The economic and social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented. Business analysts such as McKinsey & Company predict that COVID-19 has fundamentally changed social and consumer behavior for the foreseeable future. The pandemic has also reduced the ability for real estate agents to have simple, face-to-face interactions with clients.
The good news for agents, however, is that the industry’s underlying fundamentals are unchanged despite the pandemic: Although national residential market metrics retreated during the second quarter of 2020, the number of pending sales, the national contract ratio, and the average listing price today is higher than in 2019.
Buyers will also continue to rely predominantly (almost 90% in 2019) on agents to assist them in finding, buying, and financing a house. Real estate agents, however, must adjust to the changes of COVID-19 to create a successful communication strategy with clients.
COVID-19’s Impact on Residential Real Estate Agents
Real estate buyers continue to expect the same critical services from their agents, but many agents are stuck with outdated means of communication.
Although most agents use email and text messaging, a lesser number use social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram to promote their services. Many have agency-provided websites that lack personalization, and only 11% have public blogs.
The reality is that most agents have almost no communication strategy. Though fundamentals of the market are static, real estate agents must up their game to remain competitive in the digital world.
Salespeople are typically extroverts, comfortable in face-to-face interaction, and adept in creating a personal bond with clients. A consequence of the coronavirus is the replacement of physical contact with digital interaction, giving those who understand the new communication style an advantage over those agents who are unable to change.
Communicating With Clients During the Pandemic
An effective communication strategy in the digital world has four components:
- Technology and media
- Feedback and adjustment
Knowing the needs and demographics of your desired clients is critical in developing trust and confidence.
Many agents specialize in a specific category of clients: first-time homebuyers, buyers upsizing or downsizing, clients seeking to relocate within a particular area, etc. The triggers for action vary for each group, so it’s essential to know your audience.
For example, first-time buyers tend to focus on down payments and mortgage terms, while existing homeowners are concerned about selling their house for the highest price and finding a new home with the amenities they expect.
Each type of buyer also has different information needs, such as first-time buyers who may be unfamiliar with the closing process or existing homeowners who aren’t familiar with the current market trends.
Agents who recognize and understand the differences among buyer groups can hone their message to their specific target audience to spur action.
Salespeople who rely on a packaged spiel are rarely successful. Conforming the content to the needs or interests of the specific recipient(s) is essential.
For example, an agent specializing in a neighborhood should regularly update potential clients about happenings in the area. New store openings or closings, school events, property sales, and new homes on the market will interest potential buyers as well as changes in mortgage rates.
Agents who specialize in working with investors should focus their message around finding a good off-market deal or the best contractors.
You can’t communicate with clients successfully if you don’t target your message to your specific audience.
Technology and Media
There are many digital and physical media available to real estate agents, each with strengths and weaknesses. In 2020, however, agents must focus on digital media.
Social media’s popularity continues to expand: Facebook has 2.7 billion active monthly users, Twitter has 330 million active monthly users, and Instagram has more than 1 billion active monthly users. Chances are, your clients are on social media, so you should be, too. Figure out the platforms your clients use most, and build a presence on those.
In addition, you must rely on technology to speak with clients you can’t interact with face-to-face. Channels such as Zoom and GoToMeeting have lessened the necessity for personal visits.
For advertising, email can also be supplemented with physical (“snail”) mail, while newspapers and periodicals continue to be popular in areas with older populations.
Agents must take advantage of the right media to reach their clients.
Feedback and Adjustment
There is no single audience, message, or media combination that is universally and eternally effective. Good agents adjust their strategy based on conditions they find in the field.
Review your results and make changes when and where necessary. Don’t stick to the communication strategy you had before the pandemic. Chances are, it won’t work.
5 Steps to Building Relationships During COVID-19
With fewer face-to-face interactions with clients during the pandemic, your success will depend on your mastery of digital techniques and technology.
Building a relationship with clients during this time is arguably more difficult than in-person relationships, but you can still find success.
1. Communicate creatively
Like videos, agents must use different communication methods to build relationships with clients. If an interaction would normally be in-person in pre-COVID times, always use video chat so you can interact with clients virtually face-to-face.
Don’t neglect phone calls completely, and also don’t be afraid to text clients to check in on them. This is especially important for clients who may be working and don’t have time for a phone call.
You can also host virtual happy hours, which provide a fun, casual way for clients to get to know their agent on a personal level.
2. Get comfortable with virtual home tours
Virtual home tours are an efficient, effective way for people to see a home for the first time. Agents must embrace these tours, as they are likely to become standard even after the pandemic.
You don’t have to hire a professional to create a virtual home tour, but you should have at least some knowledge of creating high-quality videos. Having a poorly lit, amateur presentation is akin to making a video sales call in your pajamas. Some agents might be able to pull it off, but you probably shouldn’t risk it.
Although posting a video of the home tour on your site is beneficial, you should also schedule live virtual home tours with clients so you can answer their questions and better understand what they like (and dislike) in a home.
If you’re not using virtual home tours, you are missing out on a huge opportunity to build relationships with clients.
3. Be active on social media
Not only should you post on social media often, but you should also use this medium as a chance to interact with current and potential clients.
Don’t be afraid to connect with clients on LinkedIn, and ask them if you can follow them on Twitter or Instagram. Interact with their posts, and show you care about them personally. This will go a long way in building relationships.
Also, don’t be afraid to respond to potential clients on platforms such as LinkedIn or Twitter. If you answer their question when they’re thinking about selling their home, they’ll remember how helpful you are when they do decide to move — which could result in a new client.
4. Personalize your website
Your website is the opportunity to put your story front-and-center.
Show off your personality on your site. Include some pictures of you doing activities outside of work, and include an about me with more than just your real estate experience. Humanizing your brand will help you appeal more to potential clients.
Even non-real estate resources can help your visibility. For example, Eric Rollo Real Estate Team in Boston launched a COVID-19 resources page on its website. It includes both real estate-related resources and information about other topics such as health.
Your website doesn’t have to solely focus on your work. Show off your personality and add some helpful resources to appeal to clients.
5. Use technology to reduce administrative headaches
Thankfully, the pandemic happened with technology readily available.
Software such as Trello and Slack helps coordinate workflows and communications; Salesforce maintains records of clients and prospects; and Qualia, Easysoft, and Snapclose simplify closings.
Technology is there to help ease the sales process — why not use it?
The COVID-19 pandemic may be a disaster for some real estate agents, but it can be an opportunity for others. Agents who recognize this opportunity are transitioning to the new digital workplace.
No longer can you rely on in-person communication to build a relationship with clients. Now, you must use technology to do the job — from social media and your website to video calls and virtual home tours.
Building relationships is more difficult during the pandemic, but you can still create a successful communication strategy that appeals to clients.
Luke Babich is the CSO of Clever Real Estate, the online referral service that connects home buyers and sellers with top-rated agents. Luke is a real estate investor in St. Louis, MO with over 24 units who specializes in multifamily units. His first investment was a house hack with Clever’s cofounder, Ben Mizes.