COVID-19 Support Materials

COVID-19 and the need for social distancing has impacted the real estate industry and agents have needed to adapt quickly to be able to continue the business of listing, selling and managing property.

Throughout the last few weeks – Elite Agent has been talking to some of the best in the business to find out how they are adapting to change.

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Webinar Replay

Maintaining a leadership mindset in the midst of COVID-19 with Michael Sheargold and John Cunningham

In this rapidly changing world of uncertainty and shut downs, it’s more important than ever to show good leadership. Business coach and performance expert Michael Sheargold and Cunninghams Real Estate Managing Director John Cunningham share their thoughts on how to pull your business and your team through the pandemic and come out better for it on the other side.

Going old-school – No one knows how long the pandemic and social distancing is going to last, so you should be making significant changes to your business processes. It’s a lot like real estate in the old days where we didn’t have open homes or auctions, only private viewings – and it worked.

Stay calm – The right strategy and right mindset will outperform panic. Moderate how much news you’re taking in – do 15 mins in morning and in the evening, maybe the press conference during day. Don’t get sucked into the repetitive news cycle and don’t start the day with two hours of news.

Stay positive – Understand the focus of each individual in your team, don’t just look at the collective.

Be professional – You need to be skilled with professional advice. Arm yourself with the facts.

Master a routine – With many people working from home, we need to hone the ability to switch from personal to business mode without changing location. Switching channels is critically important.

Prequalified buyers and tenants – In the past, we marketed a property to get people to turn up to an open then they qualified afterward. The COVID-19 crisis means the quality of qualification needs to be sensational now and we are bringing people through the property who are ready, willing and able to buy or rent.

Discipline – We need to reset and recreate an ideal week which will look different but will still achieve outcomes. Identify your five most important priorities for the day, reward yourself for completing tasks.

Upskilling – Spend some time each day focusing on something that will build your skillset, for example, work on your negotiation skills.

Accountability – The commitment we’re most likely to break is the one we make to ourselves. Get an accountability buddy – so you externalise commitment to someone else.

Language is key – Ensure your messaging is sensitive – don’t talk about your success when others are doing it tough. Practice care and positivity in your messaging, offer advice, encourage clients to get in touch if they need help. Compassion is a critical component. If you become opportunistic, you will turn people off rather than having them lean in.

Care calls – This is a valid reason to call – to check in to see how your clients are, find out if there is anything you can help with. It might turn into a real estate conversation, but this isn’t the point of the call.

Address the issues – Ask your PMs and your sales team what their clients are asking and create videos of those top three concerns to send to landlords, tenants and buyers.

Make it personal – If you haven’t kept notes on your clients, now is the time to do that. Spend an hour or so a day improving the quality of information in your database.

Communicate – You don’t have to know everything to share what you do know. This is changing so rapidly, it’s ok to update people in the meantime with what is current right now rather than waiting for decisions which may or may not come.

Trades – Policy and procedure has changed around how they will go about work. Listen to your tenants’ needs. Some tenants are not allowing access – you can’t control that. Be understanding.

Virtual inspections – Now is not the time to use beautiful photos that make a property look much bigger in virtual inspections. There is a bigger risk of that coming back to bite you if people are not able to view a property in person.

Common sense – There is no point putting a tenant not wanting to allow people through their house for inspections through NCAT/VCAT or equivalent. It will take months and will not likely find in the landlord’s favour. Run with the right thing to do at the moment rather than seeing things to the letter of the law – it will do a disservice to your client and to your brand if you’re not understanding of your clients.

One-on-one meetings with your team should:

  1. Focus on what they can do, not what they can’t do. Have them write down here’s what I can do, here’s what I can’t do
  2. Talk about the beliefs they have around this – help them see beyond what’s occurring right now and to how will things look on the other side of this. Ensure a positive mindset.
  3. Discuss strategies – encourage care calls to clients, ensure they have an understanding of the Job Keeper program, talk about how they can show empathy for clients. That may not lead to a sale or a listing, but it will help create momentum and hone buyer qualification skills.

Key takeaways

  • The property market has been through hits, it always recovers and there is no doubt we will recover from this.
  • If you take a long-term view, this will create a new way of doing business which could benefit the way we do business.
  • Don’t give yourself a hard time if you’re having a hard time. Reach out to people who can help.
  • The industry will come out of this very changed, but real estate professionals will have much more value in the eyes of the consumer if we handle it well.
  • Tune in with your clients rather than broadcasting a message.

Navigating the coronavirus crisis for real estate agents with Damian Collins, Leanne Pilkington and Leah Calnan

With Presidents all over the world weighing in on COVID-19, we thought it was time you heard from your presidents. Sam sat down with REIWA President Damian Collins, REINSW’s Leanne Pilkington and REIV’s Leah Calnan to get an overview of what is happening in the industry since the pandemic hit and what needs to happen for real estate professionals, tenants and landlords to get through the crisis.

Key points covered in this webinar:

The biggest challenges the real estate industry is facing are:

  • Rental relief for both residential and commercial tenants
  • Separating institutional landlords from mum-and-dad investors
  • Conflicting and changing information – each announcement leads to more questions and it’s difficult keeping on top of everything
  • Getting information to members and to the wider public
  • Misunderstandings around the announcement of no evictions

Tenants unable to pay – While there is still uncertainty in this area, you can ask for letters from employers to verify tenants’ circumstances.

Landlords – They are getting some bad PR, but many landlords are in a position to assist and it’s worth asking the question.

Tenants in distress – Let them know all their options, what support from the government they can access, direct them to Centrelink and other appropriate supports, as well as making them aware of options to access super.

