Coronavirus and Real Estate: Coach Richard Robbins on Mindset and Marketing in Difficult Times

The coronavirus pandemic is changing real estate. It’s impacting buyer and seller activity and forcing agents to adjust their mindset, marketing, and business operations. Richard Robbins, one of the top real estate coaches in North America, joins The Walkthrough to share with our listeners the same guidance he’s sharing with his coaches and clients. Learn how agents can not only survive, but thrive in the midst of so much uncertainty.

(Note: This is one episode of a 2-part series. Please also see Real Estate During COVID-19: How Top Agents are Adapting to Coronavirus to hear how agents are working through these uncertain times.)

Links and Show Notes

Full Transcript

(SPEAKER: Matt McGee, Host) Good morning agents, or good afternoon, good evening, whatever time of day it is where you are listening. This is not the podcast we expected to publish today on March 23rd. Of course, this is also not the market environment that you, I, or anyone else expected to be working in on March 23rd.

Just a few days ago, HomeLight published the results of a flash survey of more than 600 top agents across the country. The results spoke loudly and clearly. The coronavirus pandemic is having an undeniable impact on real estate. Forty-one percent of agents are seeing seller activity decline and 45% are seeing less buyer activity. Fifty-two percent of agents have seen buyers put their home search on hold. From social distancing to working from home, from buyers and sellers getting cold feet, to agents worrying about the future of their business, you’ve had a lot to deal with in just the past couple of weeks.

Many agents, even the super successful ones turn to their real estate coach in times like these to help with mindset, focus, marketing and much more. So, today we’re doing the same thing, talking to one of the top real estate coaches in North America.

This is “The Walkthrough.”

(INTRO MUSIC)

Hey, everyone. I’m Matt McGee, editor of HomeLight’s Agent Resource Center. On this show, you’ll learn what’s working right now from the best real estate agents and industry experts in the country. At HomeLight, we believe in real estate agents. And we believe that by helping agents like you be even better at serving your clients, the entire industry improves. If you’d like to reach me with feedback, ideas, or questions about “The Walkthrough,” just send an email anytime to walkthrough [at] homelight.com.

Richard Robbins began his real estate career in the 1980s as a young agent. He and his business partner started a brokerage a few years later and it took off. They soon had the highest production per agent of any company in his market in the suburbs of Toronto. And then, in the late 1990s, after years of training the agents at his brokerage, he sold it. That’s when he launched his coaching company, Richard Robbins International. Today, he’s known as one of the top real estate coaches in North America. You’ll often find his name on those “best coaches” articles and lists.

So, several weeks ago I scheduled an interview with Richard for this podcast. I wanted him to come on “The Walkthrough” to talk about real estate coaching, what agents should know if they’re thinking about hiring a coach, what questions they should ask before they choose a coach — you know, stuff like that.

And then, the coronavirus pandemic arrived on our doorsteps. Richard kindly agreed with me that we should shift directions just like all of you are doing in your businesses. When we spoke just a couple of days ago, I asked Richard to share with our listeners the same guidance he’s sharing with his coaches and clients. How can agents not only survive but thrive in the midst of so much uncertainty?

In this conversation, you’ll hear us talk about how to strengthen your mindset, what you should be saying to your clients and community right now, and what your marketing should look like in difficult times like these. Our conversation began with me asking what he’s hearing from his coaches and their clients.

(BEGIN CONVERSATION)

Richard: So, what I’m hearing from a lot of our customers is, should they be listing homes? Shouldn’t they be listing homes? Should they be showing homes? You know, and I get that, well, nobody’s really quite sure what to do. So, I think we’re all feeling this together and I’ve sort of come to the conclusion that there are some people in the world that have to list their home for sale. So, for instance, maybe they bought a house already, and they’re closing in a few months, and you know, they’ve got to get their home on the market. And then, of course, on the other hand, there’s some people that have actually sold their house back before COVID-19. And you know, so they’re in the other position, that they actually have to buy something. So, in those circumstances, I think those people are still out there. So, we’re still seeing some deals happening.

