BrokerageIndustry Voices

CEO Sherry Chris on the Implications of Real Estate Industry Change

2020 will likely be forever referred to as the “Year of COVID-19.” The notion that change is inevitable has never been more evident.

Software magnate and philanthropist Bill Gates recently discussed these changes in the very first episode of his new podcast “Bill Gates and Rashida Jones Ask Big Questions.” Dr. Anthony Fauci joined the hosts, and together they explored what the world may look like post-COVID.. They discussed some hard realities, like we won’t be back to normal for a while. At the same time, there was also a lot of optimism about where we live, how we work and socialize.

Personally, I also see a lot of optimism in the real estate industry as we not only adapt to these new changes but work tirelessly to enhance the client and agent experience on multiple fronts. Our recent industry report “Real Estate in the Time of COVID: The Great Pause, Resulting Reset and Implications for the Future of Real Estate” revealed many areas where this is apparent.

The Alternative Workplace
“Work from home” became a new way of life for many this year—and it may be a trend that endures as companies across the country re-evaluate their need for office space. Nowadays, we see preferences for homes with not just more square footage, but more functional, multi-purpose space that can accommodate home offices for work and school, exercise spaces, as well as backyards that that can extend living space into the outdoors. This shift has essentially reversed the trend of living in smaller homes. If people are spending more time at home, then they need their living space to do more for them than it had previously.

To accommodate these new consumer preferences, brokers and real estate agents are adjusting the ways in which they market properties. Cathi Sullivan, Broker/Owner of ERA Shields Real Estate in Colorado Springs, Colorado, reports that a property previously listed as a four-bedroom home with a finished basement, now may be marketed as a three-bedroom home with a spacious home office, home fitness center and outside kitchen.

Live Where You Want, Not Where You Work
Not surprisingly, the work-from-home lifestyle has allowed us to reimagine where we want to settle because, for many of us, we no longer must live where we work. Living further away from urban centers is now feasible if a daily commute is not required. Similarly, living in an entirely new state can be a reality if a job can be performed remotely. Being able to prioritize preferred lifestyle and locale over the local job market opportunities will result in a powerful change based on how people will make life decisions.

As more people are considering other places to live, this is an opportunity for real estate professionals to expand referral channels and strengthen relationships with feeder markets to tap out-of-area moves. Jeff Martel, Chief Inspiration Officer of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate 43° North in Boise, found city dwellers from areas like Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles were shifting towards the Boise region. There was a strong interest in places geared towards an active outdoor lifestyle that they could not experience while working in these big cities.

New Age of Technology
The rapid adoption of video-communication software such as Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and Zoom has enabled us to meaningfully connect while practicing social distancing. I cannot imagine a world without video conferences. I foresee we will continue to use these platforms to meet with work colleagues and catch up with friends and family. The possibilities to connect with others are endless. This trend has also transpired in the real estate industry as brokers, agents and consumers quickly learned how to conduct activities online, even sometimes foregoing in-person engagement. Videos, virtual open houses, 3-D guided tours and electronic signatures have become normalized.

In addition, expanded marketing efforts are being used to reach a broader pool of buyers outside of traditional market borders. Ben Fox, Broker/Owner of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Journey in Bentonville, Arkansas, uses social media platforms to connect with larger pools of potential clients. He hosted virtual open houses such as Facebook Live events, which he recorded and then boosted, resulting in more than 3,000 views per open house. The online presentations would also include market stats and house details, using the platform to educate consumers.

From where I’m sitting, the math is pretty telling. A traditional in-person open house could never accommodate 3,000 people in an afternoon, nor could it efficiently communicate important information, making this on-line approach a terrific adaptation for today and tomorrow.

Agent Engagement
I also believe the impact of the pandemic brought agents, managers and brokers closer together. Throughout these last several months, we have heard more about how virtual sales meetings have had more agent participation than traditional in-person meetings. However, these meetings must be informative and engaging.

Anna-Marie Ellison of ERA King Real Estate in Birmingham has taken sales meetings to a new level, essentially creating a weekly TV show that is well-paced, filled with important information and enjoyable. While she never wants to lose the in-person meeting, she has learned and welcomed that virtual is OK. Like so many of us, she is now comfortable that connectivity with agents can take different forms and we should account for them.

A digital presence has also created new recruiting opportunities as both the broker/manager and prospective agent can have more tangible and honest up-front meetings without the initial distractions of a coffee house or restaurant. This requires brokers, managers and recruiters to make certain their online presence is as strong as their in-person presence.

As I look towards the future, I cannot help but feel hopeful in our ability to adapt and turn intimidating challenges into rewarding opportunities. We could easily say that the increase in 2020 home sales was due low mortgage rates and other factors, but I think that minimizes what occurred.

I believe it was the adaptability of real estate professionals that allowed us to persevere through the early days while welcoming new ways to engage with consumers. Many new ideas have emerged and I’m looking forward to seeing how our industry will continue to evolve and grow.

Sherry Chris is president and CEO of the Realogy Expansion Brands portfolio, which include Better Homes and Gardens® Real Estate and ERA®, focusing her efforts on guiding the strategic growth of the brands within the division. Sherry most recently served as president and CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate. Under her leadership, the brand grew significantly across more than 40 states and 6 countries and established a unique position as real estate’s lifestyle brand.