Evictions – The no evictions rule only applies to non-payment of rent, but does still apply where the is a risk to public health or damage to property.

Landlord insurance – The majority of insurers have shut down and aren’t taking new policies, but in the case of non-payment of rent, it’s still unclear how this will work as insurers require landlords to initiate the eviction process if they are to make a claim. In Victoria they have raised the suggestion with VCAT for the potential of in-chamber payment plans registered by VCAT, so instead of needing to go through order-agreed payment plans, a presiding member of VCAT could rubber-stamp the order and minimise the delays.

Rent relief – There is hope in the industry that this will be administered through agencies and the state/federal government will pay 100 per cent of rent for those unable to continue paying. More realistically this will be 75 per cent or similar. Until the government makes an announcement on this and the quantity of the relief Is known, it’s uncertain the effect this will have on property management fees.

Technology – Moving auctions and inspections – and even meetings – online has forced agents to take up technology more quickly, but long-term this could be a good thing for the industry.

Legislative changes – In WA, a new strata titles regime and changes to the Residential Tenancies Act were due May 1 – REIWA are pushing for a delay in these as the industry grapples with COVID-19. In Victoria, new legislations with 130 changes are due to come into effect July 1 – REIV are also pushing for a six-month delay. A new Residential Tenancies Act came into effect in NSW in March – while it will go ahead, no prosecutions will be made for the first six months.

Stamp duty – The industry is lobbying the government for a cut to stamp duty for those who are forced to sell due to COVID19.

PM mental health – Property managers are bearing the brunt of rent relief stress. They are encouraged to access employee assistance programs where they exist, and industry and business leaders are called upon to step up communication with PMs to calm anxiety. Leaders are encouraging people to turn off social media for periods of the day, participate in things like virtual drinks with their staff and check in more frequently so PMs feel supported.

Vacating tenants – There is talk of people needing to employ a professional cleaner when vacating a property. It’s unlikely governments will mandate this additional cost so agencies are urged to communicate good hygiene and cleaning requirements with tenants, and to come up with processes where a vacating property may have been home to someone in isolation or who has tested positive to COVID-19.

The message to government – Everyone in the industry needs to stay on the same page with messaging so the government is getting clear messages about the need for rent relief and stamp duty relief in particular.

Forums – Check in with forums for ideas that might be applicable to your business, but always check back with credible news sources and the industry bodies.

Final points:

  • The times of the greatest challenge are when we find the greatest innovation, so focus on that. Focus on what you can do and not what you can’t do.
  • This is a short term issue, it won’t be forever, don’t lose hope.
  • This is an opportune time for the industry to step up and be empathetic, and for leaders to give the community a sense of what real estate professionals really do.

Safety, certainty and empathy: How real estate agents can help buyers and sellers during COVID-19 with Matt Lahood and Claudio Encina

As part of our suite of tools for managing the business of real estate during COVID-19, Claudio Encina and Matt Lahood joined Sam McLean to share their insight into how agents can help buyers, sellers and their communities during COVID-19.

Key points covered in this webinar:

Empathy, resilience, focus – Go through your day with those three things in mind and chances are you will strike royal in the next three months.

Look at it like preparing for a marathon or the HSC. The date is three to four months from now, what do you need to focus on now for three to four months time?

This too shall pass – But consider what you need to do to come out in 90 days. Have a plan, stay focused, keep your ideal week going.

Three types of agents – There are three types of agents emerging…

There are those sitting in the middle playing the waiting game.

Those who are fear-focused, very emotional and overwhelmed, and consumed by the media.

Then there are the strategy-focused agents saying how can I see opportunity now, how can I get involved in the community, how can I serve at the highest level in the marketplace?

If you choose to be above the problem and serve at the highest level, that’s what people are looking for. Buyers and sellers are looking for the people who are giving direction.

It’s a new day one – What if today was your first day in real estate? What would you do differently, how would you act? It’s easy to kick and squeal and say that’s how we used to do it. But the person who is more resilient and adaptable will run over you.

After this drama, we will have a number of ways you can sell a property in the future.

Be relevant – If you’re doing the listing presentation you were doing four weeks ago today, then you have your head in the sand. Instead consider the three dangers for your vendor.

The three dangers – Identify what the top three dangers are for a seller right now? One is certainty – is this the right time? Number two is safety and number three is they want to feel comfortable with the process.

If you’re able to build some sort of dialogue or framework around this discussing safety and transparency, you’ll make them feel comfortable. You need to make the seller feel safe.

The tough conversation  Although this will pass, in the interim stay real with your clients, don’t sugarcoat things, have empathy and be ready to have the tough conversation.

Throw away the box – Don’t just think outside the box, throw it away. A new box is being built. If you see opportunity seize it. Get out there and implement it. It’s now about speed of execution. In the process don’t let perfect get in the way of good.

Reach out to your community – Get involved in the community on whatever level you can. If you want the community to serve you, you need to serve the community.

When you do great things in your community without expectation of return, eventually the word gets out. Check-in with people, not from a real estate perspective.

For example, if you’ve got people in your database over 70, reach out and see if they need anything.

Three tech tools – There are a lot of new tools currently available in the tech space. It’s not the time to embrace each and every one.

Instead, pick the three things that you’re comfortable with and add them to your lifestyle. Look for the things that will give you immediate leverage and use it.

Effective and efficient – Up until now real estate was slow to embrace change because we were operating out of fear.

Now people are reinventing themselves. Ultimately some of these tools will stick, allowing us to be more effective and efficient, with more time at our disposal.

The crystal ball – In the next six months, people will look at their overheads, asking do they need the encumbrances they have? We will see a different space in the industry come out of this.