However, I think a lot of people that necessarily don’t have to move — like I put myself in that position, if I was a seller and I didn’t have to move, it didn’t matter if I did it now in the fall, would I leave my house in the market? Of course I wouldn’t because, you know, the number one thing we all can do is become part of the solution.

And part of the solution instead of being part of the problem is the sort of try to level out, you know, that curve. We’ve got a flatten the curve as they’re calling it and all of us have to do our part and the easiest way to do that… I’m self-isolated right now. This is my seventh day of being in my house because I was traveling. So, I came back last Saturday from travel and I decided to self-isolate and I feel fine. I sure don’t think I have the virus, but it’s not the point. A lot of people don’t have, you know, they don’t have any symptoms, but they can still pass it on. So, I think first of all, we’ve all gotta become, you know, the solution in any way that we possibly can.

And that tells me that in the real estate industry, you know, we start using technology more. I’m seeing open houses done now with technology where agents are actually going to open houses and they’re using, you know, say Facebook Live, and they’re actually doing a tour of the house, and then, taking questions, then do another tour of the house, taking questions. I know many agents now that are, you know, showing their home virtually, and you know, people can look at the house, whether it’s virtual tours, or it’s Matterport, you know, there’s all kinds of other technologies.

And then, if somebody likes it, you know, maybe they go have a look at the house. At that point, of course, you know, again, hopefully, all the lights are already on, doors are already open, that sort of thing. So, people don’t have to touch much in the house when they’re there. And then, after somebody leaves the house, you need to disinfect that house right away, anywhere that was touched, like maybe a stair banister. So, I see a lot of precautions like this. This has all come on very, very quickly. So, I think we’re going to see more.

So, big two things I see happening. Number one, a lot of people are probably gonna put their plans on hold, and second of all, for those who can’t, we probably have to show property, and sell properties in different ways, primarily by using technology.

Matt: I think that’s a really key point there, what you just talked about is this shift to doing business virtually. Real estate is an industry where a lot of agents are very used to face time. It’s sort of a… I don’t mean FaceTime, the product on your phone. I mean face time, like being in front of your client and talking to them, sitting across the coffee table, or walking through the home with them. But there’s obviously a lot of change that needs to happen if we’re going to continue conducting our real estate business. And Richard, a lot of people don’t respond well to change. So, how do you coach an agent through this?

Richard: I think what you have to do is you’ve gotta be very specific in how they should be doing things. So, what we’ve been doing with all of our coaches… And by the way, to give you some idea what I’ve done this week, so, I flew back Saturday. This week, technically, I wasn’t supposed to be here. I was supposed to be sort of away all week on holidays actually. And so, I came back, and I have been crazy busy this week because, you know, I’ve been working with my team, I’ve been working with my coaches, and I’ve been doing webinars for our coaching members. Plus I’m doing…I just finished actually two public webinars where we had thousands of people on.

So, you know, I think what we all have to do is decide what are some of the best practices that we know today. We’ll probably know more tomorrow. What are some and how do we get that message out? And I look at it right now, as I say, our coaches have to understand new technology is being used. Many of them already know them, and then we’ve got to get that message out.

Matt: How important is an agent’s mindset right now?

Richard: Only everything. You know, I would say in times like these, you know, one of two things is going to happen. It’s going to break you, or it’s going to build you, right? And you know, so, the whole thing is what are you going to allow it to do? And I think right now that your mindset is probably the most important thing.

And actually, one of the points I’ve been trying to teach this week is strengthen your mindset. And maybe a couple of ways that I could suggest to consider doing that is number one, we’ve gotta get outside of ourselves. What I mean by that is that in times like these, it is so difficult because we can’t shut our minds down. People start to worry about money, which makes sense. We’ve got businesses closing, we’ve got the restaurants and bars in a lot of areas that have closed up. And unfortunately, probably a lot of businesses will not survive this depending on how long this goes on.

