I recently caught up with Joseph Rand, Chief Creative Officer and Managing Partner of Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty, the No. 1 real estate brokerage firm in the Greater Hudson Valley, to discuss the state of affairs and how the brokerage is pivoting its 1000+ agents in New York and New Jersey, two of the states hit hardest during this pandemic. The interview took place at the end of March, about one week after the stay-at-home orders had been put into place.
Both New York and New Jersey have worked in tandem. I think the governors have done that by design. Around March 22, about a week ago, New York put in an essential service rule that you can only work outside the home if you’re an essential worker. It’s really a stay-at-home order, but you’re not locked in your home. New Jersey followed suit. Certain businesses are exempt — the kind you would expect, like health care, grocery stores and hardware stores are exempt. Real estate is not exempt, so offices are closed. But banks are. So there’s this weird quasi shadow business where real estate is still going on a little bit and real estate is progressing because appraisers are exempt so agents are having to schedule appraisals.
You can still leave your house. I walk the dog every day. The Starbucks are closed, but the Dunkin Donuts is open for drive-thru. So you can pick up a cup of coffee if you want. Stuff like that. The highlight of the day is I drive to Dunkin Donuts just to leave the house. I never leave my car, but just to leave the house.
We’ve instructed our agents that we are not an essential service. In New York, the governor actually said when he was announcing essential services, he used as an example, ‘You’re not going to look at an apartment because an agent can’t show you an apartment right now.’ So that made it very clear to us. In New Jersey, there’s actually been some commentary from the governor’s office that they can do showings [on a one-to-one basis]. So we have two different interpretations. We’ve told agents in New York that we’re not allowing it, but, as you know, they’re independent contractors. They’re all adults. You know so it’s kind of like when you tell your kids, ‘Don’t drink, but if you do drink, call a cab to get home.’ Follow precautions, and we have a set of protocols that you should follow.
What I will tell you is that business has not ground to a standstill. One of our big challenges is the county clerk’s offices are closed as are the towns, so we can’t get municipalities to do searches to clear titles and we can’t do recordings, but the title companies have been really creative in trying to give us ways to close deals. So we’re still closing deals, just a lot more slowly and not as many. And they basically have to be done with the title work cause you can’t go to the clerk’s office and close titles anymore. So the pipeline is still moving along slowly. People are still listing their homes. I’m not exactly sure how or why. Deals are still going into contract. We’re only a week into these essential service orders. Check with me in a week from now, and things might just be completely stopped. But for now the pipeline is still moving a little.
For me, because I do a lot of content, I’ve been incredibly busy. We have three webinars a week for teaching technology tools. I’ve also been putting out productivity content, like listicles, to engage them with topics like advice about work from home and long-term projects that they should be doing. I wrote a whole thing about how to jumpstart your sphere of influence. This is a great time to do that. You’re home, and you have nothing to do, and everybody in your sphere is also home with nothing to do. They’ll actually pick up the phone when you call them and say ‘While I’m home, I just wanted to confirm the details of my database.’ So It’s a great time to do that. Education is part of it.
I do a call, an open conference line, every morning at 9 a.m. Agents can call in to listen to the message for the day. I do a memo every day as well with all the information including links about coronavirus, updates about the company and legal updates. Now it’s going to turn to interpreting recovery legislation, and with the unemployment law being expanded, and what they can expect with the checks from the government.
What I tell people is this: Most importantly, stay inside, stay healthy, practice good hygiene and social distancing. Keep yourself safe. That’s most important. Now, you’re sitting at home, and it’s so hard to keep yourself engaged with stuff. It’s so easy to put on Netflix or Disney Plus and start grinding through a binge. And so what I’ve tried to do is say, ‘Come out of this with something.’ Like, in a month or two, someday, the doors are going to open and we’re going to go outside again. And it would be really great if you could look back on this period with something to come out of it. Go get a photo scanner on Amazon. You got boxes of photographs that you took in the Nineties and don’t have on digital. Scan all your old pictures. I did that years ago; it’s a great project. Or, take all your digital photos and make photo books out of them. From a business perspective, build your sphere of influence. Learn how to use all the tools on our websites. Agents know how to use about half of them. Get all your CE done. There’s a million things you could manage to get done in a couple of weeks and, at the end of this you can say, ‘This was horrible, and it sucked, but by the end of it, I made my time productive.’
It’s so tempting to call someone in your sphere, someone you have some personal relationship with, but you get busy and you just haven’t reached out to them. Then you reach out to them for the first time in six months and, 30 seconds into the conversation, you say, ‘Do you know anyone who’s been thinking about moving?’ That’s horrible. That’s a horrible way to build a relationship. Well now, you can’t be tempted to do that. If you called someone right now and said ‘Are you thinking about moving?’ They’d say ‘Moving? I can’t even leave my house!’ I think it’s also a good time to show that side. Which is what we should all be doing, which is building relationships about calling up the people you haven’t spoken to in a while with no ulterior motive, other than ‘How are you doing, is there anything I can do for you?’ LIke I said, everyone else is sitting at home and answering their phones. They’re actually answering their home phones!
My guess is it’s going to be a slow build. I think the veil will lift slowly. You’ll be able to leave the house and go back to work, but we’ll still be doing social distancing. I actually had to think through this recently because I got a request from a reporter who’s working on a magazine story with a two-month lead time on a story that’s publishing in May. I said, ‘There may not be a real estate market in May, maybe June, but not May!’ So I said, ‘I’ll give you advice, frame your story about what we do now.’ So I had to think about it and think about what you advise sellers who have been cooped up in their house for two months and who need to put it back on the market. What do they do now? Every seller should do a deep clean of their house. You know when you stage a home and buyers want to smell cookies? You know what they want to smell now? They want to smell Clorox. They want to smell bleach. They want to say, ‘This place is clean.’ That’s what they’re going to want in May and June. I think you keep the relationships now. Don’t go into a hole and then call your buyer from March for the first time in two months. I think you have to be ready. I think there’s going to be a rush. I’d be getting extensions on all my listings. You can do that through dotloop. Get your business in order, get your sphere done, so when the gun goes off and you can go back to business, you’ll be ready. It’s going to be a new season. You’ll have to take new pictures with summer pictures, so it will be a sprint to the beginning. Get ready now. Be prepared.
Byrd is the Strategic Partnerships Manager at dotloop. She works directly with the top real estate franchises across North America to implement brand specific integrations and strategize for each franchise conference. Her mission is to empower real estate brokers and agents to create an incredible client experience.