Best selling periods possible – People who focus on what’s going to be possible in the next 90 days will have some of the best-selling periods of their career. There are exciting times ahead for those who are focused.

The AND strategy – The new way of selling in the future will see an AND strategy. Vendors will have smorgasbord of options available and agents will need to offer choice.

The light at the end of the tunnel – Society will emerge from COVID-19 in a very different headspace. Once there is optimism there will be positivity.

That will prompt some serious re-evaluation for many and could see a lot of people to change their circumstances – upsizing or downsizing.

If you can stay in the game for the next 90 days, adapt, remain focused, embrace change and be resilient, there will be real rewards ahead.

Property management in the era of COVID-19 with Hannah Gill

Managing Director of Canberra’s Independent, Hannah Gill, has a constructive discussion about the recent changes in the industry as a result of COVID-19 from the perspective of real estate and property management. She talks about how a large property management company are handling procedural changes, team morale and opportunities to innovate during the coronavirus pandemic.

Key points covered in this webinar:

Rent reduction – There are no requirements currently, which may change if and when Government make announcements – but for now it’s really up to the tenant and landlord – through their property management – to come up with their own agreements.  There is no standard rent reduction – landlords’ and tenants’ circumstances vary. Hannah has had some landlords not in a financial position to help at all, and others prepared to waive rent entirely for a period of time.

Rent deferment vs discount – This needs to be a case by case business decision, but rental discounts do pose a risk to the industry in terms of management fees if there is a mass reduction in rents or rent-free periods. Chat to your principal and come up with a plan for your business.

Full lockdown – property should still be regarded as an essential service so make sure you have plans in place to service your clients. Take note of what New Zealand is doing.

Building a change plan – Independent started with a brain dump of everything they needed to change by walking through a standard day and looking at what things needed to be adjusted.

Remote work – Independent’s leasing and new business team already operated remotely. Now the whole team is working remotely except for a skeleton staff in the office who are there for picking up/dropping off of keys for tradies etc, but they are moving to contactless drop-offs.

Communication – Independent is keeping their team and their clients across everything as it changes. This was important for reducing anxiety and uncertainty.

Silver linings – This is a huge opportunity as an industry to innovate, challenge the norms and put in practice some things we have talked about but haven’t done because we didn’t know how the tenant would receive it – for example, how a tenant can do their own routine inspection. We are innovating at a rate faster than what perhaps the market was ready for, but if we get it right it could change property management going forward, and that is exciting.

Routine inspections – These are often a pain point for tenants who don’t want you coming into their home, now that we’re not doing that and there’s a benefit to them (by reducing spread of COVID-19) it’s a path forward. Educating them on how they need to do that is key – what they need to look for, what the PM needs. Independent has replicated the last report using photos and added a Zoom inspection to that.

Maintenance and trades – Independent asked tradies to inform them if they had any symptoms and to check with tenants before they turned up to make sure they weren’t in isolation. Tradies are also taking extra precautions like masks and gloves

Landlord insurance – Some have embargoes and are not taking on extra policies at the moment after a mad rush of people taking up policies in the last few weeks. There are still some offering insurance under certain conditions. Long-term, we may see a rise in premiums

Team morale – It’s a difficult time for PMs dealing with landlords who are sometimes unsympathetic and being the messenger of this news to the tenant who might have lost their job. Hannah has her staff give a score out of 10 for the day so she knows where they’re at.

Innovation – Changing expectations around routine inspections will hopefully continue and will improve the experience for the tenant and a be a cost saving to business.

Improving tech – Those with outdated software or not using cloud-based software will forced to change. Everyone will be forced to consider systems that are contactless.

Tenants in hardship – It’s fair to request verification of circumstance if a tenant is requesting a rent reduction – either an employee severance letter or Centrelink documentation. Those who still have jobs who are requesting rent reductions aren’t a priority. As a proactive measure, Independent has developed a fact sheet of local resources for tenants experiencing hardship/job loss.

Vacant properties – Prepare now! Independent has created walkthrough videos of every property vacant now in case we go into full lockdown. This will give them the capacity to act quickly rather than having to react in a 24-48 hour period.

Rent increases – When these are due, Independent will still have those conversations with landlords, but would approach it with more empathy around this conversation.

Final points:

  • “You have to remember in our role there is only so much we can do – we can’t control travel bans, we can’t control restrictions, all we can do is communicate with the tenant and the owner.”
  • Factor self-care into your day as well and tap into resources now available online such as exercise classes.
  • Communication is more important than ever – wherever possible phone and Zoom rather than email, whether that’s your team members, your clients or other people in your community.
  • Practice kindness. “It’s a challenging time for everyone, we don’t know all the answers, everyone is doing the best they can in the circumstances so let’s just be kind to one another.”

Specific Q&A – Added 30/3

With our thanks to Hannah Gill for penning specific responses to participants questions.

Is there any requirement to offer tenants a rent reduction?

There is no requirement at this stage. Note: since the webinar, the Government have announced a six-month moratorium on evictions.

Is there a standard accepted amount of reductions?

This would be a case by case situation depending on each landlord and tenant circumstances

Can we do a rent deferment instead of a discount?

Yes, if both parties agree but this could be more damaging to the business – if we are collecting no rent, we are collecting no fees. A discount in rent from a business perspective is better than an overall deferment or rent freeze.

Will property managers be considered essential if a full lockdown occurs?

Housing is considered essential, so one would assume the services provided to enable housing would fall into the same category, but time will tell.

If an owner decides to reduce the weekly rent payment for a tenant, do we do a rent credit when receipting the rent? Or do we change the rent amount in the system to this new rent amount? If the second is the case, then the management fee that we receive will be reduced, effectively reducing the income to the business. What would be the right way to do this?

