Real Estate During COVID-19: How Top Agents are Adapting to Coronavirus

Real estate is changing. COVID-19 and the coronavirus pandemic are impacting agents all across the country and forcing them to rethink almost every aspect of their business — closing deals remotely, using new contract language to account for possible pandemic-related delays, and prioritizing service over sales. On this episode of The Walkthrough, two top agents reveal the specific steps they’re taking to adjust in a changing, challenging real estate industry.

(Note: This is one episode of a 2-part series. Please also see Coronavirus and Real Estate: Coach Richard Robbins on Mindset and Marketing in Difficult Times to hear how one of the top real estate coaches in North America is advising his coaches and clients.)

Links and Show Notes

Full Transcript

(SPEAKER: Matt McGee, Host) We normally don’t publish two podcast episodes in the same week. But these aren’t normal times in real estate, are they? The coronavirus pandemic is having an undeniable impact on our personal and professional lives. In case you missed the news, late last week, HomeLight published the results of a follow-up survey of more than 600 top agents. We asked many of the same questions that we had asked just three weeks earlier. And it’s remarkable how quickly things have changed.

Two out of three sellers are taking measures to protect their home and their health. The most common change is that 32% won’t allow an open house now. Another 21% of sellers are demanding buyers wash their hands and/or use hand sanitizers. Twenty percent of agents are seeing more demand for virtual showings that remove the risk of face-to-face interaction. Things are changing.

This is the second of two episodes that we’re publishing this week to help agents work through the coronavirus pandemic. In the first episode, which I hope you heard already, we spoke with real estate coach, Richard Robbins, about things like mindset, communication, and the need to serve, not sell. In this episode, we talked to two agents in areas where the pandemic is just starting to change how they do business.

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. 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 any time to walkthrough [at] homelight.com. That’s walkthrough [at] homelight.com.

Late last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Edie Waters and Dustin Parker. Edie works out of Kansas City. And Dustin is based in lower Delaware. By pure coincidence, they both lead 37 person teams.

Both are working in areas where the real impact of the coronavirus pandemic is just arriving. But to their credit, both Edie and Dustin got out in front of things weeks ago and began planning how they would adjust their business. In both conversations, we talked about many of the same realities that HomeLight’s survey revealed — buyers and sellers experiencing uncertainty, and a need for their teams to rely more than ever on technology. We also talked about some of the things Coach Richard Robbins discussed in our first podcast this week, the shift from sales to service and making your clients’ health and safety the number one priority. In fact, as you listen to this episode, you’ll hear the unusual way one of our agents handled settlement for a family with a medically-compromised child.

Throughout this episode, you’ll hear from both Edie and Dustin. And then I’ll jump in at times to add color to what they said. So with all that said, let’s get started.

(BEGIN CONVERSATION)

Matt: When I asked Edie and Dustin about current market conditions and what their buyers and sellers are doing, it was Dustin who said he’s seeing the virus impact his business.

Dustin: We’re seeing probably more hesitation from sellers than buyers. So we have had a couple of our transactions fall out recently that were buyers. And in those two cases, they were both moving from out of state and they were in more metropolitan areas, I think, that are seeing the impact of this virus a little bit more than we are here. And so they had some concerns obviously. And so at this point of the 70 or 80 transactions that we have pending, we’ve had 2 of those fall out for this very specific reason.

On the selling side, we have heard from several of our folks that aren’t willing to move forward at this point — that they just wanna wait a couple weeks and kinda see how things shake out before they put their homes on the market. I would say we probably had about 20% to 30% of the sellers that we talked to are kind of in that wait-and-see place at this point, and the rest of them are moving forward unchanged.

Matt: It’s important to understand that Dustin’s market is not too far from Philadelphia to the north and the Washington, DC corridor to the west. So that may explain why he’s seeing a bigger impact on his business now.

In Kansas City, Edie told me they’re usually a week or two behind the bigger cities. But that hasn’t stopped her team from making changes now. For starters, they’re following all the cleanliness guidelines that are in place. Edie says she’s stocked up on hand sanitizer, Lysol spray, and has 1,000 pairs of vinyl gloves sitting in her garage. The other big change is that her team is doing everything they can without face-to-face contact — virtual appointments, virtual staging, FaceTime, and video tours. And when we talked, Edie was preparing for their first two virtual open-houses. It’s actually a combination of a purely virtual open-house with inviting interested buyers to see the homes in person. And that’s possible, she said, because both homes are vacant.

