(Note: the following piece was originally published in Inman News)
Like many of my colleagues, I’ve been reading — with great concern — about how the ripple effect of the coronavirus pandemic is playing out and how it will affect my business.
However, unlike many of my colleagues across the nation, I am seeing serious consequences in my own backyard. New York state ranks second behind Washington state for coronavirus cases. As I type this, my market of Westchester County accounts for over half of the documented COVID-19 cases in New York (178 at last count).
Only a few miles from one of my offices in New Rochelle, New York, there’s a 1-mile diameter containment zone. The governor brought in the National Guard to assist in cleaning up houses of worship and schools, which will remain closed for two weeks.
Schools are closing like we’re under 6 feet of snow. There’s no widespread panic, but there’s certainly grave concern.
Having lived through the Great Recession, I’m really not in the mood for another disruption. Although, even if things get demonstrably worse, it will, in all likelihood, never be a full-blown crash like the one we saw in 2008.
That said, with so many events being cancelled or postponed, a disruption is inevitable. So what can we, as an industry, do to minimize the detriment and squeeze results out of the scarcity of an alarmed consumer base?
- For markets where showings are still happening, advise your clients not to bring their young children or aging parents along on home tours
Those over 60 are most susceptible, and this practice would minimize their exposure to contagions. It also provides the added fringe benefit of not having a front-row seat to grandma’s sticker shock when she finds out how prices and taxes have gone up since she last bought a house in 1988.
- Associations: Please, for the love of God, stop calling meetings
Last week, I got an invitation to a broker-manager meeting my association is holding on March 18. To its credit, the association allowed remote access as news changed.
Since my business partner just became a grandmother last week, she shouldn’t be forced to miss an important meeting because she wants to hold her infant granddaughter. Allow us to attend remotely. The technology isn’t new. Come on associations, we can pivot.
- Support local businesses
It might be easier to shop on Amazon, but they will never refer you business. That Chinese restaurant down the road is likely taking it on the chin, especially with so many states and counties placing limits on large gatherings and bars and restaurants.
Be a mensch, and have lunch there if you can, or buy a gift card if they cannot serve. Grab a loaf of bread and chicken soup at the corner deli. Now is a great time to get acquainted with local cleaning operations. When all this blows over, they — and all of their referral sources — will know you were a stand-up supporter. That will make you money.
- Invest in 3D imaging and virtual reality
Even if folks aren’t going to actively tour homes, you can bet that they are looking online. 3D tours are a phenomenal differentiation, as well as a great way to attract more inquiries once things return to normal. We see open houses being cancelled in many markets, and this can help.
- Brokers and managers — go virtual
Chill out on the office meetings, and start leveraging platforms like Zoom, GoToMeeting and Google Hangouts (that goes for you too, associations).
- Keep your personal space
If you’re in a market where it’s customary to drive clients around in your car, rethink the practice. This is a rarity in liability-conscious, litigious New York, but I do know it occurs more frequently elsewhere. Now is no time to be in such close quarters with people you may not know very well.
- Be consistent
Whatever business practice changes you make, apply them consistently. NAR released guidelines that aren’t earth-shattering, but they are useful. One of the more timely takeaways for me was that if you’re going to make changes for one client or customer and not the other, you could run afoul of fair housing guidelines. It’s common sense — but crucial.
The situation sucks. It really does. I see a hot start for my own company hijacked by the pandemic, and I see my industry brethren arguing over politics and health policy.
But we will get through it, and when we do, we should hit the ground running with the pent-up demand. Remember: People prefer to live indoors. There will be plenty of work to do when this passes, but we can produce results in the interim as well.