This would be a business by business decision. Important to note that for tenants to secure some of the Government support services, they will need to demonstrate they are in arrears to qualify, so how an adjustment is demonstrated or managed is important and the tenant should be encouraged to explore their options first

If we reduce rents now if landlords are happy to do we need to then give a rental increase notice? 

This may vary state by state, and without precedent, it’s hard to know. At the very least, ensure you have clear instructions and agreement in writing from both parties to avoid any disagreement or confusion later

Are landlord insurers are now ceasing to do new policies/cover… ?

Yes, some are starting to put embargoes in place or change policy inclusions or premium costs

How is Hannah going to conduct exit and entry reports if we go to stage 3 

In full lockdown, I’d assume we cannot conduct any appointment which requires us to leave our home. Equally, incoming and outgoing tenants will be in the same situation and we will all have to wait it out.

Wondering how Landlord Insurance would work if the government advises we cannot evict tenants for rent arrears – ie follow that process … Guess can’t really comment until such time as the Govt gives a clear directive.  But if we cannot follow the arrears process no cover will kick in… 

Each policy will be different and I’m sure insurance businesses will respond with this advice. Until we have clarity from the Government, we can only speculate.

How are you managing your one on one inspections for vacant properties and are you doing inspections on tenanted properties? 

We ceased one on one inspections last week and have moved to fully virtual inspections of vacant properties. As we have such low vacancy rates in Canberra, we’ve not needed virtual tours in the past, so as an interim step we have taken iPhone recordings while we set up more permanent and higher quality walkthroughs. While properties are still tenanted we are accepting applications from prospective tenants but not attempting any sort of viewing.

Does anyone have any tenants stuck overseas and unable to get back into Australia – how are you handling that, or is it still a wait and see? 

We haven’t had this come up recently but certainly saw it when parts of China were in lockdown. Each case was different based on the tenants and owners circumstances

We’ve had a lot of tenants request a rent reduction, not just due to unemployment from covid-19 but more so due to the change in economy and market – has anyone else experienced this and if so, how are PM’s managing this with owners? We’re not sure genuine these requests are and want to protect our owners from tenants taking advantage of the situation 

Prioritise people in genuine need over those just seeking a discount. We can put forward a tenants request to an owner, but the owner is not obligated to make any changes at this time

So clearly no leasing whatsoever during lockdown. Any properties being advertised for lease will be in a state of flux for 1, 2 , 3 or more months. 

Quite possibly yes, so it’s incredibly important to be prepared as possible to educate our clients if this happens

Fact sheet sharing is a great idea, and shows care towards tenants

Absolutely, each state will have its own local resources, and it doesn’t need to be only financial support. There are many services which offer access to food and other essentials which can help people in a time of need.

What about virtual tours – say someone approved gets keys and inspects physically. Will there be an opportunity to retract based on initially not physically viewing and then simply changing their minds? Legally how will this hold up with a lease break situation? 

This is a hard one (and a great question). It comes back to contract law and ensuring the tenant understood what they were signing up for. I’d encourage current photography/video tours, avoid anything that is outdated as it could leave you exposed. Important also to make clear throughout the leasing process at multiple touchpoints that the process has changed, and also to have an endorsed clause/sight unseen waiver in your agreement. I don’t know how it will stand up legally if challenged later, so at this stage, we can only apply reasonable and sensible measures to best educate the ingoing tenant about the property and to best protect the agency.

What are you telling your ingoing tenants and outgoing tenants that are moving in and out next 2 and 3 weeks if we go into lockdown?

We haven’t had these discussions yet so as to avoid any unnecessary panic or further anxiety. If a lockdown is announced, everyone will be in the same position, so we will move quickly to educate and communicate with those affected.

What about rent increases, if an owner requests a rent increase to be done in this time? 

We have a fiduciary obligation to our clients to have this discussion with them. It doesn’t mean we have to encourage an increase, nor does it mean they have to apply one, but from a best practice perspective, I’d recommend you do not stop conducting rent reviews. If anything, the main change here will be the conversation with your owner about their tenant’s circumstances and letting them make an informed decision

Stage 3 could cause havoc with urgent repairs if/when suppliers are cut off. Have you heard if the government has considered emegency back up and should SES be given the heads up.  

Unsure about this, but no doubt if Stage 3 is announced, we will be given some clarity and guidance. I suspect urgent repairs will still have to be conducted as housing is viewed as essential, but how this looks in practical terms I don’t know.

Can we allow people to move in earlier than the leave commencement date 

If both parties agree I don’t see why not – just check the owner’s insurance policy or shift the lease dates to an earlier commencement to ensure you and your owner are covered.

Are you having discussions with your owners and tenants who are due for lease renewal to encourage new lease for a 4-6 month period at reduced rent?

We’re having lots of different conversations with our owners as they are all in different financial situations. If this suits a certain owner then absolutely it can be done. (Depending on State) it will be important to ensure you have an agreement from both parties to then increase the rent if it’s been less than 12 months.

How to make your business more financially resilient with John Knight

John Knight is a qualified accountant and business strategist who shared his tips on business resilience in the face of Coronavirus with Sam McLean

 

Key points covered in this webinar:

The industry is getting a heads up – Right now the real estate industry is faring fairly well, Saturday opens last weekend were still well patronised, contracts were still being signed. Real estate is fortunate to be getting a heads-up through the lens of industries like hospitality. So what should you do now?