Edie: So let’s say the open-house is from 1:00 to 3:00. At 1:00, we go online and invite. This is all preliminary marketing ahead of time. About a week ahead of time, the clients, and sellers and buyers both would see us doing some marketing behind, “Hey, join us for our virtual open-house at 1234 Main. It’s three bedrooms, we’d give a discussion. And here is the link to sign up for the Zoom call for you. And that way, we’ll start it at 1:00. And then if you like what you see, we’ll be here until 3:30 for you to come by and see this home.”

And that is what we’re starting this week. I haven’t done it yet, so I don’t know how it’ll be received, but that’s what we’re doing. So far, we’re having a lotta people sign up for those Zoom calls. And we’ve decided to do Zoom or Google Chat, or something like that, versus Facebook Live because not everybody is on Facebook, especially if it’s a ranch or…you know? So we have different venues. So we’ll do that at 1:00. Then at 1:30, we’ll do a Facebook live. And then we’re trying to cover all the virtual mediums that we can, Matt.

Matt: I understand you said this is gonna be the first one this coming weekend. Is the plan to walk through the house as you are doing the video conference and just talk about each room, talk about the home features?

Edie: Absolutely. That’s exactly what it’s designed for. So we’ll talk about the backyard. We’ll talk about the great landscaping, if there’s a sprinkler system. We’ll show them the electrical box. We’ll talk about the age of the roof. We’ll talk about the mechanicals. Then we’ll go inside and we’ll do it all virtually outside. We show a street view, we’ll go ahead. And if there’s a pool, or tennis courts, or anything that’s part of the community, we’ll make sure we have that included.

Then, you know, then we’ll actually come in the front door. And the buyer experience will be they’re walking through the front door. And then the agent will tour, let’s say the great room where there’s wainscoting, wood coating, and beams, 9-foot ceilings, a really detailed description of not only they can see the home, but they can also hear the agent comment and give…you know, showcase the home as they walk through it. So the goal is for the buyer experience to be as if they are walking through the home.

Matt: With your sellers that where the home is not vacant, have they expressed any concerns about having buyers come through the house?

Edie: Not yet, no. You know, we’ve been trying to be very proactive with them, Matt. We’ve been proactive about talking about it ahead of time. We asked them probably a week or 10 days ago, “This is what we’re seeing. Are you still comfortable showing your home? We’re here for you to answer questions.” And because I think we’ve gone to the level of service, concierge service to them that they are comfortable to say, “Well, you know, I’m okay with that.”

And the thing is too, Matt, we’re not just gonna let any buyer come through a seller’s home. We’re going to make sure that they are not just prequalified, preapproved. Have they got the money? And we’re asking the buyer’s agent to be so kind to send that approval letter over to us upfront. We’re asking the buyer’s agent to review the seller’s disclosure. Because if there’s something on that seller’s disclosure, that’s a showstopper for them — we’d love for you to come, but if that’s a showstopper for you, don’t bother coming. We’re trying to really weed those things out with the buyer’s agent upfront, and being very cooperative with them, having those deep discussions regarding, you know, “Is this a floor plan your buyer likes? What’s the time frame your buyer needs to move? What’s their motivation level?” You know, just details like that, it assures our sellers that, yeah, this is a true showing. You’re gonna wanna have this buyer and buyer’s agent through your home.

Matt: In Delaware, The Parker Group is doing many of those same things — gloves, hand sanitizer, making sure homes are disinfected before, during and after open houses. I hope and assume that all agents are taking at least those precautions by now. I asked Dustin about the changes they’ve made when working with clients. And he told a pretty remarkable story about the lengths his team went to to complete a settlement earlier that day.

Dustin: We’re doing everything we can to keep our distance from folks as we’re out and about in the community. We have a settlement that was scheduled today. We have some sellers that have…one of their children is medically compromised. And so we were actually able to conduct that settlement through an exterior window of their house. And so we have a notary on staff. And they just kind of with gloves, handed papers back and forth through their exterior window so they didn’t have to leave their house. And we were still able to complete that sale.

