Toward COVID normal: Travis Williams

In this exciting new column, Box+Dice CEO Travis Williams asks the tough questions of top-performing agents.

Fletchers Real Estate’s top auctioneer Tim Heavyside talks to Travis Williams about the impact of COVID-19 – and what he believes 2021 will bring.

What metrics changed for you once COVID-19 set in?

All industries changed or evolved in some form once COVID hit. For our business, what I noticed is the agents that were willing to embrace change, affected change.

My team was one of the first to adapt to the world of online auctions, and learn the Openn Negotiation system (it’s like eBay for real estate), which are both perfect systems for transacting during COVID-19.

Another example where a metric changed, was the number of appraisals, listings and sales during this time.

Inherently though, the number of buyers has remained constant and, for the most part, prices have remained steady in 2020, which is a welcome relief.

We also started to use 3D virtual tours on properties, and when harder lockdown measures were forecast in Melbourne, I shot specific video content on my iPhone for buyer use.

This rewarded us with sales during that period.

For the record, my personal team have proudly sold more than 60 properties during the COVID pandemic.

How did COVID change your work routine?

Working from home was the first adjustment to my normal routine.

I found a place in my house that worked for me – the front sitting room, with a view to the street.

At the same time, I also discovered a new work routine: working with my family members.

I am blessed with a terrific and supportive wife, two great, teenage children (both doing VCE this year) and a fluffy cavoodle, who loved having me at home.

He loved me at home so much he would follow me around the house all day and bark very loudly at neighbouring dogs as they walked past.

Of course this would usually coincide with when I was on a phone call or in a Zoom meeting.

Over the COVID months, our dog and I have done a lot of deals together.

A dog is a great icebreaker with people. In fact, I am thinking about getting him a Fletchers badge!

I had to remain dedicated and diligent to work effectively from home.

That said, I have known for a long time that agents don’t really need an office.

Let’s face it, all you need these days to be successful in our industry is a mobile phone and a car.

I kept prospecting (I love and use Box+Dice) and kept in touch with my team in different ways.

We use Microsoft Teams for video calls for structured, weekly team meetings, training sessions and fun times as well, such as trivia nights.

What influence will the COVID-19 period have on your post-COVID world?

Some of the influences are large, such as the way I will do auctions and invite other buyers to join in with online technology.

Some of the influences are more subtle.

Being grateful for the freedom to have one-on-one meetings with clients without any restrictions, or to simply sit down and enjoy a coffee at one of my favourite cafés. Without question, COVID has made us think differently.

That said, sometimes you do not need to throw out a good, working system you had before COVID.

I feel some agents will change their whole practice once we are finally out of COVID. 

I plan to enhance what we already did, as a team and a business, and to refine the successful system we already had.

With the Melbourne lockdown, is there any change to your Christmas and New Year’s plans?

Without question, yes. Normally, my family and I will travel somewhere straight after Christmas, but not this year.

The Stage 4 lockdown has created a vortex of time to sell, where campaigns that would normally conclude before Christmas will most likely span over the Christmas/New Year period.

Unusually, we expect to have a lot of auctions in January 2021.

What advice do you have for those that are struggling with COVID market factors to help them get back on their feet?

1. Be kind to yourself. Mental health is very important. Sadly, one of our sales agents took his life this year due to mental health. I think of him all the time. Fletchers have implemented a number of mental health programs including yoga and other mindfulness strategies.

2. Jump into prospecting and use your database. Aim to make 10 calls a day, then 20 calls a day, and challenge your inner belief about what you think is possible with prospecting. You will find that you can build momentum very quickly.

3. Time management is critical if you are struggling and feeling mentally strained. If you truly want results, start with keeping yourself accountable for your actions. Having a manager or a peer is a great place to start your accountability process. What you focus on gets done.

What are the main conversation threads you are having with your sellers at the moment?

I listen to my clients’ needs, which vary greatly, and provide solutions. Often, it is not what you are expecting.

I look for little gaps in the market or ideas where I can influence a situation for a client.

This could be around timing, method of sale, marketing techniques, good, old-fashioned service and keeping my clients well informed.

What about buyers?

I asked this question of my colleague Harley Toyle, who works in my team as a buyer agent. I agreed with Harley’s comments:

“Agents normally meet a buyer for the first time at an open home.

“Right now, the situation is reversed, as buyers are responding to an agent’s marketing. Then, because of the COVID restrictions, we are asking clever questions before we physically meet the buyer.

“In a lot of ways, we are pre-qualifying the buyer and creating mini relationships with buyers before you physically meet them.

“A lot of this work was previously done with normal follow-up calls after a buyer has seen the home. COVID has created an opportunity to do this upfront.”

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Travis Williams

Travis Williams is the CEO of Box+Dice, a leading real estate CRM and transaction management platform in Australia and New Zealand.