An Open Letter to all Real Estate Agents affected by the Covid-19 Pandemic

-Written by Antonie Goosen, Founder and Managing Director of Meridian Realty

The rampant spread worldwide of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has officially lead President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare a state of disaster which escalated to a 21-day full scale lock-down in South Africa today, 23 March 2020.  Although this was a very difficult decision to make, I personally believe that it is the right thing to do at this stage.  As South Africa we have to do whatever we can to minimize the spread of this pandemic in order to minimize the impact on our already fragile health system and economy.

At the time of writing South Africa has 402 confirmed cases of people infected with the virus, and this number will no doubt rise in the coming days and weeks.

This begs a few key questions: What will the pandemic’s impact be on the property market now that a lock-down is in place?  How quickly and for how long is it going to affect the real estate market?

There will be an immediate and drastic impact in the short term.  Why?  There are various factors to consider.  Sellers and tenants were already more weary of strangers entering their homes prior to the lock down, as was buyers and potential tenants.  The lock-down will effectively prevent you from conducting viewings with potential buyers and physically introducing them to properties.  For now, Show Houses will be a thing of the past.  We expect the deeds office to be closed during the lock-down!  This means, for now, in all likelihood property transfers will be delayed until further notice.

Less motivated buyers and potential tenants will decide to rather postpone their property hunting until after the crisis, or to only engage with properties that are highly attractive to them.

Similarly sellers that are not highly motivated to sell may decide to withdraw their property from the market until a later stage.  On the other end we will likely see new inventory due to the financial difficulties people will face as a result of this crisis.

Apart from the impact due to the measures to curb the disease, the real estate market will be affected by the health of the economy, consumer confidence, and levels of employment in particular, which means that major disruptions in other sectors will impact the property market.

The property market tends to be a more resilient investment type than most. In recent days we’ve seen equities being significantly affected, while property has remained fairly stable.  It is however by no means immune to major disruptions in the economy, and it remains to be seen how much this will effect our market.

We are in unchartered territory and some speculate that it may take a few months to stabilize, where others reckon we should prepare for up to two years for the pandemic to play out.

Truthfully, at this point nobody knows for sure.  What is certain is that we are in for very tough times in the short to medium term.

So how do we deal with this pandemic as estate agents?

Currently there are a lot of factors out of your control, so it is important to shift your focus on the things that you can control.  There will undoubtedly be opportunity in this market.  However it is vital to realize that the playing field has changed drastically and that you will have to adapt like never before in order to ride out this massive storm successfully.

1. Have the mindset of a Lion / Lioness

Think of a lion or lioness.  What do they do when they are under attack?  Do they freeze with fear?  No, they remain calm.  They survey the situation.  They protect their pride.  They show strength and resilience and act like a LEADER!

Now think of a lamb… Lambs follow the herd.  They jitter at the mere sound of a dog barking.  They panic and run in fear.

In this crisis, are you going to be a lion/lioness or a lamb?

You need to decide.  Fear leads to anxiety, and anxiety is a deal killer.

2. Put Health and Safety First

This one’s simple, but it needs to be said anyway.  Be smart.  Follow the health guidelines.  Obey local orders and ordinances.  Keep in mind what’s best for the common good… and we’ll all be better off because of it.

Practice Social Distancing.  From now on you will have to work from home.  At Meridian Realty all our agents already work remotely as we are a cloud based agency, so we have some experience on the matter.  The good news is that you can achieve a lot by working from home!

If your company does not already offer it, invest in the necessary solutions to ensure proper collaboration through an online platform.  It does not have to be expensive and there are even free options available.  Until the lock-down is lifted all meetings will have to be conducted online, so if you are not familiar with it you need to do some homework fast.

When going to the grocery store or pharmacy ensure that you sanitize your hands and keep at least 1.5m distance from other people.

3. Now more than ever, be ADAPTABLE

Unwillingness or reluctance to change will get you NOWHERE right now.  You need to adapt, and you need to adapt quickly.

When it comes to your business…

… Get creative!

… Use video more than ever, and…

4. Utilize the Power of Technology

We live in the digital age, and it is incredible what can be done these days through online systems and platforms.  USE IT!  This may just be a game-changer during the pandemic.

Ensure you have the best possible internet you can afford at your home.  This investment will be well worth it!

Switch to online meetings.  At Meridian Realty we use Microsoft Teams as a collaboration platform across the group.  This enables our agents to connect online with other agents and staff members on either an individual or group basis.  We also use it to collaborate on projects or teams as we call it.  The system allows seamless communication, file sharing, real time collaboration on files, video calling, webinars, online meetings and even the ability to record these.