Matt: Wow. I mean, it’s remarkable that, you know, the kind of steps and the thought process that you have to go through to sort of, you know, make all of these things happen for your clients. That’s really cool to hear. Well done. Let’s dive a little bit further into some of those practical hands-on issues in terms of how you’re changing your operations. So for your sellers, for example, with your sellers, for example, have you changed your policy on open houses? Are you still doing them? Are you doing them differently or all virtual now? What’s the plan there?

Dustin: Yeah. So for a couple of weeks, we had planned several open houses for this coming Saturday. And we just recently made the decision to change those to virtual open houses. And so agents individually will be going to each of these houses and doing video tours of each one. And they’ll be live-streaming on social media so that we can answer any questions that buyers may have specifically about each individual home, and can zoom in on different things they may wanna see. So we are definitely moving more toward virtual for the short term, at least, until we get some resolution on timeline and recommendations from the CDC.

Matt: And what about on the buyer side, when you’re working with buyers, what is changing there?

Dustin: A whole lot more virtual tours definitely. And so the nice thing about buyers is pretty much everything can be done remotely. So they can be sitting on their couch at home and our agents are walking through homes that they may be interested in using technology. So these can be live tours and kinda guide them through that process, still signing documentation electronically. Our lenders are meeting with people virtually as well using various software. So really, the process can be done almost 100% remotely. In Delaware, we don’t have remote settlement yet at this point. But like I had mentioned earlier, we are making accommodations where we can actually do things from someone’s home to make sure that closings are still happening.

Matt: I asked Edie Waters how her process has changed with buyers. And she described something I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere on the various Facebook groups and pages that I follow. She said they’re doing what they call a “preliminary showing” where they check out the neighborhood, the street, and then just the exterior of the home.

Edie: What we’re doing is asking them to either follow their agent to the neighborhood and/or, you know, they’re welcome to go by. And then we’re making what we call a buyer appointment just to view the exterior of the home. Let’s go by, look at the neighborhood, see if you like the swimming pool, the tennis courts, the street the home is on. Let’s go by that in our cars. Let’s get out of the car and walk around the outside, and look at the backyard, and look at the view, and it doesn’t have a fence, or is there underground sprinkler system, really go…make sure they like what they see on the outside before we go on the inside. And so we’re calling it like a “preliminary showing.””

And then the good news is by doing that, they can eliminate a home or two, or the seller is very confident that, “Oh, my goodness, I need to let this buyer visit because they have really done some digging and due diligence to make sure that they like everything. All they need to do is come inside.”

Lots of times, we will ask the listing agent or ask the listing agent permission for us as a buyer’s agent to go in and do a virtual tour for the buyer in the house. And then if they like what they see, say, “Mr. and Mrs. Buyer, would you like to go ahead and make this home yours? We can get this together today. And then we will make it subject to you coming and actually showcasing and seeing the home when it’s convenient for you,” because our homes are still selling very fast, Matt. And we don’t want a buyer to miss out on something because, you know, that they can’t come, or they have children, and they need a babysitter, or a family member, or something. So we’re really trying to cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s for our buyer clients as well.

Matt: Have you had to change any language in your contracts at this point in terms of anticipating delays or slowdowns in the process?

Edie: Yes. We just had all of this roll out yesterday, last night actually. And we now have a coronavirus addendum. And in that addendum, it’s just an acknowledgement to both the buyer and the seller that there are events happening that’s outside of our control. You know, there’s just so many appraisers in the world, there’s just so many underwriters in the world, and there’s … title companies. So your timeliness, Mr. and Mrs. Buyer, to get your lender everything you need is really more important than ever. And then we just have to be patient. So we’re talking the closing date, may be a bit of a moving target for you. And so the closing date isn’t hard concrete.

As it gets closer, we make sure we have absolutely conversations with the lender, the agents and our clients every single week if not twice a week to get them updated. “Okay, looks like your appraisal went through, the appraisal’s at the underwriter. Okay, the underwriter is looking at the file this week.” I mean, really keeping them more updated than we ever have. What we don’t want is them to arrange a mover, arrange moving, and spend money until we’re pretty darn sure they’re gonna be moving.

