When COVID-19 hit the US, we were all quick to remind one another we’re living in “unprecedented times.” Every email, commercial, or social message started off with an acknowledgment of these “weird times” we’re living through.
But as the “new normal” just becomes “normal” and the long-term impacts of COVID-19 are starting to become more apparent, many of us are recognizing that the pandemic isn’t something to just wait out. Beyond state shutdowns, the coronavirus is sure to have serious impacts on consumers and what they spend their money on.
In real estate, this likely means fewer people will be looking to move—but that doesn’t mean the real estate agent’s job is obsolete. To get through COVID-19, you need to look for opportunities to pivot.
While there certainly isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan for navigating through the current state of the world or the economy, this guide is designed to help you face the unique challenges COVID-19 brings to the real estate market.
Keep reading to learn:
How is COVID-19 impacting real estate?
With the 2008 financial crisis and housing collapse still in our rearview mirror, COVID-19 has stirred up a lot of unresolved anxiety and a whole lot of questions. How long will the coronavirus impact our economy? What will the job market look like six months from now or even a year from now? Is this the right time to buy a home?
According to Zillow, previous pandemics saw a “pause” on the housing market. While home sales dropped, prices stayed about the same.
The same seems to be true for COVID-19. In New York City—the US’s biggest hotspot for the virus—new listings were down 78% across Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens:
Other major cities also saw dramatic drops in their number of new listings, despite not being hit as hard with the virus as NYC. King County, Washington, where Seattle is located, saw a decrease of 54% while the East Bay market of California was down 70%.
We can make a few hypotheses about these numbers and why their cut-offs were so dramatic. For starters, new stay-at-home orders probably left sellers and agents alike confused about where they fell on the “essential” business spectrum. Sellers may have put off listing their homes to wait out the orders, assuming they would only last a few weeks.
And unfortunately, it’s still too early to say for sure how the pandemic and lockdown will impact home sales long-term. Markets in cities that weren’t hit hard by the virus, or even in towns that didn’t see any cases at all, might still be going strong.
But with growing instability in the job market, as well as growing health and safety considerations, once strong markets may struggle to find buyers. Being prepared for whatever is to come is crucial for getting through COVID-19 as a real estate agent.
5 tips for real estate agents for getting through COVID-19
Here are our best tips for preparing for future changes to better navigate through COVID-19 as a realtor.
1. Set up virtual open houses
Industries all around the world are turning to virtual platforms to connect and communicate—and real estate is no different. While potential buyers might not be able to tour spaces, you don’t need to cancel your open houses. Instead, host them virtually.
A virtual open house walks interested buyers through a listed home via video or live streaming. It allows potential buyers to get a feel for if the home is right for them from the comfort (and safety) of their homes.
Follow these tips for a successful virtual open house:
- Promote across social media. Social media is your tool to connect with potential buyers and the perfect way to let your audience know of an upcoming virtual open house. Use your platforms to schedule open house events so potential buyers (or even just architecture lovers) know when to tune in.
- Make your videos detailed. Unlike a traditional open house, potential buyers can’t explore on their own. They’re relying on you to show them everything they need in your live open house. Be sure to include as many small details as possible—even if it feels like you’re sharing too much.
- Respond to comments as you’re going. Comments are going to be your audience’s way of connecting, asking questions, or engaging during the virtual open house. You need to make sure you’re giving yourself enough time to respond to those comments as they come in.
- Make your video easily accessible after the live viewing. Although shelter-in-place requirements are keeping many people at home, they’re still busy. Between working from home and having kids home full-time from school, your audience might not be available at your scheduled time. Uploading video recordings after the live event has taken place can allow them to check-in on their own time.
- Give clear next steps. Make it clear what interested buyers should do to get in touch or connect about more information. Let them know if there will be an opportunity to walk through the house or who they should reach out to with any additional questions.
Choosing the right tool for your virtual open house.
