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Norma Hinojosa
RE/MAX Elite
Mission, Texas

Region served: Deep South and Coastal Bend areas of Texas
Years in real estate: 16 total, 14 as a broker
Number of offices: 4
Number of agents: 125

Best learning experience: “I became a broker in 2007 when real estate was at its peak. Because of my inexperience, I couldn’t foresee what was coming with the recession of 2008. There were so many lessons learned in those years that I’m thankful for today. I’m not sure I’d have the success I have if it wasn’t for those years.”

Finding balance during coronavirus: I love to hike, and I love to be outdoors. It’s not all about work and profit, and it’s okay to show our agents that. We have to do whatever it takes to center ourselves and find perspective. We can’t make the thoughtful decisions and meaningful changes that are necessary with a head full of noise.

How has business been so far in 2020…both before and since the outbreak of COVID-19?
Pre-COVID, there was growth quarter after quarter. Since March, we’ve been hunkering down and anticipating this major downshift that hasn’t quite happened. It hasn’t been as hard on our economy or our sales (at press time). May was our most difficult month so far—we saw a 15 – 20 percent drop in the number of closings. Sellers took their listings off the market and inventory was low. We still have a strong pipeline in escrow, and we’re having agents do as much virtually and digitally as possible. We’ve had an unexpectedly strong second quarter. That said, we don’t feel we’re out of the woods yet, and we’re doubling down on essential activities.

What strategies are most critical for keeping business flowing in the time of coronavirus?
One of the things we did early on was to encourage agents to do short-term business planning, or four- to eight-week business plans. This allows for flexibility and adaptation in what is a rapidly changing environment. Short-term planning makes change a lot more manageable and eliminates a lot of emotional and mental overwhelm. The plans you started with in January need to be put on the back burner, and it’s important to come up with a shorter (perhaps temporary) plan in tune with the current circumstances.

What would you say is the most important factor to ensure profitability…no matter what market conditions may be?
Profitability is only one component of long-term sustainability. In a crisis, it’s easy to become fearful and make the mistake of hyper-focusing on profitability and sacrificing other fundamentals that ensure our long-term sustainability. I’ve been very careful about not compromising for the sake of short-term profitability. We’ve cut some wasteful spending of course, but I can’t cut services for my agents. I’ve kept all my staff and haven’t reduced their hours even though they’re home. We even hired a full-time support person in one location to make sure agents have everything they need. We’re not sacrificing services for our agents and staff, and certainly not for our clients. My focus is long-term sustainability.

What role does agent training and technology play at your firm?
Consumers are becoming more and more tech-savvy, and we have to stay ahead of their expectations. Training has been of huge importance to me. We have a full-time director of agent development, and new agents go through a 14-class program in addition to weekly training.

For the average family, the purchase or sale of a home is likely the most important thing they will buy or sell in their lifetime. They trust real estate agents with that responsibility. Our state requires six classes, a test and a background check to get licensed; that’s insufficient and inadequate to prepare someone for a task that carries so much weight. Training is essential.

What is the biggest challenge for the remainder of 2020?
The biggest challenge is that we’re so impatient and ready to put all this behind us that we make changes without seeing a full picture. I’m not sure this is a race to who can “shift” the fastest; in fact, it’s not a race at all. There’s danger in that we don’t yet fully understand the permanent changes that will come about from all this, and in our rush to adapt to stay ahead, we might be making permanent or unnecessary changes in the middle of what is a temporary crisis. Of course, this storm will leave the landscape looking differently, and things will never be as they were, but it’s still unfolding, and we don’t yet know fully what that landscape will look like when it’s all said and done. The challenge is remaining patient and discerning as things unfold.

And what’s the biggest opportunity ahead?
Agents are looking at residential real estate again for how important it really is. It’s personal—it’s someone’s home. When the market is doing well, we tend to look at the business from a transactional point of view, and when you do that, so much is lost. We need to remember just how important our role is. The market has this way of self-correcting and reminding us of that. I think it’s huge that we’ve been reminded about what matters, and in the end, we’ll be thankful for the lessons we’re learning and those yet to be understood.

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Maria Patterson is RISMedia’s executive editor. Email her your real estate news ideas to