But what I mean by getting outside of yourself is, I mean that if we sit and watch the news all day and if we look at our Facebook feed all day, we’re probably going to see all of the challenges. And whatever it is that we give attention to gets bigger. If we give attention to, you know, the future…and anxiety is caused by us having a negative anticipation in the future. So, if we are focused on the negative things that could happen, it doesn’t mean they will, and we give attention to that, it gets bigger, it gets bigger. Whatever we give energy to gets bigger. So, when I say get outside of yourself, what talking about is, we need to serve. We’ve got to stop selling and we’ve got to start serving.

And serving to me is reaching out to your clients right now. Go to your database, everybody in your database and reach out to them and just say, “How are you doing? What’s going on?” You know, they’ll tell you, “My kids are home from school. I have to work virtually at home. You know, we’re stressed here, we’re stressed there.” You know, maybe say, “Is there anything at all, you know, any questions that I can answer for you?” They’re going to let you know.

And then maybe, maybe just say to them, say, “Listen, you know, one thing that we’re trying to do right now is help out wherever we can.” You know, maybe there are…you know, somebody that’s midlife, they’re healthy, they’re not as concerned about, you know if they get the virus, that it’s going to be very damaging? And they say, “Well listen, if you know of anybody that’s older, that’s, you know, self-isolated, if you know of somebody that’s, you know, maybe retired and they need groceries, or medicine, please, we’re willing right now to go out and deliver this stuff and maybe leave it just outside of their door and text them when it’s there.”

So, get outside of yourself. Go serve, go serve, go serve, go serve. Because all fear is self-centered. Fear is about self-preservation. You know, if a bear chases you, you start running because you’re afraid, that’s self-preservation. And that’s the cause of fear. So, get outside of ourselves and focus on helping others.

Matt: You talked about the current anxiety and nervousness about the situation. You talked about staying within yourself. Are you advising your coaches, their clients to maybe spend a little less time on social media, which might be difficult because for real estate agents, social media is really important?

Richard: Well, it depends what you’re doing on social media. Here’s the great challenge with social media that I think is for everybody, including me, right? Like, everything I’m talking about here, I struggle as much as anybody else. But awareness is the first step in change. So, sometimes we become aware of something, then we can at least try to change it. So, when I look at social media, I say social media is one of the most beautiful things in the world for us to have a platform to communicate with people and bring value to people. The challenge with social media is that most people are not producing great content. Most people are reading everybody else’s posts. So, I would say with social media right now, what a great opportunity to be posting great content.

It’s no different than… We all know that everybody gets a bit of a dopamine hit when somebody likes a post or somebody responds to one of your posts. The challenge is most people are reading other people’s stuff and then when they post something, they’re waiting to get responses, you know, of their own. It’s like nobody likes it, so they hit refresh. “Oh, nobody likes it.” Hit refresh again, right, because they’re hoping they’re going to get a like or a response.

So, my theory is with social media, we should be posting number one, valuable, valuable content about what’s going on. Come on, think about this. The rates in the U.S. and Canada are at an all-time low. Okay? Like, your federal rate is almost zero in the U.S. right now. Can you imagine producing a post that says, “You know, a $400,000 mortgage, well, it costs you this per month, you know, per month. And now it’s going to you cost you this. So, if you’re thinking about buying in the future, what a great thing.” Or instead of qualifying for $400,000, now you qualify for this, right? What about legislation changes that are being made by the government, which is, you know, it’s moving and changing every day.

So, the first thing is why not produce great content for people so they can see what’s going on in the world. And then, the second thing, instead of waiting for people to like and respond, start liking and responding to other people and start communicating with other people out there. And I think if you use it for that, you know, that’s where you need to get off it. You might actually have time to do more of that, but to sit and scroll your feeds, or sit and watch the news, that for sure, it’s not a good idea.

