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Learning through a crisis

COVID-19 has uprooted nearly every aspect of life, including how people live and work, and how companies and customers interact with each other. For many, it presents a choice of threat or opportunity. Sharon Fox-Slater explains.

While the complete fallout of the pandemic is still unknown, it is safe to say that it has fundamentally changed the way we all do business.

It is also safe to say that the social and economic impacts have been wide-ranging and far-reaching, and few have remained unscathed. However, the prioritisation of innovation during the COVID-19 crisis has been key for many in unlocking potential growth.

Having worked in the real estate industry for more than 30 years, it has been an eye-opening experience to see the evolution of the industry over the past little while. Below are some of the most interesting lessons that have been brought home for those in real estate on the back of COVID-19.

DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

Agents have been quick to embrace all the technology available to keep on top of day-to-day real estate life – from tools for virtual inspections, to apps to transact easily online.

Legacy processes have also been automated. And, virtual 3D listings, online auctions, 3D tours, online portals and apps, video walkthroughs, interactive floor plans, virtual staging, virtual reality and augmented reality, online documentation and e-signatures – are now all part of the real estate agent’s playbook.

For many, investing in tech has resulted in time and cost savings, increased efficiencies, and transparency between landlords, tenants, tradies, and property managers – and the digital tools will be here to stay.

One EBM RentCover agent partner – Melbourne Real Estate (MRE) – has 12 leasing executives that adapted to one-on-one private inspections during the first Victorian lockdown, then moved to virtual inspections (with all inspections and new tenancies conducted online to facilitate the leasing of its properties) when physical inspections were no longer permitted.

“Conveniently, we have used video tours to market our properties since 2012,” says MRE Head of People and Culture, Adriarna Nunn.

“We’ve had more than 2.2 million views of our YouTube channel since its inception, and have invested in high-definition, optimised video technology to produce quality video content.

“This certainly made the adjustment and roll-out a much easier process for our team. MRE has successfully leased 1183 properties since March, abiding by all government regulations.”

COMMUNICATION IS KEY

Not only have agents had to source, filter and make sense of all the information they are being bombarded with, they have also had to communicate the important points to clients.

A constant flurry of questions from landlords and tenants, coupled with announcements from governments and bulletins from industry bodies, has meant many agents have upped their communications game.

Traditional channels of telephoning and emailing have been boosted with texting, instant messaging, Zooming and Skyping. While face-to-face contact will eventually resume, the diversification of communication channels, and the efficiency it has brought, is expected to be a legacy.

Communication with the client is one thing, but communication with staff is another. The emotional impact COVID-19 has had on employees has been huge, and has played a big role in the success of the new ‘working from home’ environment.

“We have been on a mission to ensure our team is supported with our various employee offerings, as well as the continuation and implementation of learning and development programs, to facilitate individual development plans and career path succession,” Adriarna says.

“This has also been a time to launch a stronger wellbeing strategy for our business, ensuring we take proactive steps to ensure we all maintain a healthy mind, body and spirit, as well as guiding those in need of a more tailored approach with the appropriate care.

“We are so proud of our teams’ vulnerability, openness and genuine care for each other during the pandemic.”

LANDLORD INSURANCE REMAINS IMPORTANT

COVID-19 has seen a raft of changes in the landlord insurance market: a number of landlord insurance providers have exited the market; the number of policies offered has been limited; insurers have amended their offering to exclude certain risks; and most insurers have stopped offering products that cover rent default.

If your landlord clients have an existing landlord insurance policy, they would be wise to hold on to it.

Many standard building and contents policies are still available but many specialist landlord policies are not, which means landlords are unlikely to be able to secure the same level of cover a second time, and may be left exposed and unable to find adequate cover for tenant-related risks.

If your landlords are thinking of dropping their insurance, perhaps caution them to think again, as cover provides peace of mind for agents too.

Adriarna says it is important to MRE that, when working with clients, they are educated on the importance of insurance.

“Without insurance, many clients would have suffered significantly more than they have during COVID-19, and those that didn’t have insurance are regretful,” she says.

“Landlord insurance is cheap compared to other types of cover and will usually pay off several years of premiums in just one claim.” 

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