When the realities of COVID-19 hit, REA Group had to respond quickly. The company’s priority was to support its people and customers while getting behind the real estate industry to navigate through this global pandemic. We talked to CEO Owen Wilson to get his perspective on the impact of COVID-19.
How have you professionally and personally needed to adapt in light of COVID-19 hitting Australia?
Like many Australians, I’m working from home now. My days are spent connecting with our teams via Zoom. I typically really enjoy the office environment, so my new operating rhythm has taken a bit of adjustment.
Personally, I have four children who are now all learning from home. Two are at university and two at high school. So, like many parents, I am juggling my workday around supporting my kids’ school work (Year 10 maths is a lot harder than I remember). I take my hat off to all the teachers out there!
What about at REA Group – have you needed to change the way you do things?
Our first priority in responding to the pandemic was to protect the health and well-being of our employees and customers.
From early March, we transitioned to a virtual workplace. Being that we are a digital business, we were well set up to do this, so it wasn’t a huge leap for our staff. We’ve placed a strong emphasis on communication.
With uncertainty comes fear, so it’s vital that we keep all of our people informed and engaged every step of the way.
We’re providing regular updates to all our stakeholders on how we’re responding to the constant changes, the support measures available and market insights and information to help people make informed decisions.
How have you supported your customers throughout COVID-19?
Our view is that we’re absolutely in this together. We have provided financial support to customers by discounting our subscriptions and we are working hard to make it as easy as possible for agents to connect with consumers while we have the current restrictions in place.
We’ve introduced a number of changes to our listings rules to give customers greater flexibility and the tools they need to give vendors confidence to list their properties in today’s market. We’ve also responded to the restrictions impacting our customers by launching new features like Digital Open for Inspections and Online Auctions.
We’re providing unique data and insights from our economists, via weekly webinars, newsletters and commentary across various media platforms.
This not only helps our customers stay on top of the most recent trends but also helps stimulate the market generally.
What advice do you have for agents who might be doing it tough right now?
In times like this, my advice is to focus on what you can control and try not to worry about the things you can’t control.
One thing you can control is remaining in constant contact with new and existing clients. While there is uncertainty and a lot of misinformation in the market, people will be turning to real estate agents to provide an informed and balanced view of the current market dynamics.
They will be looking for a source of trusted information, and that’s where real estate agents can absolutely assist. There’s no doubt that Australians remain passionate about property—in March, we reached record highs of 10.7 million people visiting realestate.com.au, and post-Easter, we are seeing encouraging buyer activity on our site. There are definitely buyers out there.
Do you think the property market will be changed forever post COVID-19?
The restrictions placed on how the property market works in the short term are forcing everyone to think outside of the square. And that’s a good thing—nothing’s off the table.
Technology has certainly been a huge enabler, with a significant increase in the use of Digital Open for Inspections and Online Auctions.
It’s hard to predict what the long term effects of COVID-19 will be, but I think digital OFIs will be here to stay, helping consumers streamline the number of properties they need to inspect.
From an industry perspective, I feel like we’re collaborating better than ever. This gives me great confidence that together we will successfully navigate our way through this.
What’s currently keeping you up at night?
As I said previously, I am focusing on the things we can control, and I don’t worry about what we can’t control.
I feel incredibly lucky to be supported by such an awesome group of people at REA. I’ve been so proud of the resilience that’s been shown, the speed at which small teams have rallied to bring new features to market and how we’re continuing to push boundaries despite working through a global pandemic.
I do think COVID-19 presents an opportunity for all the parts of government, business and the community to stop and reflect on how we might do things differently post-pandemic, rather than simply reverting to the status quo.