Just a few months into 2020—which was predicted to be a relatively strong year for real estate—the industry and the U.S. population at large were faced with an unprecedented turn of events. With many businesses shut down amidst the coronavirus pandemic, and stay-at-home mandates in place, real estate brokers had to quickly shift, focusing on how to best lead their agents and consumers through a crisis.
Every market brought with it its own challenges and opportunities. For the most part, however, up until March, the numbers looked solid.
“Nothing changed until late March,” says Jim Smith, broker/owner of Golden Real Estate in Colorado.” Then in April, he says, new listings decreased by about 50 percent.
Leesa Harper Rispoli, president of Coldwell Banker D’Ann Harper REALTORS® in Texas, says the same of her market, stating January through March were “great months.” However, as the markets in San Antonio have a significant military population, business was greatly affected when the Department of Defense froze all moves.
Ashley Bowers, president of HomeSmart International, based in Arizona, says the year started off strong for the brokerage, with business increasing 7 to 25 percent in the first couple months before tapering off and really slowing down in April in some price points.
“Before COVID-19, we were virtually sold out in the more affordable and mid-price ranges in many areas, and this is still the case today,” says J. Lennox Scott, chairman and CEO of John L. Scott Real Estate, which has markets across Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California.
As states begin to open businesses back up, however, real estate is starting to see some recovery. And in some markets, transactions kept closing despite the challenges.
“Of those who did put their homes on the market, we still saw nearly a third go under contract within a week, even when in-person showings were banned for most of April,” says Smith.
Bowers says the brokerage expects things to pick back up in June, with more recovery happening into July.
“It seems like in many markets, everyone just paused and was taking a wait-and-see approach,” says Bowers. “We will see pent-up demand in many of our markets, so while we expect a decrease in transactions for the next couple of months, we don’t expect a huge dip in the average sales price.”
Market behavior aside, however, there is one element that drove change within real estate organizations so that agents could continue thriving and consumers could still achieve the American Dream—leadership. Successful leaders all doubled down on two things: technology and training.
At Coldwell Banker D’Ann Harper REALTORS®, Harper Rispoli took it upon herself to review every incoming invoice, cutting costs that were not essential to her agents and shifting the focus to what would protect the brokerage during the downturn.
“Every decision going forward has been to position our company as the leader in virtual reality,” says Harper Rispoli. “We now provide three different types of videos on every listing. We have a very good presence and following on social media platforms. And we provide our agents with extensive training and support.”
At HomeSmart, leadership leaned on technology as well, prioritizing tools that would allow agents to continue doing business even as they faced in-person restrictions.
“We very quickly introduced both agents and consumers to the concept of virtual open houses, tours and showings through a multitude of education and marketing resources,” says Bowers. “We also moved all of our agent training online and created an ongoing series of Business Builder webinar classes where agents hear from industry experts and learn from other agents finding success in this market.”
Keller Williams New Orleans focused on coaching to best prepare agents for the market shift, says Jeffrey R. Doussan, Jr., team leader.
“Every associate has a different set of circumstances, and our leadership team worked to understand those and tailor coaching accordingly. We didn’t want anyone feeling helpless, so we started having daily online classes on Google Meet with some of the best REALTORS® and coaches in the country,” says Doussan.
At John L. Scott Real Estate, communication has also been the key component to staying productive.
“We’re communicating now more than ever before,” says Scott. “As a leadership team, we won’t be able to provide meaningful help to our broker associates if we don’t understand on a deeper level the challenges they face. We’ve been working together to learn what is desired and needed from brokerages, and have challenged each other along the way to ‘up the ante’ with the way we’re providing support.”
Despite the new challenges facing agents and brokers, real estate leaders found that staying true to company culture helped everyone navigate the new terrain.
For Doussan, that has meant keeping things fun and light for agents.
“KW International rolled out new websites, so on a Friday at 4 p.m., we had an online workshop called ‘Websites and Wine.’ Attendees were able to walk through customizing their KW site while enjoying a beverage of their choice,” says Doussan. “Another fun hour was having Million Dollar Listing TV star Tyler Whitman on a private Google Meet. He is a top producer in NYC who had some great experiences to share with our associates.”
Harper Rispoli’s “family culture” has kept everyone working together as a resilient team. Before coming up with a strategy for adapting to the “new normal,” she focused on the first priority: ensuring everyone was safe and healthy.
“I have kept in touch with all of our agents, management and support staff,” says Harper Rispoli. “Making sure they were all okay was the most important thing I could have done.”
While economists are hopeful that the markets will begin to rebound this summer, much is still unknown.
Scott predicts that prices will remain stable or rebound quickly in the months to come, stating, “Before COVID-19, the housing market was strong and active in many of the markets across the John L. Scott footprint. We anticipate demand and activity will continue to rise when things are back to more of a normal baseline.”
Harper Rispoli, who works in a market that has not felt as big a strain as others, believes the East and West Coasts will continue to be “off for a while.”
“Texas has been and will always be resilient,” says Harper Rispoli, who emphasized that things could be worse. “While our markets may be off 15 percent, that alone is a huge blessing.”
Meanwhile, Smith predicts a surge in listings “because of those who held their homes off the market earlier.”
Today’s brokerage leaders, however, are prepared to continue adapting and innovating in any type of market.
“Even though the pandemic was the reason for moving things virtually so quickly, it doesn’t mean that everything will go back to the way things were as soon as each state reopens,” says Bowers. “Our agents are eager to get back to work serving their clients in any capacity, so we plan to assist them in any way we can to help them get back to doing business while following the guidelines set in place by both our local and national governments.”
What makes a good leader in the end? Brokers show that keeping lines of communication open; regularly checking in on agents, staff, and consumers; and leveraging training and technology are essential strategies for staying afloat and productive even during the most challenging of times.
“I feel that leadership should not change during a time of crisis,” says Harper Rispoli. “You must remain true to yourself and your support staff and agents. We listened to the fears of uncertainty being voiced to become champions of change and embrace the new normal. I have spent time calling agents and learning what’s important to them. My company has about 425 agents. Not one of them feels like they are on an ‘island,’ and that is a sign of a good leader.”
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Liz Dominguez is RISMedia’s senior online editor. Email her your real estate news and ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.