Interviews by Joe Olivieri
The coronavirus pandemic has upended businesses and life in general. REALTORS® in Texas are figuring out how to do business during a time of tremendous uncertainty. While circumstances such as shelter-in-place orders may change, disruptions may continue for some time. Texas REALTORS® officers have emphasized during this time that members should take care of themselves and their families, and do what is needed to ensure the health and safety of clients, customers, and all fellow Texans.
Texas REALTORS® also asked two prominent real estate educators what members can do right now to move forward. Here’s what they suggest:
Make the Human Connection
Ross: The number one thing is to pick up the telephone. Call your clients and have a conversation with them as a person. Ask: “How are you? How is your family? How’s the homeschooling going with your kids? Is there anything I can help you with?” It’s the little things like that. It’s just making that human connection.
Serve your Community
Napoleon: I know this may sound strange, but success right now is not about how much money you’re making. Success right now is being a service to your clients, your community, and the industry. If you are a REALTOR® who also sews, why not create masks? I think right now it’s about finding a way that you can give back. In the end when it’s all said and done, people will remember those who did not make it about themselves but who made it about moving the entire economy forward.
Ross: Is there someone who doesn’t drive, or who is sheltered at home? Someone who is older and is afraid to go out? Can you pick up some food for them? Support that restaurant in your local area. Do what you can to help with what other challenges they may have. You’ve got to keep your social distance, but you can pick something up and leave it on their doorstep. There are so many different things we can do to help each other.
You should be explaining to clients how they can continue to do real estate … if they choose to continue.
Share Useful Information Online
Napoleon: Utilize this time to create posts that are very client friendly. I’ve been posting a lot of different things such as, “Here’s how buyers and sellers can work right now in this virtual environment” and, “Here’s a list of all the things sellers can do.” And at the end of all of them say, “If you are sick, stay home.” That is a way of advertising your business, but not in a vain way. You aren’t saying, “Hey, pick me! Pick me! I’ll buy or sell a house.” Our market right now really can’t handle that. You’re giving clients something that answers the question of “What’s in it for me?” Not only that, but “Here’s how I can help you in this time.”
Virtual Tools for a Virtual Office
Marion Napoleon recommended the following tools for a virtual office. Many are available for free. Check with your local, state, and national associations to see what tools they offer.
- Administrative software to manage your business
- Cloud storage for documents, backup capacity
- Digital signature software to manage e-signatures remotely
- Forms software, such as zipForm
- An online address book to log client information
- An online calendar to schedule appointments and send out reminders
- Online document editing and collaborating such as Google Docs
- RPR Commercial, a real estate platform exclusively for REALTORS® that produces comprehensive data and reports
- A text chat and video conferencing platform, such as Zoom
- VOIP, or voice over internet protocol, for phone calls through the internet and advanced calling features, such as forwarding only calls from pre-selected numbers.
Offer Clients Options
Napoleon: You should be explaining to clients how they can continue to do real estate, if they choose to continue. You can give clients some options of things that they can do. For example, for a client who has not embraced digital signatures in the past, now is the time to teach them how to use the computer to do those things.
Let clients know that you can both “go out” and virtually look at some properties. Tell them that if they find one they’re really interested in, you can reach out to that listing agent to ask if they will allow the seller to do a virtual walkthrough with the buyer. Most importantly, you should make sure your clients realize that you’re going to find a way to keep them moving forward.
Open a Virtual Office and Use Virtual Tools
Napoleon: I have been preaching forever about agents and brokers creating a virtual office. So now is the time. I have created a complete virtual office using not only Google products but every single free application of software provided through my association.
Ross: Anybody who has been doing video and working virtually will have a huge advantage right now. This is a time to double down on learning how to use Zoom and other remote platforms. Start learning how to do your business virtually, because if you don’t in this moment in time, you are going to be left behind by the agents who do. You’re not going to be able to compete anymore.
Expect Many Unknowns
Ross: Our comps are not going to be accurate. What about lenders? Are lenders going to qualify buyers from their salary in January or from what they have earned lately? How’s the buyer’s credit going to be impacted if that person hasn’t been able to pay bills? How will it be impacted by any moratoriums on payments and rents? We don’t know. There are so many unknowns right now. Many of these situations are still being resolved. Be upfront with your clients about the unknowns and keep them updated when new information becomes available. In the meantime, each deal may have to be done on a case-by-case basis until we get some clarity.
Napoleon: Normal is no longer normal. A lot of agents are thinking they can do business as usual, but they have to do business “unusual.” I remember back during the 2008 financial crisis, and many agents did not move quickly. Everyone should read Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson. It helps you figure out who you are, and helps you be able to move quickly in the changing times.
Ross: Agents are figuring out how to conduct their businesses in new and creative ways while still observing social distancing.
For example, if a client is interested in a tenant-occupied income property, you can review all of the pictures and video online. You can also obtain a copy of the floor plan to include on the MLS and on digital brochures. Clients can also drive by the property and look at the exterior from their car. If the client submits an offer and the offer is accepted, then the client can go inside and do the interior inspection during the option period. Interior inspections should be conducted following presidential and CDC guidelines as well as any local and state governmental orders. This way the property gets sold and you’ve maintained social distancing.
Consider the Demand
Ross: Interest rates are so low, and the demand is still there. We have way more people than we do housing. That isn’t going away. Savvy buyers see that and are looking to acquire properties, either for themselves or as investments. Those who buy during these lower rates will end up saving money and paying less in the long run as opposed to buyers who wait until rates rise. These savvy buyers see this turmoil as an opportunity, while other people kind of pull back.
For agents working with sellers, I would dust off those price reduction scripts. There will be properties that will not go for the price sellers have in mind. We’re in a time of uncertainty. I think there will be some reluctance to act. Others may get one or two offers on a property that would normally get 10 offers, and decide to go forward with the transaction.
Napoleon: Many REALTOR® associations are providing free education and training.
Ross: This is a wonderful time to sign up for classes. Many education providers are delivering classes via Zoom or other broadcast platforms. This is a great time to fulfill your CE requirements or even go for your GRI.
Ways to Help During the Pandemic
You can help your community while still observing shelter-in-place orders and social distancing. Consider the following options.
Donate homemade masks. Many cities and organizations are collecting homemade masks during the pandemic. Visit cdc.gov and select Cloth Face Coverings for instructions on how to make masks.
Volunteer at a food bank. Food banks are experiencing high demand and need volunteers. Visit your local food bank’s website to register to volunteer.
Deliver food to those in need. Many people cannot leave their homes due to illness, self-quarantine, or coronavirus risk factors. Meals on Wheels and other local organizations are delivering food to homes in your area.
Donate. Monetary donations go a long way to meet emerging needs.
Support local businesses. Orders and purchases help local businesses stay open and pay employees. Many restaurants offer takeout, pickup, and delivery options. Businesses may be willing to ship products to customers.
Check in on neighbors. Reach out to those around you. Make sure people have what they need and know where to get resources.