  • Find your break-even point – Your break-even point is the most important number in your business and it’s critical you get to the heart of it really quickly.
  • Levers to pull – When we know the break-even we know what levers to pull.
  • Wages – One of the big costs of real estate will be wages. Although now is not the time to desert your staff, it is the time to help each other out and that may mean talking with your staff about taking leave, going on leave without pay for a period of time, or temporarily reducing staff wages by 20 per cent and turning positions into three day a week sort of employees.
  • Subscriptions – Go through your subscriptions and consider whether you really need them.
  • Rent – If you rent your premises, ask for some room to move on the rent
  • Advertising – If you’re not getting your advertising fees paid by your vendors up front, that means you’re paying for them. Maybe your advertising providers are able to provide some deferral or relief for a period of time.
  • Look at income – In addition to looking at costs, look at income and particularly property management income. This could be a time when property management becomes a more important part of your business to provide a fixed income.
  • Landlords not paying rent – Landlords will be asked to give room to move on rent. To make up for this shortfall, what about other charges that you haven’t been recovering. Are there other rent rolls you could be acquiring?
  • Arrears discussion – You will be having arrears discussions. This will be a tricky balance. Try to get it right between landlords and tenants.
  • The human element – A lot of this pain will be pushed down the line. Don’t forget the human element. It’s an opportunity for your brand to be authentic and real.
  • Bank packages – Should initiatives come to pass that enable people to pause or delay business and home loans, these will reduce your break-even point.
  • Wiggle room – Over the next few months there might be wiggle room available and this could be useful for your business. Some people are asking for a rent relaxation on their commercial business, which they are adding on to the end of their tenancy.

Meanwhile, agencies like the ATO are being very understanding, so deferring an ATO debt could be worth investigating.

The government has announced two rounds of subsidies broken down into a series of areas.

Subsidies

Here’s how that’s likely to apply to real estate:

PAYG – If you’re a real estate business with a wages bill, the minimum that anyone who qualifies will get is $20,000 and the maximum they’ll get is $100,000.

Banks offering cheap money to business – The RBA has made $90 billion available to banks which they will charge minimal interest on. That allows for government guaranteed loans of up to $250,000.

There are two ways to look at this debt. Have we hit the bottom of the dip? And if so, is this an opportunity to scale up? However, even though the money’s cheap it still has to be paid back.

This is an opportunity – This is an opportunity for clarity and creativity. What the industry looks like could be really exciting.

Resources from Business Depot

https://businessdepot.com.au/blog/government-cheque-book-to-ease-pressure-on-coronavirus-economy/ (updated regularly)

Managing emotions in uncertain times with Pancho Mehrotra

Resources mentioned:

The 7 mistakes salespeople make and how to fix them

https://frontierp.com.au/7salesmistakes/

Case Studies

9 things I’d do as a Property Manager during COVID-19

After more than 2 decades in frontline property management, Brock Fisher thought he’d seen just about everything until COVID-19 came along. And just like that a range of huge and unprecedented challenges were thrown down, to solve on the fly from a standing start. We asked Brock – if he was still in property management what would he focus on? Here are his 9 must dos.

 

COVID-19: There is no point of reference for Businesses, Property Managers, Owners and Tenants to refer to, because we’ve never been through this before.

This is not “Business As Usual”, and it could be quite a while before a normal operating rhythm returns. To negotiate this period, here’s 9 things I’d be focussed on.

  1. Scripts and Practice
    This is one from my days as a BDM, but you are going to be having lots of the same conversations over the coming months, so it pays to get really good at them.Work out the key points and content with your team or Manager, and then practice how those conversations need to go to be most effective. I have always been a fan of having the main information and dot points in a really visible spot near my computer or phone, so I can refer to them mid conversation if I lose my train of thought.
  1. Fact check information and sources
    There’s a deluge of information coming at you from all angles, and that can be quite overwhelming. One of the biggest challenges is to filter the facts, from the misinformation.If you’re picking up information from sources other than your usual trusted advisers, make a point of verifying the correctness of the information before using it in your everyday work.
  1. VPN
    Ideally, Cloud based software makes life so much simpler in the current flexible, work from home environment. If you’re still operating on Server based software, then that doesn’t have to mean that you miss out.Having a VPN installed, or utilising Remote Desktop access will mean that you can still access your Server based software and continue to be productive.
  1. Keep the Team connection
    One of the best parts of Property Management is being part of the Team. If you normally do things together like Lunches, Coffees, Friday Drinks, or even Trivia at the end of the week, then keep it up!Maintaining culture, engagement and support in the team is vital. At work right now, there’s not a single activity that we used to do in person, that we haven’t continued to do virtually. The commitment to keeping it up has in many ways made it even more effective.
  1. Optimise your home setup
    Having spent a lot of time working from home over the years, I have found that it’s the little things like a proper webcam so people aren’t always looking up your nose, a USB keyboard (if you work from a laptop), a good headset, and a 2nd screen that make a big difference to your comfort and productivity.I’d also add work on your internet connection, and “plug in” by ether, if your Wifi is patchy or unstable
  1. Be open to flexible working conditions
    Drastically reduced rent collection, equals drastically reduced management fees. The problem being that the business you work for, still has most of its fixed costs to pay. This period is about survival, and being able to kick on when we emerge from the other side. It might be weird and uncomfortable to consider working less hours, or accepting a reduced wage.Certainly don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of, and always speak with Fair Work if you are unsure – but a scaled back role that is sustainable, is better than no role at all, and having the business doors closing. If this is something that gets raised, keep an open mind to the possibility.
  1. Look after your Health
    Working from home, I try to be diligent with a hard stop at the end of the day to go and do some exercise, even if I resume work later on.The work will always be there, and for the next few months you might never be finished at the end of the day. Exercise is critical to remain at your best and naturally release endorphins. I also find it helps manage the temptation to turn to Beer or Wine as a way to unwind and release stress. Let’s not emerge from the COVID-19 crisis as alcoholics.
  1. Zoom Inspections
    There’s a range of great tech out there to handle Routine Inspections by Video, and even if you have none of it, then Zoom is a great free way to deal with this.Install Zoom on your PC, have your Tenants download the free Zoom App, and then you can have an interactive video call and complete your Routines virtually. Having the Tenant pause, enables you to take Screen Shots, and then these can be used as photos in your traditional routine inspection report to the Owner
  1. Leasing – reverse the process
    There’s also a range of great tech out there to deal with video or virtual reality property inspections for leasing, however once again, even if you have access to none of it, this can still be actioned using existing tools.A simple good quality phone video uploaded to Portals, Facebook Live property inspections, or one on one Facetime inspections can all be sufficient to allow prospective tenants to apply for the property. Then, only once they are approved, and before requiring them to sign the lease, you can then perform a one on one viewing with safe social distancing.

