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Lessons Learned, Some Surprising, May Forever Change the Real Estate Landscape

(Courtesy Barbara Pronin) As the majority of Americans continue to shelter in place, and phrases like ‘social distancing’ and ‘flattening the curve’ become indelibly embedded into the English language, it’s difficult to predict when restaurants will open, stadiums will fill, and open houses - a centerpiece of most Realtors’ businesses - will once again draw buyers and sellers. But as we look ahead to resuming much of what we once took for granted, it is stunning to realize how much there is to be taken away from these months of radically changed behavior. “Our plan was to go paperless in all our offices by the end of 2020,” noted Pat Riley, president and CEO of Carolinas-based Allen Tate Companies and its flagship Allen Tate Realtors. “Came the pandemic, and we managed to do it in three weeks.” It was quite a realization for Riley and his executive team, who now find themselves evaluating other processes within the independently owned, 63-year old firm. “With most agents and employees working remotely, and virtual meetings more than meeting our needs, we’re finding out not just how smoothly we can operate that way,” Riley said, “but also how much more collaborative we seem to be – agents partnering more efficiently with our mortgage, title, and insurance branches, for example, which ultimately benefits our customers.” Riley is far from the only broker finding unexpected efficiencies as a direct result of remote working conditions. “We were hosting real estate information exchanges every month at a local restaurant,” said broker/owner Scott McDonald, RE/MAX Gateway, Chantilly. Va. “Spot-on topics and insightful speakers, always a spirited exchange. Most months, 15-25 agents would attend. Since the stay-at-home order, we’ve been hosting those meetings remotely - and more than 50 agents attend every time.” On March 1, McDonald challenged his agents to do 31 projects in 31 days; virtual home tours, updating their web profiles, reaching out to their database. “These aren’t snow days,” McDonald told his team. “They are work days, and Realtors are more needed than ever. Check in with everyone. See if they need anything. Connecting now in meaningful ways is not just the right thing to do. It will build your business later.” If meeting virtually is so efficient, and agents can do 31 things in 31 days now, why not do it every month when the pandemic is behind us? “Good question,” said broker/owner Jim D’Amico, Century 21 North East, Danvers, Mass. “I’m getting to know all of my 800 agents better in this virtual environment than I ever have before. Everyone has more time. They answer their phones. We make opportunities to share best practices in ways we never thought of before.” Like McDonald, D’Amico reminds agents everywhere that buyers and sellers who need to move now need their knowledge and guidance more than ever - and that the work they do right now will pave the way toward expanded business later. For Erica Maglieri, a career agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Northeast Properties in Simsbury, Conn., it’s advice that is paying off. Her clients just closed on a $500,000-plus home in a transaction conducted almost entirely virtually. “My buyers, who needed to move from Texas to Connecticut, were referred to me,” Maglieri said. “We accomplished their home search with videos and photos, and they very quickly selected one. We wrote the contract, did all the paperwork virtually, and because the house was vacant, an in-home inspection was possible and contractors could get in to remove the popcorn from the ceilings and do a couple of other things the buyers requested. Finally, I did a video walk-through with the buyers, and they will be moving in within weeks.” It was a simple, painless and time-saving experience Maglieri will seek to repeat. “It’s a new way to do business,” she said, “and it absolutely works.” It’s a process that works, too, for buyers like Nicole Spears and her partner, Gabriel, renters who began looking at properties in Columbus, Ohio before the pandemic threw a wrench in their plans. Unable to view homes in person, they began viewing them virtually with the help of Constance Leeson, an agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Calhoon Company. Realtors. “I have always worked from home, so I have a high trust level for what can be accomplished remotely,” Spears said. “Now, juggling work, home, and family during the pandemic, a virtual home-search was the perfect way for us to go.” The couple closed on a vacant 5-bedroom ranch home they toured remotely, with just a socially distanced final walkthrough. As Coldwell Banker president Ryan Gorman told agents and consumers in a recent, interactive Zoom presentation, “Much is changing in the way we do business. What has not changed, as we shelter in place, is that owning a home has never been more important - and that savvy agents working remotely are still closing deals every day.” How much virtual reality comes with us into the future is, of course, yet to be seen. But, noted Century 21’s D’Amico, at least one lesson should be taken from the chaos of a COVID-19 world. “We find ourselves living in a kinder, gentler world,” D’Amico said, “with more time to enjoy one another, and more opportunities to help. Getting closer while socially distancing should be a cornerstone of the new normal.”

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