Matt: If you listened to the first podcast in this two-part series, you heard Coach Richard Robbins encourage agents to make a mindset and marketing change, to shift from sales mode to service, to make your marketing more about the client and community than about yourself. Well, as it turns out, both Edie Waters and Dustin Parker are doing exactly that. I asked them both to explain what they’re doing to let the community know, “Hey, we’re here to help and we wanna help with more than just real estate.”

Edie: I’m always a heavy marketer. So we’re probably status quo or dialing it up. And I think the message is that more than ever, we are here for you on a professional level, on an integrity level, and more importantly, on a community level. So one of the things I went ahead and did, I’ve ordered 1,000 vinyl gloves. And they’re gonna be coming here the next day or two. I’m sure my husband is gonna be really happy that we have 1,000 vinyl gloves in my garage.

But the thing I’ve discovered during my conversations is that, because I just happen to be proactive — they rolled out yesterday and said, “Okay. Well, the coronavirus might be on counter tops, on boxes that are delivered, on…if you carry out, food container, and stuff for two to four days.” So I’m trying to be proactive for the people. And the result of that was overwhelming. “Oh, yeah, Edie, I would love for you to bring by some vinyl gloves.” And, you, know I don’t have to have engagement with them, I just have to jump in the car with my husband, he drives them off and I run and put them on the front porch.

Doing community service like that, we’re also helping any of our elderly clients that are fearful of getting out. We have a lot of millennials on our team. They go to the grocery store. They’re willing to go buy, and get extra groceries, and have those delivered on the front porch. We’re really trying to be more community-minded. We have a lot of our clients that have dual incomes. They’re both at home with young children. And we’re saying, “Hey, we know this babysitter. Would you want them to come and watch your kids a few hours, and play some games, maybe take them to the park so you can actually get some true work done?” We’re just engaging like that. That’s a big part of our marketing now. And it’s not more of just, “Do you wanna list or buy a house?” It’s more like, “What can we do to bring our community and be better for you?”

Dustin: So we have a pretty large following on social media. And so we’re kinda using that to get our message out to the community that we’re here to help, whether that is, like I had mentioned, delivery of food, or medical supplies, or things that people that are sheltered in may need. We are fully equipped to do that. And our staff is here and ready for that. But if people need meals, we’re working with several local restaurants as well that are offering free meals especially for children that are out of school during this time. And we can work with them to deliver that food if transportation isn’t an option. And then just kinda checking on, especially the older folks in our community, to make sure that they have everything that they need, and they’re okay because they seem to be the ones that are most impacted by this virus. And so we wanna make sure that they’re safe and taken care of.

Matt: Has the tone of your messaging on social media or in other areas that you’re communicating to the community, has the tone changed?

Dustin: I would say maybe it’s a little less jovial than it was just a few weeks ago. We’re still having a lot of fun. We are still working from the office every day. And we have a really great … I think it’s important to keep a positive tone delivered to our clients and to the community, because I don’t think there’s anything good to come from spreading any negativity. And so we’re just trying to continue to put out positive content, but also in a more serious note just letting people know that we are here to help if they do need it. And we’re gonna be shifting some of our TV advertising to more of a public service announcement over the next couple of days as well just to kinda let people know that there are people here that are healthy, and young, and available. And if you have needs that maybe you can’t meet right now, that we’re happy to serve and do what we can.

Matt: I loved hearing both Dustin and Edie talk about serving the community. And it was a perfect fit with what Richard Robbins said in the previous episode of “The Walkthrough” this week. He said, taking a service-first approach during this pandemic is good for the community, of course, and will create goodwill for your business. But he also said it’s good for your mindset. His quote was, “All fear is self-centered.” So focusing on others instead of yourself is a way to get rid of any anxiety that we’re feeling.

Now, I know we’ve been bouncing back and forth between these interviews with Edie and Dustin. I hope you’re still with me because I wanna bounce back one more time before we wrap things up. At the end of both conversations, I asked both agents what advice or words of encouragement they wanted to share with you. I really like what they both said. So here is Edie first and then Dustin.