This is a time to stick together, support each other, and reimagine the tools we have at our disposal, and how they might be able to be repurposed to ensure that this period can be worked through, and we’re positioned to thrive on the other side.

Gower Buchanan of Ray White NZ: Never more relevant than now

As the real estate sector joins a host of other industries grappling with the impacts of COVID-19, Elite Agent is reaching out to some of the best practitioners to find out what they’re doing differently, and how they’re “pivoting” to adapt.

In New Zealand, the response to Coronavirus ramped up quickly, with the country given just 48 hours to prepare for full lockdown. Wherever people stayed the night of March 25, they were told to remain. 

All but essential services shut down. All businesses except supermarkets, pharmacies, clinics and lifeline utilities closed their doors. 

Ray White Ponsonby director Gower Buchanan notes nothing quite prepares a business leader for a shift of that magnitude.

“We always knew a full lockdown was coming and I thought we were mentally prepared for that,” he says.

“But it wasn’t until it happened that you appreciate the level of imagination required to get organised and ready. As soon as you know, you make decisions very quickly.”

Stripped of all the traditional selling tools and facing a lockdown that will last at least four weeks, Gower’s focus has turned to his team’s mental welfare, along with truly serving their clientele.

Gower’s decisions, made in conjunction with his 120-strong team, have been nothing short of inspiring.

The initial response
With just 48 hours to prepare, Gower says his staff were quick to spring into action. Once notified, the leadership team assembled and drafted a plan. By 4.30pm Monday that roadmap was being relayed to the entire group via Google Hangouts.

“We had Tuesday and Wednesday to bring forward auctions, to help tenants secure accommodation to get a roof over their head and to work with landlords. There were a lot of people to communicate with. We had to make clear decisions very quickly,” he says.

Those properties taken to auction sold, tenants were moved in.

“My staff did amazing things in that time,” Gower says. “I am so incredibly proud of my team and the way they adapted, the way they communicated, helped people and supported one another.”

A two-speed approach
A week into lockdown, Gower explains the business now has a two-speed approach, with an emphasis on keeping staff focussed. 

“It would be very easy to not make the most of what’s ahead, but we are still trying to transact and give people the opportunity to buy homes. There are people with stock who are still looking to transact,” he says. 

“Tonight we have an online auction scheduled. We hope to see more of those. There is also preparation for the other side where we are working to come up with campaigns.”

Staff are being encouraged to simply reach out to vendors and offer any assistance, and virtual appraisals are being conducted.

The property management team has been busy supporting landlords.

“Our area has a lot of Airbnb properties. Obviously, it’s not a great time to be an Airbnb landlord, so we are establishing a framework to support them,” Gower says.

“We are also providing advice to landlords regarding tenants who can’t pay rent. As a leadership team we are supporting our staff through that.”

The second component of Gower’s two-speed business approach involves looking long and hard at the organisation’s processes and procedures.

“We are looking at every foundational part of the business, pulling it apart and putting it back together. This includes our Cloud-based filing system.”

An opportunity for change
Gower notes the current situation offers a world-class opportunity to embrace change. For example, his office will be entirely paperless on the other side of COVID-19, while more meetings will likely be conducted online.

“We’ve had sales meetings this week where members have joined us by video while out on a morning walk. I can see a time where this will become standard.” 

There’s also a strong focus on the comeback in terms of preparing buyers.

“We’ll see families make decisions on what they want from their lifestyle,” Gower predicts.

“I really think a massive seachange will occur. There will be people who find they don’t want to be leveraged up to their eyeballs anymore, who want to spend more time with their kids.”

To accommodate this, Gower’s team is staying in close contact with their database. They’ve been urged to start preparing buyers, working with them so they are ready to go in the immediate weeks after COVID-19. 

“Good buyer work will win the day on the other side of this crisis,” Gower states.

Real relevance
Meanwhile, Gower notes the coming weeks will offer an opportunity for agents to be more relevant than ever before to their clients.

“I started out in Christchurch during the GFC and was there for the first earthquake. It’s times like these that you can feel people genuinely want your advice as a professional.

“This is an opportunity to be the most relevant we will ever be to members of society,” he reflects. 

“It’s a chance to help people make informed decisions. As long as you are strong enough to have those conversations, it’s a great time to do that.

“You can’t buy that sort of relevance. This is the opportunity to do a really great job, genuinely helping your community.”

A sense of purpose 
The business focus is clear, but Gower explains the major priority beyond work activity is the welfare of his staff.

At the core of this is maintaining a daily rhythm on the work front with a personal connection. To facilitate this his team have established a buddy system where each person has someone else in the business for them to contact and engage with on a daily basis.

“We’re trying to give people a sense of purpose, day in day out,” he says.

