Earlier this week, Raine & Horne embraced the real estate vaccination debate, announcing they would furnish staff members and agents with a badge of recognition once they attained fully vaccinated status.
Launching the R&H Vax Badge initiative, Raine & Horne’s Executive Chairman, Angus Raine, noted the move was designed to provide consumers with additional peace of mind.
It also serves as an incentive, rather than a mandate, that members of their organisation should go and get the jab.
The Raine & Horne announcement comes at a time when many agencies are pondering exactly how they should be approaching the issue of vaccination with staff, members and clientele.
And in an industry where one of the major business models is franchises, the issue has added complexity.
The franchisor might advocate vaccinations, but ultimately their members are not their staff. Mandating vaccinations would fall to the individual business owners, and that comes with its own set of challenges.
With that in mind, here’s a quick round-up of how some of the biggest names in the business are approaching the issue of vaccination…
Raine & Horne
On Wednesday, Raine & Horne launched a new initiative to support the vaccination push, offering an R&H Vax Badge to all staff who have achieved fully vaccinated status.
In addition to offering clients peace of mind, the move is designed to support the government’s message about the need to get vaccinated, according to Executive Chairman Angus Raine, who received his second vaccination dose in July.
To be eligible for the R&H Vax Badge, Raine & Horne staff send a screenshot of their Medicare certificate to show their vaccination status, which is then rewarded by adding the badge to their website bio and LinkedIn or Facebook profile.
“Many of our staff have continued to perform essential services such as routine rental property inspections and one-on-one open homes and have followed the health and social distancing guidelines to a tee, and this initiative is aimed at giving our buyers, vendors, investors and tenants peace of mind,” Mr Raine said.
Acknowledging the messages about the value of vaccination “are still taking time to sink in”, Mr Raine said he believed “any incentives that may encourage real estate professionals to get vaccinated should be considered”.
“Apart from marketing campaigns, this could be something as simple as a gift voucher or a day off in lieu,” he said.
While The Agency has no plans at present to introduce incentives for agents to be vaccinated or implement a vaccination badge, Real Estate Chief Executive Officer, Matt Lahood said the group is currently discussing how the issue of vaccination should be approached.
“We haven’t taken a position yet, and our view involves listening to our people and working together with government bodies, looking at what their requirements are,” he explained.
“That said, most of our leaders within the group are vaccinated.
“As a national brand, we have operations in Perth and Queensland, and the reality is it could take years for us to visit those areas if we weren’t vaccinated and if it’s a condition of entry.”
Each day Mr Lahood is in contact with his agents, but noted he hasn’t yet heard of any vendors, landlords or sellers requesting an agent be vaccinated.
“But there may come a time where it’s the difference between a vendor selecting one agent over another,” he said.
“Basically, we’re investigating and considering how the government bodies are approaching the issue and considering how that affects the business as a whole.”
Ray White Group
The Ray White Group does not have an official vaccination policy but has provided a suite of marketing assets to members of the group who have now received their double jab.
Ray White Managing Director Dan White agreed vaccination status could soon be a deciding factor for real estate clients.
He noted many vendors were now asking whether agents were vaccinated and that was driving up the rate of vaccination within the Ray White Group, especially among younger agents.
“Our clear message to our members is that they should be vaccinated as soon as possible, for the safety of themselves, their colleagues and their customers,” Mr White said.
“We appreciate the privileged position agents and property managers occupy in being able to enter other people’s homes.
“Our members may also be entering homes of customers who are unvaccinated, placing our members at greater risk if they themselves are not protected.”
Meanwhile, he said it wasn’t just about vaccinations.
Many of the most proactive Ray White agencies ensured their staff were tested weekly.
“We expect this to be a far more common approach as things open up,” he said.
“We are a family business and consider the safety of all our staff, members and our customers a top priority.”
Vaccination has been a hot topic on the minds of leaders at Laing+Simmons, and just yesterday they met with the Real Estate Employers Federation to discuss that very issue, along with others.
Chief Executive Officer Leanne Pilkington said it was “very likely” they would introduce some form of identification for those team members that want to be identified as vaccinated.
“It’s not about incentivizing; it’s about identifying those who are happy to be identified as fully vaccinated,” she said.
“We are actively encouraging people to get vaccinated, but appreciate that there are some very strong views, and everyone’s entitled to their view on it.
“But we are encouraging vaccination, and we are actively looking at ways that we can highlight those that have chosen to be vaccinated.”
Ms Pilkington said she was also aware of some clients who were already asking about agents’ and property managers’ vaccination status.
“I haven’t heard about any buyers yet, but I’ve certainly heard about vendors and tenants asking only for vaccinated people,” she said.
Ms Pilkington identified another potential challenge agencies would have to work their way through was where some team members would be vaccinated but others may not be.
“That causes a divide in the office and that’s a challenge because you can’t force it on people,” she said.
BresicWhitney said the topic of vaccination was a “delicate issue” and one that they were taking an “education and information” approach to.
“We’ve taken an approach where we want to educate and inform, and we feel that if people are receiving the right amount of information and the right amount of education, they’ll be able to come to a conclusion in regards to what’s going to be best for them and the clients they interact with,” Head of Sales, Thomas McGlynn said.
Mr McGlynn said implementing a vaccination badge was not on the table at this point in time, but the agency was in the process of surveying its team members on their views regarding vaccination.
“One thing that I think is going to spearhead a lot of our decisions is engaging with our employees and seeing what their opinion is on things,” he said.