Matt: What guidance are you giving these days to your coaches, especially as they work with their agents to navigate the current situation?

Richard: Well, all of the… Right now, what we’re working on is basically, it’s a three-part and I’ve already mentioned some of them.

Number one, we’re trying to help our clients be part of the solution, not the problem. So, we’ve got all kinds of different strategies around that. That’s the first one. And that’s whether it comes to… Like the number one thing we all have to do is stop the spread of this. That is the greatest responsibility we already have, or we have, I should say. And just think about it. If you look at China, you look at Italy, China actually, as of the day we were recording this was yesterday, it was the first day they had no more cases, no increase in cases. Now, we’re hoping that’s going to continue, which means they’ve flattened the curve.

Now, because of what the U.S. government and the Canadian government had done, I think we’re going to be ahead of China. So, we’re going to flatten the curve quicker. But we all gotta be a solution of flattening that curve so we all can start going into restaurants, get our kids back to school, or whatever the case is, right, whatever you’re dealing with in your particular area. So, that’s the first thing.

The second thing, what we’re saying is, okay, if you… and when I say stop selling, and start helping, I’m not talking about, hey somebody…you’re in the middle of the deal, you stop. That’s not what I’m talking about at all. Somebody has to sell. I sell when I’m sick. But listen, if you get a… Today, if somebody, one of the companies that you subscribe to their email, and they’re sending you sort of sales-type material, how does that make you feel today?

Matt: It comes across as tone-deaf.

Richard: You’re just going to, “Really, with everything that’s going on you’re trying to get me to buy something right now?” Now, if that company sent you something that was valuable to you based on what was going on, you’d appreciate that, wouldn’t you?

Matt: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, totally.

Richard: Then that’s what I mean by the second thing we’re… and we’re giving all kinds of tactical ideas to our coaches. The second thing we need to be doing is, you know, stop selling and start helping. So, what type of content can people be posting? What can people be doing? And not only that, we’ve got this really cool community page where all of our coaching members hang out, where everybody is sharing what it is that they’re doing there.

So again, you know, and it’s gotta be very tactical. So, in other words, when you’re in a position like this, it’s not as good to be strategic. Strategic is long-term thinking, tactical is short-term thinking. You know, it’s when I look at somebody who creates a really great business plan, a really great business plan, would have a number of strategies with a whole bunch of tactics and other strategies. But when you’re in something that’s happening so fast, you got to get pretty tactical. What can I do today? What can I do now? What can I do this hour? And that would be second.

Then the third is all day long, what do we need to be doing to be strengthening our mindset? Those are the three things that we’re working on for the coaching with all of our members.

Matt: It sounds like you’re saying that part of this is that agents should be more sensitive and more aware of how they are communicating to the public, what they are communicating to the public and the image that they are presenting?

Richard: Yeah, 100%. Like I think, you know, if you really think about how you’re communicating right now, all your communication has to change. You know, one day you might make a phone call to somebody, and you know, spring, we’re coming in the spring, you know, making some phone calls to see who is interested in buying or selling real estate. You’re not going to have that conversation today. It’s almost inappropriate, right? It’s very insensitive. But, you might have a conversation that goes like, “I just wanted to call. We haven’t talked one on one. I want to see how you’re doing.” Like things are crazy out there right now. And of course, you know, and by the way, everybody’s answering their phone because a lot of people have time in their hands right now so, what a great time to be reaching out with a much different message.

Matt: What would you say if an agent came to you and said, “I’m not comfortable marketing. Should I turn all my marketing off right now?” What’s the response to that?

Richard: No, I don’t think you should. I think, you know, when we’re talking about marketing, what I’m talking about is marketing that is beneficial to the client, not marketing that’s beneficial to the agent. So, there’s a difference there, right? But no, should you shut all of your marketing off? No. Your marketing should change.