Immediately after the lockdown, the team set up Quarantine Thursday, establishing different Google Hangouts groups where members of the team could connect, and have some fun in the process.

“A book club started on Monday via Hangouts,” Gower explains. 

“We have an art club where people describe a piece of art in their home. There’s also bring your kids to work day for the morning Google Hangout meeting and we’ll probably have a bring your pets to work day too.”

In the interim, the entire team is part of a daily check-in. 

“We also have different guys on the team speaking about their opportunities, what they’re doing, what they see for the future,” he says.

“Ray White Corporate has put in place a new training regime and that’s been great as well.”

Gower is under no illusion that the isolation of working from home could affect his team mentally and physically, and he’s urging them to reach out to all available assistance where required.

“There are activities to focus on each day to maintain the routine, but it’s not like a normal workday. We also understand people need to take a break and decompress as well.”

But he’s fully confident his team will rise to a highly unique challenge.

“My team has been amazing, and I really believe if you have a great team going into this, you’ll have an even better one coming out.” 

Jon Snead of The Agency: The value of unexpected kindness

As more and more COVID-19 social restrictions came into play, Jon Snead of The Agency Neutral Bay found himself increasingly preoccupied with ways he could help – not just as an agent but as a member of his community. Ultimately, he created ‘rescue packs’ comprising essential items for the vulnerable. Beautiful in its simplicity, it has gone viral as a result…

The Agency’s Jon Snead says he has always lived by the mantra, if you are able to help, you should. When he found himself working from home amidst increasing COVID-19 restrictions a couple of weeks ago that weighed heavily on his mind.

“It was one of those things,” he explains.

“I was mulling ideas around when working from home, thinking about ways to help people around me. At the time there was hoarding and all that palaver going on. I kept thinking the elderly and fragile in my community would be most affected because they couldn’t get to the shops.”

That’s when he had the idea to create rescue packs comprising the daily necessities like bread, milk, Vitamin C and the obligatory roll of toilet paper to assist.

“If I didn’t know them directly, I knocked on their door and stood back to explain what I was doing,” Jon explains.

First, he started with people he knew then his mission expanded by asking his contacts if they knew anyone else who might benefit from the offer.

“Some of the older residents even shed a couple of tears. They weren’t expecting kindness out of the blue.”

Soon Jon was receiving emails and texts from relatives touched by the generous offer.

“I got a lot of response from people and started wondering how I could extend it.”

He sourced a delivery truck, found himself local bread and milk suppliers and was set to commence a delivery run by the time further restrictions came into effect.

Jon turned to his database, his e-newsletter and then Facebook and LinkedIn to spread word of the offer, noting the recipient may well be fine but if they happened to know someone who could use assistance, he would be happy to drop the products at their address.

“The aim was to deliver bread and milk to those who needed it – whether that was mums and dads with a houseful of kids, people in isolation after returning from overseas, or the elderly.”

The move quickly went viral, with 10,000 views on LinkedIn receiving 300 replies – many of which were simply commending Jon for his generosity.

“People I haven’t spoken to for years got in touch as well as other agents asking to use my letter, and of course I had absolutely no problems with that.”

Jon also took the time to personally respond to each message with a phone call, noting, if nothing else, COVID-19 sees communities value the human connection more.

He reflects the move wasn’t designed as prospecting, but rather to offer warmth and a meaningful outcome.

“It was lovely to step sideways and really focus on people,” he says.

“The warmth I’ve got from doing it will change the way I operate.”

The Eview Group – Setting up for the comeback

As the real estate sector joins a host of other industries grappling with the impacts of COVID-19, Elite Agent is reaching out to some of the best practitioners to find out what they’re doing differently, and how they’re “pivoting” to adapt. Over the coming days, we’ll continue to glean an insight and share the wealth of wisdom available…

It’s far from business as usual but Manos and Maria Findikakis note it is business nonetheless at their offices all over Australia.

This weekend their agents managed to secure a number of contracts despite the challenge of no open homes and a government rent relief package that remains up in the air.

In the interim, they’ve been drawing on technology, harnessing previous experience and proactively communicating with clients and staff to cope with the business impacts of COVID-19.

Sales inspections

In the meantime, they’ve trained their sales team in best-practice when it comes to health and hygiene and are communicating this with their clients as well.

As long as private inspections remain an option, Eview will be utilising them but Manos and Maria note they too may be ruled out by the government in the weeks to come.

Eview is also utilising technology such as handheld or virtual walkthroughs and are harnessing the pure power of verbal description while working their database of prospective buyers and mixing up their marketing.

Their new marketing strategies involve tailored solutions to fit all client’s budgets and they’re tapping the power of portal listings, while also enabling clients to test the market via their qualified database.  

“To be honest, we’ve actually had a rush of properties come on the market and we’re just trying to provide the best service possible,” Manos and Maria explain.

“At this point we’ve done 80 per cent of what we’d normally do in March and have also sold two properties today with the month not over yet. We might still get close to our normal figures.”

Property management and routine inspections

“Resourcefulness” is a key word for the group at present and this is certainly playing out in property management where both tenants and landlords are clamouring for clarity on rent relief.

To calm the market nerves Manos and Maria have urged their team to be very proactive about communication.

“We’ve been telling our team to get on the phone and talk with landlords and tenants. The second option Is voicemail and SMS, and after that email.

“People have been very happy to hear from us and pretty much everyone has picked up. We’re assuring them we are on top of it and will let them know more when the information comes to hand.”

At present the group has trialled routine inspections via Zoom, but are now looking to shift to Google Hangouts and note there are instances where it’s tricky for tenants because they are unfamiliar with technology.

