DiJONES’ general manager Kylie Walsh is no stranger to innovation, but in recent weeks she reflects the whole industry has been forced to innovate at speed.
“As an industry, real estate has been very slow to change,” she notes. “But this event will force us to change, and ultimately that won’t be a bad thing.”
In the interim, DiJONES has been nimble, swift and proactive in their COVID-19 response.
When Prime Minister Scott Morrison pulled the pin on auctions and open homes, DiJONES was well and truly prepared.
They’d already made a practice of live-streaming auctions and on Tuesday night hosted their first virtual-only event with great success.
They have also moved to sales inspections by-appointment-only, with property sanitisation a priority.
“We reached out to corporate cleaning companies asking for their best deal on sanitising properties, and today we’ve introduced that as a new product,” Kylie says.
That sanitisation has also been offered to Airbnb landlords as DiJones looks to secure them for longer-term rentals
“We’ve done 16 appraisals in 48 hours to bring short-term properties across to permanent rentals,” Kylie explains. “We’re offering them sanitisation pre-tenancy.”
As for routine inspections, DiJONES has been employing technology for weeks.
“We stopped physical routine inspections about three weeks ago. Now we’re doing them via FaceTime, asking tenants to walk through the property, showing key areas. Our teams can then record this and send it through to the landlord for peace of mind.”
The main issue at the moment, Kylie explains, is lack of clarity about rent distress and tenant payments.
“We were hoping the government would offer some clarity on this, but it’s yet to come.
“What needs to be considered is that most landlord insurance policies require a default in order to trigger payments that cover loss of rent.
“Also, when does tenant distress kick in? Is it level 3 COVID-19 measures, or level 4?”
She notes the murky message has prompted a wave of calls from tenants and landlords, and to pre-empt this, DiJONES is taking a proactive approach to communication.
“We are telling our people to get off email, and instead eyeball people face-to-face, whether that’s on their phone or via FaceTime.
“Salespeople in particular are tactile, so it’s important they have real interaction with people.”
In the business
Kylie notes the main challenge at the moment is keeping abreast of a situation that keeps changing.
“We’ve developed a handbook for our entire team and we’re keeping that constantly updated.”
But it’s no small task, she concedes.
“On occasion, our corporate team has worked through the night because this extends to the minute detail. We even have to change website copy for our sales team to ensure they can prepare their owners.”
Each day there’s a virtual meeting using Microsoft Teams during which KPIs are revised and set. These reflect very different priorities in the business to standard trading.
“So, for example our KPIs for the next 24 hours are two positive news stories each rather than two appraisals,” she explains.
“KPIs are changing and evolving daily. We are trying to drive productivity but there’s a different focus on what they need to achieve.”
Kylie explains the KPIs are important for keeping a large team motivated.
At a higher level, DiJONES is starting to trim the bottom line.
“Anything that’s nice to have in the business will be gone by Friday,” Kylie states.
Asked what ‘nice to have’ entails, she explains it’s things like subscriptions, software that may be utilised less under current circumstances, and also corporate expense cards.
“We’ve also reached out to all our commercial landlords to see if there are grace periods available,” she says.
“We contacted our corporate team about the possibility of reducing their salary, because if we’re going to make cuts, it needs to start from the top.
“I’ve never spoken to my accountant so much in my life as I have in the last week.”
Kylie urged others to use the resources available – whether that’s their accountant or the Real Estate Employers Federation (REEF).
Staff welfare and support
All the strategies DiJONES is implementing are designed to support staff and clients during a period of uncertainty.
“Mental health is absolutely a priority for our people, our clients, our tenants and landlords who are under a great deal of stress,” Kylie says.
That’s part of the reason DiJONES has introduced concepts like ‘two good news stories’, which are fed to all DiJONES offices.
And indeed, there is good news to be found, Kylie states.
“One of our agents in Wahroonga listed three properties on Monday. Tuesday night’s auction was a success. This week we’ve seen $58 million in property sales in seven days,” she says.
“No, it’s not business as usual, and everyone needs to understand things are very different to before. But there are always people that buy and sell houses.
“As an industry we can be stronger by understanding it’s out of our hands and there are many worse off than us.”