“I don’t feel that it will need to go to the extent where we would need to employ a strategy of recognising who has been vaccinated and not been vaccinated.
“For us, it’s about making sure that our people feel safe and feel that they’ve got the right information to make the best decision for them and their family.”
Mr McGlynn said BresicWhitney also has a responsibility to create a safe environment for its clients and vaccination could play “a big part” in that, but he was mindful of team members’ views too.
He said clients had already started asking if agents and the suppliers they work with, such as photographers, were vaccinated.
“I think in our industry, in particular, clients will start to have an impact on whether real estate professionals feel it is a higher priority to be vaccinated or not,” Mr McGlynn said.
“A lot of consumers will start to use that as a way to guide who they engage with or not.
“We’ve already started to see that trend emerge in many of the inner city marketplaces we work in.”
Barry Plant has called on the Federal Government to bring in vaccination passports quickly, with Chief Executive Officer Nigel O’Neil stressing that unofficial methods, such as a vaccination badge, were not authoritative.
“I think clients are going to want to view a vaccine passport and I urge our Federal Government to make this happen as a matter of priority,” he said.
“Whether we go down the path of putting agents’ vaccination status on their online profiles or not will really need to be thought through very carefully.”
Mr O’Neil said the question of vaccinations in the workplace was a rapidly evolving scenario, particularly with vaccination rates being tied to increased freedoms, including the ability to work.
But he said Barry Plant had “no plans” to mandate vaccinations.
“We understand there are a variety of very passionate opinions out there,” Mr O’Neil said.
“Our approach will be to facilitate the ability for everyone to get well educated on the issue, to provide them with access to peer-reviewed research and medical experts who will deal in facts and allow them to make an informed decision.
“Of course, not everyone will be able, for medical reasons, to get vaccinated and every employer will need to be very aware of the potential for people to be discriminated against.
“It’s a whole new frontier in the workplace and we’ll be working to address every issue as it is raised, to ensure that people aren’t marginalised because of their vaccination status or beliefs.”
Mr O’Neil said Barry Plant was not offering any kind of incentives to team members to get vaccinated but individual offices may go down that path.
“I think if there’s a demand from our clients to only deal with vaccinated agents, then agents who want to be fully in the game will need to consider this,” he said.
“At the end of the day, I think the demand by clients for vaccinated agents will really depend on their individual level of concern and vulnerability.”
Mr O’Neil said the vaccination issue was also a bit of a “legal minefield” and encouraged agencies and agents to keep abreast of Fair Work and WorkSafe advice on the topic.
Eview Group said that the issue of vaccination was incredibly important but that it would not mandate agents getting the jab.
Chief Executive Officer Manos Findikakis said the group would not push the agenda in either direction but said any and all government protocols would always be strictly followed.
“We’re certainly not pushing anti-vax or vaccination,” he said.
“I think everyone has the choice and everyone needs to feel comfortable with their choice.
“We’ll take the appropriate social distancing measures for however long is required.
“Should our team members be vaccinated or not vaccinated, I definitely won’t be putting it on the website.
“Customers or clients are welcome to ask and our team can answer them truthfully whether they are or they’re not.”
Mr Findikakis said real estate was “fortunate” that it was a profession that allowed for COVID-safe procedures, such as social distancing and wearing masks, to be easily implemented and followed.
“We’re in lockdown here in Victoria, which is a real disappointment, because if anyone could social distance from an industry perspective, we certainly can,” he said.
“We can work remotely, we can visit homes when vendors aren’t home, we can certainly be wearing masks and be that 1.5m away from clients, do one-on-one inspections, and all of those sorts of things.”
Mr Findikakis said one of the other pandemic-related effects on the industry was that agents’ mental health was suffering.
“There’s no question about that and in this lockdown, especially in Victoria, we’re seeing it from people that really coped in the past lockdowns a lot better than what they are now,” he said.
“That sense of frustration has really come to the surface.”
Mr Findikakis said measures put in place to support agents included a daily email from him, while during each lockdown agents could get a “daily dose of Vitamin A” through a 30-minute Zoom hookup with Eview Group Co-founder Arthur Proios.
“We’re on a Zoom session allowing anyone from the team to join in to share their day-to-day activities and just to feel that connection,” Mr Findikakis said.
“It’s not sales training, it’s not specific about work, it’s just, ‘What are you doing with the kids today?’
“It’s that real. And we do that six days a week.”
Mr Findikakis said at an administration level, there were weekly catch-ups, and on a leadership level, the focus is on preparing the team to “build an empire” when those areas in lockdown emerged from restrictions.
“We all know that during these times of challenges and chaos, there’s going to be people that bury their head in the sand, and there’s going to be people that control the controllables,” he said.
“So for us, our measurement of success and results is not listings and sales on the board.
“It’s how many connections and how many more people have you got onto your database and on your client nurture system, so that when we do reopen, we open up with a bang.”
The Real Estate Institute of Australia’s take on the issue:
REIA President Adrian Kelly said the institute was looking into a national code of practice for COVID-19 business continuity for the real estate industry and noted “vaccines will certainly be a major component to that”.
“The safety of our teams, customers and suppliers during COVID-19 has been our primary concern,” he said.
“The important thing is getting everyone vaccinated so we can protect their health on the job.
“Whilst members of the industry may and can choose to use vaccines as a marketing advantage, we need to remember that the real estate industry has been highly compliant with a track record of zero community transmission in the sector.”
What are your thoughts?
The vaccination debate is a significant one for the industry, and we’d love to hear how your agency is approaching the issue or how you personally feel about the matter.