So, as I said, imagine this, you’ve got clients right now that are sitting at home, you’ve got kids that are maybe out of school. Both parents are home, which is unusual other than maybe a weekend. So, all of a sudden they’re sitting around and they’re thinking, what do we do, right? You know, what do we do all day long? Well, imagine if an agent, you know, went on and said, “Hey, here’s some ideas you could…you know, here’s some links to museums that you can walk through virtually. You know, here’s the link on how to create a really cool family schedule.” You know, stuff like that.

That’s what I mean by valuable content. You know, it’s like that will come back and pay dividends for people in the future because that’s where people really understand your character. See, it’s interesting, and this is a quote and I don’t know…I can’t remember who said it right now off the top of my head but, you know, tough times doesn’t create character, it reveals character. It reveals who you are. What we do over the next weeks or months is revealing our character.

Matt: It’s like this kind of situation is what determines your brand really, right?

Richard: Sure. It does. Everything you do right now. You know, and the challenge is a lot of people want to cocoon. And you know, some people will do that. But I think this is a time that we’ve gotta be reaching out more because we’re not going to be as busy say, buying and selling real estate, but we still have tons of customers out there that we should be communicating with.

Matt: We’re talking through all of these changes that agents are needing to make in this current time of coronavirus, COVID-19. And I’ve had conversations with other agents as well and have heard similar things about talking about, you know, being more sensitive to how we communicate. Serve, not sell. I feel like six months from now, a year from now, whatever it might be, I feel like the real estate industry, and real estate agents are going to be much better at their jobs. Would you agree?

Richard: Yeah, I think so. I think for a few different reasons. Number one, I think the adoption of technology, I think some agents are going to be forced into learning technology. And let’s face it, it’s the ones that have probably been in the business a while, and maybe are more closer to my age. You know what I’m saying? Just being really honest. So, you know, they’re probably gonna need to adopt technology. So, you know, for instance, all of a sudden you’re sitting, you know, doing virtual meetings, whether it’s Zoom, or FaceTime, or whatever you want to call it, a lot of people wouldn’t consider doing that right now. They’re uncomfortable with that. So, maybe it’ll give them an opportunity to be more comfortable with it, right? Same with maybe sending out videos, whether it’s using BombBomb or whatever is used. They might get more comfortable with that. They might get more comfortable, you know, with doing virtual open houses. And who says that has to stop? So, I think you’re going to see a bit of an evolution depending on how long this lasts, that will probably benefit our industry in utilizing technology to do a better job. That would be number one.

Number two, I do think that, at this point, we have to stop thinking about ourselves, like the commission breath I talked about, and start thinking about the other people. So, we have to be much more empathetic to the situations that our customers are faced with and try not to bring our situation into helping them with their goals because we also have to realize that we have a lot of clients right now that I know are going to suffer financially. You know, I don’t know how long this is going to last, but you know, let’s say it goes on for 60 days, the market is going to drastically slow, it really has to, and that’s going to be difficult for some people in terms of cash flow. So, it’s going to be difficult for a lot of people. No question.

Matt: Are you a believer that as humans we don’t grow when we’re comfortable, but only when we are uncomfortable?

Richard: Yeah, I think you’re going to have a lot more growth when you’re uncomfortable. There’s no question. I think you can actually grow a little bit when you’re comfortable too. But yeah, this is a great opportunity, you know, for us to learn how to do things better the next time, right?

You know, I can go back and think of, you know, when our company was younger, and 9/11 would be a good example of that. I was in Pittsford that Tuesday, young company, you know, wasn’t in a great plan to a position. And you know, what we went through over the next little while was, you know…and we went through nothing compared with what many, many others went through but it was difficult. But other than that came these great learning experiences, right, that changed us as a company forever and made us better and made us stronger. So, if you really think about it, the most difficult times you’re going to have, they’re going to teach you, right? They’re going to strengthen you. They’re going to discipline you. You know, they’re going to make you the person that you need to be to be better in the future.