Edie: Keep the faith. It’s gonna get better. Fill your pipeline with buyers and sellers. And double down on all your business. If you need to work on your CRM, your contact management systems, do that now. Clean anything up that you can do to… Get educated. If you feel like you’re gonna need your distressed property designation, get that done. I personally have to renew my license this year, so I’m gonna get online and do those things. Just be in your business. It’s just that you’re at home. The agents across, not only the nation, but the world — let’s help each other. Help each others do well, and stay in the business, and keep our integrity and professionalism with our careers, and project that to the public. And they’ll always want us in their lives.

Dustin: Just a couple of things. One is just to be a resource for the community that you live in, because with so much uncertainty and so much negativity out there, I think that the community is looking for leaders, they’re looking for help, and support systems — not just in real estate, but in simple basic need whether it’s food, or delivery, or otherwise.

And then also to protect your own business too, think about expenses that can be cut that aren’t necessary and to double down on prospecting and lead generation. Because what I think a lot of economic experts are predicting is once we finally get to go ahead to kinda return to normal, I think that there’s gonna be an influx of business because there’s gonna be so many sellers and buyers that are sitting on the fence to wait and see how things kinda shape out. And then once we get the green light, they’re gonna be ready to go. And there’s gonna be a lot of agents who didn’t stop working during this time frame, even if it’s remotely from home that are gonna capture a lot of market share while others are kinda sitting behind.

(Speaker: Matt McGee, Host) That’s a common theme I’m hearing from real estate agents: Be patient. Fight through these difficult times. Do everything you need to do to wait it out. Because whether it’s just a couple months, or several months, or even longer, whenever we get through this pandemic, everyone expects a lot of buyers and sellers to jump right back into the market. So be ready for that.

Thanks so much to both Edie Waters and Dustin Parker. Let’s do our takeaway segment. So here’s what stood out to me from both conversations.

Number one, everything is moving virtual. In some cases, depending upon where you are, almost an entire transaction can be done virtually. You may have heard Dustin say he can’t do virtual settlements in Delaware just yet. Those need to be done in person. But agents across the country are learning to do more business online — virtual appointments, virtual meetings, virtual home tours, and open houses.

Number two, speaking of virtual open houses, the goal is for the buyer experience to be as if they’re walking through the home. Take your time. Show everything. Open the cabinets and closet doors, open the garage door, show the electrical panel. You might think you’re over communicating in your virtual open house or your virtual home tour but you’re not, right? Provide as much detail as the buyer would get if they were in the home.

Number three, Edie mentioned that “preliminary showing” thing she’s doing with buyers where you look at everything except the inside of the house, just to make sure you’re really interested before you go inside. So they like to drive around the block, check out the neighborhood, walk around the outside of the house, stand in the backyard — and then if they like everything they’ve seen, then they’ll go inside and do the interior visit.

And number four, a common theme from this episode and our conversation with Richard Robbins — service over selling. Now is the time to make yourself available to help people in need however you can. So dial down on the hard sales and ramp up on serving your clients and community.

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

Before I say goodbye, a quick programming note. We had a different episode planned for this week, and only one episode, not two. But then everything changed so much in the past week or two that we wanted to make sure to get you information that’s relevant to your business right now in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. I hope this was helpful. And we’d love your feedback using that same email address, walkthrough [at] homelight.com.

I really can’t tell you what next week’s episode will be or the week after that. Things are changing so quickly at the moment. If we have an opportunity to bring you more episodes that we believe will add value to you and help you work through these uncertain times, that’s what we’ll do. If there’s a specific topic you’d like us to discuss or a specific person we should talk to, let us know. We wanna serve you on this podcast the best way we can.

So that’s all for this week. Thanks again to Edie Waters and Dustin Parker for joining us. And thank you for listening. Go out and sell some homes. But more importantly, please stay safe and be healthy. We’ll talk to you again next week. Bye-bye.

(Note: This is one episode of a 2-part series. Please also see Coronavirus and Real Estate: Coach Richard Robbins on Mindset and Marketing in Difficult Times to hear how one of the top real estate coaches in North America is advising his coaches and clients.)

Header Image Source: (Alexey Hulsov / Pixabay)

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