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This month’s National of Association of REALTORS® (NAR) Power Broker Roundtable introduces NAR’s new 2021 President, Charlie Oppler.

John P. Horning: Executive Vice President, Shorewest REALTORS®, Milwaukee, Wis., Liaison for Large Firms and Industry Relations, the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR)

Charlie Oppler: COO, Prominent Properties Sotheby’s Intl. Realty; 2020 NAR President-Elect

John Horning: Approaching his 40th year in the real estate business, Charlie Oppler is no stranger to NAR. He’s a trusted peer to top brokers across the country, and a loyal friend to the industry at large. His unique combination of long-term association involvement and hands-on leadership at one of the nation’s top brokerage firms gives him a much-needed perspective as he prepares to take the helm at NAR next year…especially from the broker’s vantage point. We’re excited to have you step into the president’s role, Charlie. Can you start by sharing a little about the pandemic’s impact on your New Jersey-based firm and its agents?

Charlie Oppler: Thanks, John! I’m excited as well. New Jersey was hit hard by the pandemic. We made the decision to close probably three or four days before the Governor shut down the state, so we were ahead of the curve a little bit. I think we were all blindsided by the severity of what was happening.

From a “what’s happening” standpoint, we were all kind of flailing, but from an agent standpoint, we realized we had to make sure we communicated with our managers and agents. New Jersey was declared essential, so real estate closings were still happening. We started a series with national speakers to find out what they were doing in Tennessee, Utah, Chicago, North Carolina, etc. We also talked a lot about mindset, exercise and relaxation. We did a lot of things to keep the agents engaged. Now, our staff is back full swing. We’ve been able to keep business going as best as possible. I think we’ve all done a pretty good job as an industry based on the record sales. But it’s different. Anyone who tells you it’s not different, I think they’re not being honest.

JH: What has been your main message to agents during this health crisis?
Make sure you check on your customers and your clients, not about real estate, but to see if they need anything. Understand that your sphere of influence is your sphere of influence for a reason…because you have relationships with them. They’re not a search-engine lead that you never met…they’re the person that helped you grow your business.

JH: What are some of the biggest challenges facing brokers in the year ahead?
Adapting physical space for social distancing is one. Many of us have scaled down the size of our offices with many people now working from home. But what do we do when they want to come in? I think adaptability of physical space is one challenge, both for functionality now and financial viability down the road.

Another concern of mine is how do our agents build relationships with brokers in areas they didn’t think they’d be referring to? For instance, we were fortunate enough to refer a client from Ridgewood, N.J., to Maine; they were looking to get away from the hustle and bustle and gain a better quality of life since they could now work from home. So another challenge is finding ways to build relationships in new regions.

Multiple-offer situations present another challenge. When somebody loses four or five houses, how do you keep them going? We’ve had buyers say, “I’m going to waive an inspection,” but that might not be in their best interest. We have to make sure we don’t drift away from what needs to be done the right way, and we have to make sure our brokerage community collaborates and stays cooperative. It should always be in the consumer’s best interest. 

JH: Brokers have pivoted in so many ways this year. How can they continue to lead and support REALTORS® in the months ahead?
CO: Even though Zoom fatigue is real, brokers can still provide support and learning. We have to continue to meet that challenge, whether it’s one on one with agents in a Zoom environment or in person while socially distanced over a cup of coffee. What you do now is as important as it’s ever been.

Brokers should also urge their REALTORS® to take advantage of NAR’s Right Tools, Right Now program. We’re going to bring in more online learning for our members in order to create value for you as their broker. And let’s face it, your biggest value as a broker is supporting your agents and their transactions.

JH: Finally, Charlie, how might the real estate business change permanently, post-pandemic?
I think a lot of things for the foreseeable future will be about process and efficiency. We’ve talked about that forever, but now, because of the pandemic, we see it on a different level because the consumer’s driving it. Now, the top real estate professionals who know how to package things better will continue to take greater market share because the consumer has confidence in their ability.

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