 4 What if only 3 obstacles stood in the way of the fully digital transaction?, Part 5 What if specialization is the answer? and bonus content The New Normal: What if meetings of the future actually saved time? And join us June 15-17 when we take the conversation live at Inman Connect.
As pandemic restrictions are easing across many parts of the country, there is a lot of backroom talk about how the real estate community will respond once we are given the green light to return to business as usual.
There is common agreement that we will not be returning to the same business models in place before the crisis. Many changes have occurred in the past year — many of which are for the better.
1. Many of our business practices can now be done virtually
Although some agents had to scramble at the beginning of the coronavirus meltdown to adapt to the new virtual realities, many agents, specifically larger teams, had already been functioning virtually for years.
In the case of our team, the only change we had to make was our videoconferencing platform. We had routinely held online meetings with our clients for years, specifically for going over offers, reviewing comparative market analyses (CMAs), examining home inspection reports and more.
Because our team has members in four different states and two different countries, we had been using Microsoft Teams for our internal team meetings and another online meeting platform for our client consultations. When it became apparent Zoom was emerging as the dominant platform during the virtual reality, we switched over to make things easier for our clients.
We discovered, literally years ago, that many clients prefer online meetings. Instead of dragging their kids to our office during an evening to review offers, etc., they could stay at home and quickly accomplish those goals online.
COVID-19 has deepened this reality. The result? Client’s preferences and expectations have shifted to reinforce the fact that many of our standard practices can now be accomplished online. Put another way, much of what we do in interacting with our clients has moved solidly into the ether and will remain there going forward.
2. Open houses are not required to sell homes
With open houses banned, sellers grew deeply concerned that their homes would not get the necessary levels of exposure to produce effective offers. They needn’t have worried; many agents quickly embraced existing 3D and drone technologies, added floor plans, virtual brochures and more.
Buyers loved it, and they were able to start shortlisting homes from their living room sofas, visiting only those that truly met their needs. The benefit for buyers has been huge. Instead of wasting valuable time driving from home to home, they can gauge a specific property’s viability in less than a minute without ever leaving their home.
3. Many sellers and agents prefer scheduled appointments over open houses
With access restrictions in place, agents quickly discovered they needed effective methods for scheduling appointments. Although entities such as ShowingTime have been the staple in parts of the country for years, they quickly came to the forefront in other regions as agents struggled to find effective ways to book buyer visits.
Some turned to preexisting showing services; others jumped onto programs such as Calendly. Sellers quickly realized the benefits and began stating their preference.
Truth is, traditional open houses were never really about selling any particular home. They were the preferred method of many agents for securing new buyers. Sellers have always been concerned by the prospects of numerous people in their homes at any one time, kids running unattended through the home, potential theft, breakage and more.
With scheduled appointments, sellers have loved knowing exactly when buyers are visiting and the reality that a limited number are in the home at any given time under the close supervision of their agent.
Buyers also love the fact that they can have open conversations while touring a home without worrying about being overheard by other competing homeowner wannabes. The benefit to listing agents? The ability to effectively track visitors through the listing, including access to buyer’s agents’ contact information, making follow-up a breeze.
4. Open house signs are no longer necessary
Until the pandemic hit, our local area had been besieged with “sign wars.” Agents would send out drivers early on Saturday mornings and would litter the city with numerous signs.
It would not be uncommon for one agent to have four signs at one intersection. Multiply this by any number of competing agents, and you have a significant issue. Signs would go out Saturdays and stay out until late Sunday.
Even though cities started imposing fines, agents, intent on making sure they had “adequate exposure,” sucked up the fines and carried on. Sellers contributed to the fracas under the misconception that buyers actually used the signs to locate their home, and thus, the more, the better.
To everyone’s relief, COVID-19 effectively ended the sign wars. Ironically, everyone — especially sellers — quickly discovered what most agents already knew: Open house signs were absolutely unnecessary except as a means of advertising any given agent’s business. In fact, once agents experienced the cost and time savings of not putting out signs, a collective sign of relief could be palpably felt.
Truth is, open house signs have not been required since GPS technology became available on handheld devices. Additionally, classic open house signs have long been banned in many metropolitan areas.
Although there is an obvious benefit to being able to display your brand so potential sellers know you are working in their area, I hope we will see a little bit of sanity once signs are permitted again.
5. Virtual staging works
With many counties banning staging services at the beginning of the crisis, agents had to find other ways to enhance their listings. Long scorned by many, virtual staging came into its own during the crisis and gained significant traction.
Because many buyers will only give any given property between seven to 10 seconds on their mobile devices before swiping left, beautiful online visuals are critical to getting a buyer to actually visit.
Many listing agents adopted virtual staging, especially those who did not have large advertising budgets, those with sellers who did not want to pay for staging or those selling lower-priced properties where normal staging made no financial sense.
The one caveat: Make sure buyers know that the pictures posted online feature virtual staging so they are not disappointed when they actually visit.
6. Personal contact is critical
With many of the standard means of interacting lost during COVID-19, agents who succeeded did so by staying in close contact with their spheres. The agents who doubled down on efforts to stay in touch with their community reaped huge dividends. This not only meant personal calls, it also included webinars, Facebook Live and more. There are significant lessons to be learned from this going forward.
Although no one has been excited that we have been living through a pandemic, the truth is we have learned some valuable lessons that can produce effective changes in our industry going forward. We can only hope these changes will not be lost as we begin emerging from a long tunnel of darkness and move once again into the light.
Carl Medford is the CEO of The Medford Team.