The tool you use for your virtual open house can be the key to your success—or turn it into a disaster. There are a lot of options available, but two stand above and beyond the others: Facebook Live and RingCentral.
Facebook Live is a go-to for any realtor who wants to reach a large audience easily. Because the majority of people are already on Facebook, it’s great for connecting with a larger audience. However, with Facebook, it’s not as easy to capture lead information—which is crucial for eventually closing a deal.
Putting this sign-up page before an open house event can help you weed out serious buyers from those who might just be casually seeing what’s out there. When you have a way to contact them and you know that they’re interested in the property, you can send them more targeted follow-ups and content.
RingCentral Video’s in-meeting chat feature also makes it easier to connect. Facebook Live can have a bit of a lag, so you might not see a comment come in while you’re still walking through the home, meaning an important question could go unanswered.
2. Stay connected with your core team
Let’s be honest—you can’t do everything alone.
From gathering your resources to maintaining your listings and answering questions from buyers and sellers, you have a lot on your plate. And then there are the things you can’t do yourself—like inspecting homes or writing up legal documents.
The people that do those additional tasks for you make the home buying process as smooth as possible for your clients. In a time like this where there is a lot of uncertainty, you need to depend on them.
Take a look at who you would consider your “core team.” This might include assistants, other agents within your company, or external inspectors or lawyers you’ve been working with for years. Make a list of all the people that go into completing a home sale, from start to finish.
Now, take a look at each individual. Can you depend on them? Are they able to perform their job remotely? Do they still contribute value to your work?
If the answer is no, it’s time to find their replacement. If you can’t provide them with additional support to bring their work up to par, you need to let them go and find someone who is able to help you through these challenging times.
If the answer is yes, create a communication schedule to ensure you stay in touch.
Depending on how important they are to your workflow, you might need to reconnect every couple of days (or even once a day). For example, it might make sense to do a quick phone call every morning with your assistant. An inspector, on the other hand, probably only needs to be checked in on once a month or every couple of weeks.
Use a communication platform like RingCentral to make communication easy.
For those recurring meetings, opt for a video call. It’s good to see the other person’s face every once in a while, especially if you have larger projects to walk through. You can even share your screen in RingCentral Video to show off new videos, listings, or photos:
3. Make your listings stronger
Now more than ever, your listings need to be strong. With potential buyers unable to visit homes safely, listings need to do more than just peak their interest—they might even need to sell.
Traditionally, a listing is just the first stop for a potential buyer. It’s a brief overview of what the home has to offer, the price, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and location. If a potential buyer is interested in what’s available, they connect for an in-person showing.
With the option of those in-person viewings out the window for the foreseeable future, listings need to grab—and hold—a potential buyer’s attention. That means they need to be more than just the “brief overview” that you might have been used to creating pre-coronavirus.
When you’re just looking at pictures of a home—especially one without a family living in it—it’s hard to know what furniture might fit, what a room might be used for, or what it might actually be like to live there. To help close that gap, here are some ways you can improve your listings to make a stronger impact:
- Take more (and better) photos. Photos are the best way to show off a listed home. But if you’re only featuring 10 photos of a four-bedroom home, you’re not giving potential buyers a real idea of what is available.
Lots of photos—of every closet, corner, and nook—can start to give your audience the full picture (no pun intended). Take shots from different corners of the room or perspectives, and draw up a layout view of the home so potential buyers can understand the flow.
- Create video content. What’s better than pictures? Videos! Creating and hosting video tours on the listings page can oftentimes be easier to produce and give a better overall perspective of the layout of the home.
Create a video of the full house, or go on a room-by-room basis. When creating videos, be sure to show the small details as well. Don’t skip over closets or cupboards!
- Be descriptive. Listing descriptions can be rather formulaic—how many bedrooms, bathrooms, square footage, etc. But while this does a great job of getting to the basics, your audience will want to know more about the home than just the amount of space.
