4 Ways COVID-19 Has Changed Being a Real Estate Agent
It would be pretty condescending to open this article with “in these unprecedented times…” so I totally won’t do that. Last year was pretty crazy, however. Everything in our lives has been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic, from just little nuisances to dire circumstances—and worse.
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As a real estate agent, my corner of the world has drastically changed, too. I feel like every week there is something new to adapt to. From showings to closings, it's all different than before.
I permanently keep the Gary Keller book SHIFT: How Top Real Estate Agents Tackle Tough Times on my desk these days, reminding myself that you adapt and overcome, or you might go out of business. This pandemic has forced me to re-evaluate many things, from who I hang my license with, to how my business is set up, and to if it’s nimble enough to change on the fly. While SHIFT talks about the real estate market itself, it feels like everything else changed besides the market, which has surprisingly been strong all year.
How we do nearly everything has changed, and I’ll go through the list of changes I’ve experienced this year, and some of these changes might just be permanent:
Here are the four major changes I’ve experienced this year, some of which I believe may be here to stay.
How Being a Real Estate Agent Changed in 2020
For those of us who have always worked from home and never really ventured into our company’s real estate office, nothing at all has changed. For those who were working in-office, most were all but kicked out for a few months, whether by policy or by choice. The transition to working at home can be rough. Fortunately, by now, there are a few hundred guides and videos on how to best adapt.
I’d rather work from home, but that’s not the case for everyone. Without co-workers and water cooler interaction, it can be tough for many. (That and not being able to get away from the distractions of being at home. For me, it’s my dogs barking at the constant Amazon delivery people, and my kid doing school from home.)
Remote work is a change that corporations worldwide are making permanent. The coronavirus forced businesses to see if their workforce can get just as much done remotely as they could in the office—so far, the answer has been yes.
How has your brokerage adapted, if at all? Do they have the tools to quickly adapt and support you remotely? The real question you should be asking yourself is this: Why are you still paying for an office that you don’t use anymore?
If you are a technophobe, you were forced into some uncomfortable spots this year. Even some of the most old school agents I know are pretty tech-savvy, but many more in that category still have fax machines. (Fax machines, in 2020?!)
In March, I had to instantly turn off all showings and prepare a 3D tour of any listings I had quickly if I wanted them to sell. When showings go away, great pictures and 3D tours are the only way to get buyers to look at your clients’ properties. Open houses were executed via Facebook Live or prerecorded video walkthroughs. Social media, reach, and video know-how are mandatory now. (Hold your phone sideways when doing the walkthrough, Fax Machine Fran!) If you didn’t use e-signature programs for remote signings before, you were all but forced to last year.
We have had remote contract uploading for broker review for years now, but some brokerages still haven’t caught on. This year they had to slap together a system after it was needed.
My family always had a small bottle of sanitizer in the car, ever since we had children. Now we lug around a gallon jug of the stuff, for ourselves and for clients to use. Gloves, masks, shoe coverings, antiseptic wipes—we carry it all now. The showing procedures alone were a hurdle for many agents and clients but still totally manageable: less showings, less people through listings, leaving the home cleaner than we found it, wiping down doorknobs and counters that were touched. (I think this is something that should survive in the coming years. It shows a large amount of respect for the listing and those who live there.)
Another change was how we close properties. From outdoor tents to drive-up closings, title companies immediately reacted and put in place some great procedures to still physically sign documents in person in a safe manner. While I don’t see drive-through closings sticking around, it was a great solution to keep deals going while we needed it.
While we had our normal run of clients this year, we also had many remote workers who were fleeing high-priced downtown areas for the suburbs or cheaper markets altogether. When Twitter announced on October 1st that all of its employees would be permanently working from home, many took that opportunity to cut off their expensive Bay Area lease and move to a much less pricey market.
If the world is your office, the ties to a geographic location are severed. People now have the freedom to live anywhere. This was already becoming an issue for city centers and hot markets like San Francisco. I think COVID will accelerate this further. I wouldn’t want to be an office/commercial investor right now, as many businesses are letting their leases expire and cutting out the overhead of costly office space. (See above: Are you paying your brokerage for an empty office?) This created a good opportunity to network with agents in the most expensive and tech-centric markets for referrals if their clients were fleeing in our direction.
We have had an uptick in house hacking client,s as well—younger workers who are hedging their bets that people in similar situations are willing to pay part (or most) of their housing expenses if they own the property and will share the space. Many more homeowners decided to stay put, refinance, and do major projects around the house during their downtime. Nearly everyone I know who remained in place redid garages, kitchens, basements, and other renovations.
The Bottom Line
So, while this year might have required us to shift, I think most of us are better for it. It forced me to analyze places in my business that needed to be brought up to speed, utilize technology or automation, reaching out to clients to reevaluate their needs, and even consider what I was actually getting from my brokerage. Forced growth is still growth!
I think that many things have changed this year have staying power, while others will go back to normal as soon as they are able. The only thing I can guarantee is that once we get comfortable with the new normal, change will come knocking at our door again one way or the other. And this time, we will be ready.
What changes has your business made in the wake of the pandemic? Are they here to stay?
Share your thoughts with a comment below.