Matt: Let me ask you one last question. Agents are dealing with a lot of uncertainty as we’ve talked about. We don’t know how long this can last. We don’t know what the market is gonna look like. We don’t know what buyers and sellers are going to do. They are dealing with, again as you mentioned, some anxiety and fear over their personal finances, as well as other issues. What is your… like, give us some final advice in terms of keeping a positive outlook and just keep moving forward. How does an agent, you know, not just survive but thrive through what we’re about to go through?

Richard: Believe it’s all going to be okay because it will. This too shall pass. You know, you have to be looking into the future and know that everything’s going to be okay. You know, the thing, see, if you… A great book was written called “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl, and he was in the concentration camps, and he was a doctor, and he wrote a book about what he learned in the concentration camps, and he said it was very interesting. He said, “As long as people believe someday that we’re going to get out, they can continue to live.” He goes, but it was the ones that had set a date, there was going to be out by.” Now they said, “Okay, we’re going to view it by, you know, this particular date.” And then, that day passed and he said, quite often you’d see those people, they would die within days, right?

And of course, they were living in probably the most difficult circumstances we can ever imagine. And the reason they did is they lost hope. And hope is the most powerful force in the world. Like, hope of a better future is the most powerful force in the world. So, we all have to… and it’s hard at times. We just got to believe it’s going to be okay. You know, it’s difficult. Like Winston Churchill said, “When you’re going through hell, keep going, don’t stop.” Just keep on moving. And so I think that’s a big part of it. I just believe that everything is going to be okay. And at the end of this, we’ll all somehow, some way be better for it. And I’m a person that believes that everything is happening for a reason to make us better.

(Speaker: Matt McGee, Host) I want to say a sincere thanks to Richard Robbins for his terrific advice, and coaching expertise, and for being flexible with us, shifting at the last minute to talk about these unprecedented times that we’re all living and working through. You can learn more about him at richardrobbins.com. He has links there to his coaching program, social media accounts, and much more.

Richard gave us a peek into how his organization is guiding coaches, and helping those coaches guide their clients. This is what he said they’re advising agents to do, the takeaways as it were.

Number one, be part of the solution. Do everything you can to help flatten the curve. Use technology, virtual appointments, virtual open houses. Follow the recommendations for cleaning and social distancing. Make your client’s health and safety your number one priority.

Number two, get outside of yourself. This is all about mindset. Don’t focus on the bad news. I love the quote he gave: “Whatever we give attention to gets bigger.”” Don’t let anxiety take over your day. Again, “whatever we give attention to gets bigger.”

Number three, he said, stop selling and start serving. Ask yourself, “What can I do right now to help?” And not just your clients, but your whole community.

Number four, he said, keep marketing. Don’t turn it off. But he did say, you have to adjust. It should be marketing that’s beneficial to the client, not to you.

And last but not least, more on mindset, he said, don’t lose hope. It’s the most powerful force in the world. We’re going to get through this and we’ll all be better for having gone through it.

Okay. Questions for Richard, questions for me, or HomeLight, you can email us anytime, walkthrough [at] homelight.com.

In fact, we’d love to know how you’re doing, gang. What is happening in your market? How are you adjusting your business? What is working? If you have stories, advice, or tips you can share with other listeners, we’d love to hear from you. Please send an email. Again, it’s walkthrough [at] homelight.com.

I usually wrap up the show by saying, “Go out and sell some homes.” Well, I still hope you do that, but I also hope you stay safe and healthy — you, your family, your neighbors, and your community. As Richard said, let’s be part of the solution and get through this together.

That’s all for this week. Thanks to Richard Robbins for joining us, and thank you for listening. We’ll talk to you again next time. Bye-bye.

(Note: This is one episode of a 2-part series. Please also see Real Estate During COVID-19: How Top Agents are Adapting to Coronavirus to hear how agents are working through these uncertain times.)

Header Image Source: (Jordan Hopkins / Unsplash)

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