Include some more detailed information in your listings. When were renovations done? How old is the HVAC system? What considerations should buyers have before contacting you? This helps potential buyers get the information they need early on—preventing either of you from wasting time.
- Use virtual staging. Physically staging a home is a great way to help potential buyers envision themselves in the space. However, it’s not worth the investment if no one can actually go see how it’s staged.
Instead, opt for virtual staging, which is both easier and cheaper. Using virtual staging software, you can set up a home to show what it might look like with furniture.
Caption: Virtual staging software like BoxBrownie can take an empty room and make it a home—helping your audience envision themselves living in the space.
4. Share factual, helpful information
Whether a client is a young professional ready to buy their first home or an elderly couple ready to downsize their empty nest, they look to you as their real estate expert. In “normal” times, this might mean helping them understand their market, the square footage they can afford in their price point, or the risks they face buying in certain geographic locations.
But in our “new normal,” being an expert in real estate means something different. While your clients might have all the same questions they had before, they’re likely going to rely on you for certainty in these extremely uncertain times.
This means sharing data, insights, and information they can use to make an educated decision about buying a new home or selling an existing property.
One way you could do that is by generating or curating your own content, such as compiling a mix of content from around the internet into a newsletter and sharing it with subscribers. Here’s an example from the She Moves Philly Movesletter:
A regular newsletter is a great way to keep your clients or potential clients informed of the latest news, new listings, or other fun activities that might help relieve some stress during this difficult time.
It also helps you stay connected with your audience while they might still be deciding if they’re interested in moving or not. You can keep clients engaged without constantly bombarding them with inquiries on if they’ve made a decision yet.
|Pro-tip: Tools like Mailchimp or Constant Contact make it easy to set up and distribute a newsletter—it’s just up to you to add the content.
Another way to stay in touch is through an online resource for past clients, potential buyers, or even just acquaintances. This digital resource can point your community to information they should know, tips they can use, or other people they can connect with for help.
At this time, think beyond just sellers and buyers. Help people find information about what they should do if they’ve been laid off and can’t make a mortgage payment, where they can file for unemployment, or even what grocery stores are offering special shopping hours for at-risk or elderly groups. Anything that might make their lives a little easier.
Think of yourself as a helpful member of your community. Who can you help and how? Don’t think about how or if that person might eventually become a client. If you can get out there and prove how much you care, people will remember.
5. Make the most of remote closings
Before COVID-19, signing closing documents meant crowding in a conference room to finalize the mortgage loan and transfer the property—yet another tradition that just isn’t possible with the new social distancing measures.
Luckily, online solutions make it easy to complete closing remotely.
The most common type of “e-closing” is a hybrid, where a smaller group of individuals, including new buyers and the notary, might meet in person to sign some documents digitally and others traditionally. However, not everyone will be comfortable with this process.
In that case, a remote online notarization can allow all parties to sign documents electronically. The notary and new home buyers would connect through a video meeting.
But a remote online notarization isn’t always possible for everyone. Different states will have different laws for whether or not an entirely remote closing process is possible, and what needs to be done to make the notary process viable.
Many states have made exceptions because of COVID-19. Make sure to check your local laws to see if remote closings are an option.
Be a resource—not a salesperson
As a real estate agent, the root of your job is to sell. But you’re not just selling anything, you’re connecting people with their future homes.
Remember how personal and intimate that process can be. When you’re working with a client, whether they’re new or old, you’re helping them find the perfect place to put down roots, raise a family, or move to that next phase of their life. They’re counting on you to help them through that stressful part of their life.
Extending that helpful attitude to times like these—where your clients, yet again, need someone they can depend on—can prove how valuable you are not only to the community, but to each individual as well.
When trying to connect with your audience during COVID-19, don’t think only about how you can continue to sell homes. Instead, think about how you can better serve your community. Look for opportunities to make things easier for your clients and potential buyers, ways you can connect and provide support in whatever way they need, and what you can do to reduce stress in an already stressful time.