I encourage agents to use these types of platforms to its maximum potential during this crisis.  Consider for example facilitating the signing of an OTP via an online meeting.  We have the technology.  It works… so let’s use it.

There are many other solutions out there for example Slack, Zoom, WhatsApp video calling, Skype, Facetime, etc to name a few.  Use what works for you.

Think about ways to use online strategies to still bring buyers and sellers together.  In the coming weeks and months, having a proper online presence and strategy for marketing properties will be more important than ever before.  Wherever possible try and use professional photography and property videos.  If you can get access to it Matterport 3D Virtual Tours could be a very helpful tool as it gives a very accurate “feel” for the property.

By fully utilizing these solutions together with properly and accurately marketing all the features of a property online, you will enable buyers to decide to a large extent whether or not a particular property is worth their consideration.  Your sellers will appreciate the progressive use of technology in these trying times.  It is not business as usual, so we will need to adapt and use the best technology available.

5. Engage with your Market – do NOT go quiet.

I cannot stress this enough!  This is the time when you need to be OVER-COMMUNICATING!  Most agents will become quiet in this period.  This is one of the areas where there are HUGE opportunity.  Your brand can be cemented during this crisis if you communicate clearly and consistently to your sphere and clients.  This may be the perfect time for you to catch up with your sphere of influence, and to ramp up your canvassing activities.  As the country is moving towards a “locked-down” situation, I suspect people will appreciate interaction with other people more than usual.

Ramp up your telephonic canvassing. Phone old clients, phone your sphere of influence, phone owners in your farming area and phone you’re friends.  Use social media effectively.  Stay on top of what is happening in the market and share this information with everyone interested to know.

Let them know you are there, you are ready to assist, you are open for business (within the confounds of the current situation) and that you care about them.  Listen to what they have to say.  Use this time to build stronger and more meaningful relationships with people.  Although you will largely be confined to your home, you can still generate leads and build relationships.

6. Stay in touch with the Market Trends

Stay on top of the changes in the market and keep your clients informed.  Make sure you utilize services such as Lightstone to keep abreast of movements in the market.  Keep talking with your colleagues, be it from the your own company or other agencies.  Stay informed of the latest sales and trends.  Your sphere will want to know about the information and you can add real value to their lives by providing it.

7. Take care of your Admin

Many agents are not too fond of admin.  This may be the perfect time to catch up on admin tasks that you keep putting off.  Update and upscale your database.  Plan for the year ahead.

8. Up-skill yourself

There are many online courses, videos and training material available to estate agents.  During our normal out-and-about schedules, we often don’t have the time or energy to invest in improving ourselves.

Google Tom Ferry and Brian Buffini.  Watch their videos.  Sharpen your negotiation skills with Chris Voss.  Get ready for the major changes coming to our industry by reading up on the Property Practitioners Act and the soon to be implemented POPI Act.  See what great books are available on Amazon on subjects that interest you and can have an impact in your personal life and career.  Read up on the latest social media strategies.  If there is room for improvement, do a course on technology!

Keep on improving yourself and your skills. Keep on GROWING!

9. Be mindful that the Service you provide will be more important to some sellers during this pandemic than in any other time in recent history.

Things will get worse before they get better.  Things can potentially get a lot worse.  I know from first-hand experience when I watched the situation unfold in Italy, the country where some of my family lives and I have visited on several occasions.

The fall-out from this pandemic will be massive.  People will die.  Families will be broken up.  Businesses will close.  People will be laid off.  Some of the sellers you will be working with in the coming weeks and months will be in dire straits, financially and emotionally.  They will need the expert help and guidance of true property professionals more than ever before.  They may need to face realities they could not have imagined in their lifetime and they will need someone to guide them to the best possible outcome.

Make sure you have empathy.  Make sure that you always work in the best interest of your clients, with due consideration for all parties involved.  Be a true professional.

In Closing

This too shall pass…  In the meantime, it is business as (un)usual.

Make the most of the opportunities around you.  Be willing to change and adapt to the new realities… even if it is only temporary.  Together we will overcome this!

Let’s hope to look back on this when it’s over and say “we did more than what we needed to” rather than “we should’ve done more or acted earlier”.

Antonie Goosen has been in the Real Estate industry since 2004.  You can email him at [email protected].

Visit this website for more information about Meridian Realty and what it is they stand for.