In some instances, they’ve reached out to landlords looking to simply postpone routine inspections for a couple of months.

“If it’s one to two months, that’s not such a big deal. If it’s longer we will deal with it a little further down the track,” Manos and Maria say.

When it comes to repairs and maintenance, the urgent jobs are the priority.

“With anything that’s not urgent we are asking tenants to be patient.”

In the business

Communication is key and the group is drawing on their collective knowledge. Eview has created a hub for agents with a wealth of COVID-19 resources. The group is also meeting regularly via Zoom, with their meetings focused on creating collective goals and solutions, Manos and Maria say.

“Our last meeting had 80 people on it and there was a real energy that came out of it. We are learning from each other, talking through experiences and strategies,” the couple explain.

“We are trying to be agile and we are also communicating internally via our system which allows us to gain and share feedback from the marketplace.”

The pair notes agents in the group have an advantage because their expenses are based on profits. Many are already set up to work from home, and much of their work is also done virtually.

At head office, however, the couple says they have declared a ‘code red’.

“Although this particular situation is unprecedented, we have the benefit of the tough times in the market a couple of years ago, so a lot of fat has already been trimmed from the business.”

As optimistic as they are now, Manos and Maria are also prepared for the months ahead.

“It’s a matter of ensuring all the great sales we had in February and March, that these are set aside to pay staff in June, July and August.

“At best we may achieve 50 per cent of our usual results, but in reality it could be worse.

“Our focus at the present isn’t growth, but rather spring cleaning our processes and procedures to ensure our survival.”

Manos notes the aim of the game at the moment is to be omnipresent, communicating frequently with the market and clients via blogs, phone calls, emails and resources.

“We’re communicating to ensure people know that we are here and available. The message is: It’s not business as usual but we are still open for business.”

Staff welfare and support

In anticipation of a shutdown, earlier this month Eview sent all their support teams in administration, bookkeeping and IT home for at least a day a week.

The aim of the game was to test exactly how they would fare working from home, and to audit what equipment and resources they might need, then secure them.

When the axe fell and people were urged to work from home, that insight proved invaluable.

Now the group has a laser-like focus on staff welfare and support, launching a new initiative called the GAME DAY challenge.

The initiative is designed to encourage the entire Eview team to practise gratitude, exercise, meditation, and heathy eating, while attaining knowledge, and setting goals.

“We’re urging our people to keep focussing on goals, despite all the noise in the background. We will get through this, and it’s good to be there for each other.”

Like many other agents and brands, Manos and Maria believe there will be important lessons learned in the weeks to come and these will change the real estate sector, perhaps for the better.

“Over the next three to six months, things might get tough. We might emerge battered and bruised, but resilience will be the most important thing and in the interim, we will use this time to set up for the come back.”

Daniel Lee of Plum Property – Picking up the tools to make the best of it

As the real estate sector joins a host of other industries grappling with the impacts of COVID-19, Elite Agent is reaching out to some of the best practitioners to find out what they’re doing differently, and how they’re “pivoting” to adapt. We’ll continue to glean an insight and share the wealth of wisdom available…

Daniel Lee of Plum Property – a Brisbane brand quickly gaining attention for its nifty use of video – is taking extensive precautions against COVID-19 with the aim of protecting both his 20-plus staff and his valued clientele.

Open homes
Of course, this playing field altered on Monday night with news open homes and auctions would no longer continue, but up until then Daniel had a “do not touch” policy for prospective buyers that will now continue at private showings.

“Before the agent goes in, they sanitise their hands, then open up all the things a buyer might be likely to look in, like a few cupboards and drawers,” Daniel explains.

“This means there’s no need for attendees to touch anything and we’re explaining this at the outset. We’re also asking anyone who has a child to hold their hand throughout the visit, and we’re reminding people to stay 1.5 metres apart.”

The process is similar when showing rental properties, while Plum Property is also drawing on 3D cameras to create virtual tours.

Routine rental inspections

“We’re offering this for free for all rentals,” he says.

Technology is the tool of choice when it comes to routine rental inspections. Daniel says his PMs are now asking tenants to take timestamped photos of a list of areas and then submit them via email.

In the business
With a small tightknit team, Daniel notes staff are now on a rotating roster with minimal team members in the office and others working from home.

“At the moment we have two out of five PMs here each day. When it comes to sales staff, we’re asking that only either the agent or their associate is here.

“We were also considering giving our staff facemasks this week, but they’re proving hard to come by.”

Essential information is being relayed to the team via email, rather than meetings, but Daniel notes that’s having minimal impact and is pretty much standard operating procedure.

Staff welfare and general sentiment
Daniel says his team remains in positive spirits, and he and his business partner Dylan Simpson are looking to keep it that way.

“I can’t say there’s no anxiety, but I’ve got a brilliant positive team and the reality is, what can you do? We’re all in the same situation as an industry and a wider community. When you all face the same problem, it’s not such an overwhelming issue. We just need to pick up the tools and make the best of it.”

Kylie Walsh of DiJONES – A stronger industry, embracing change

As the real estate sector joins a host of other industries grappling with the impacts of COVID-19, Elite Agent is reaching out to some of the best practitioners to find out what they’re doing differently, and how they’re “pivoting” to adapt. Over the coming days, we’ll continue to glean an insight and share the wealth of wisdom available…

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.

Sales inspections
When Prime Minister Scott Morrison pulled the pin on auctions and open homes, DiJONES was well and truly prepared.

They have also moved to sales inspections by-appointment-only, with property sanitisation a priority.

They’d already made a practice of live-streaming auctions and on Tuesday night hosted their first virtual-only event with great success.

“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.

Property management
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 website change 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.”