In the midst of the first COVID-19 lockdown in March, which left many real estate agents wondering what the future would hold, one Ontario brokerage did something completely unexpected.
The leadership team at Keller Williams Golden Triangle Realty in Kitchener decided to loan each agent up to $2,000. The terms? “Pay this back when you can.” About 20 per cent of the 160 agents in the office accepted the offer.
“This was well received as you can imagine, as this was before CERB or other support payments,” says Roy Cleeves, broker at Keller Williams Golden Triangle Realty.
The surprises didn’t stop there. Each agent also received in the mail a prepaid Tim Hortons gift card with a note that said, “Take a friend out for a coffee when this all blows over.”
“They work,” says Cleeves, “I got one of those cards and it put a smile on my face and I felt great.”
The leadership also made care calls to agents, and those experiencing financial difficulties were given a pre-paid grocery card (made possible through a Keller Williams fund called KW Cares). When COVID-19 restrictions were lifted there was a barbeque for clients, (with everyone keeping a safe distance apart) to enjoy some social interaction after weeks of isolation.
The annual client picnic in September, a social and networking event hosted by the brokerage, was replaced this year with a drive-in movie at Bingemans, an entertainment centre in Kitchener, which 160 families attended.
“In keeping in touch with other agents, they didn’t have the same support,” says Andre Chin, Broker of Record at Keller Williams Golden Triangle Realty. “We tend to focus on the agents. Instead of sitting back, we went at it right away… We want to be a leader to help them (our agents), global pandemic or not.”
The brokerage, like many others, moved their training online. More than 67,000 agents tuned in to the Bold Pivot program put on by Keller Williams International, which addressed how to continue working and supporting clients during the pandemic. The office also introduced Quickpage software to their sales reps and paid for the first four months so that agents could use the tool to connect with their clients virtually. The video messaging platform allows users to record videos and send them to their clients.
And how will Keller Williams Golden Triangle Realty deal with the pandemic in the months ahead? By doing more of the same. Chin says they will continue to support their agents and offer more online training.
While the market has been brisk so far in Southern Ontario, some experts are predicting a downturn. If that happens, the brokerage leadership feels well positioned to help its agents survive and thrive.
“Our CEO wrote a book on the topic,” says Chin, referring to the title SHIFT: How Top Real Estate Agents Tackle Tough Times by Gary Keller.
“The first takeaway from the book is mitigating expenses. We did this at start of COVID, to show how they could be more liquid, how to follow up with leads and add value to clients,” says Chin.
Another important takeaway, says Cleeves, is to stay in touch with the people in your database. “For most Realtors, business comes from a sphere of influence, repeat clients and referrals from those people, and all of that is managed in their data base. So, the key part is to manage it appropriately to bring business,” he says.
As for that predicted downturn, Cleeves isn’t so sure it’s coming. Or if it does, he believes it’s less likely to affect the real estate industry in the Golden Triangle, a region around the edge of Lake Ontario that includes Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge and Guelph.
“Our market is regional so we’re different from Toronto and we saw a great demand here compared to Toronto,” he says. “In Toronto people live in condos and didn’t have space to work (at home) and for that amount (what they pay in Toronto) they could buy in our market and have more space and pay about the same.”
When the pandemic arrived in March, the brokerage noticed a sudden increase in people looking at their website. “That was positive for us. We thought with this much traffic it could only lead to more business and ultimately it did,” says Cleeves.
In addition, he notes there are major differences between Canada and other countries when it comes to real estate.
“We have a lot of people who want to own a home versus rent,” he says. “Canada is also seen as a safe haven internationally because of our great banking system.”
This attracts foreign investors, and notes Cleeves, the government’s support of immigration also has an affect on the real estate industry. “One of the first goals immigrants have is to buy a house, often by the fifth year they buy a home.”
Because of the pandemic, there’s the possibility the federal government may not meet its immediate immigration target. But Cleeves says that, either way, that may not affect them as much because of their geographic location.
One thing is certain for the brokerage going forward, technology will play a greater role, says Chin.
“Keller Williams as a company decided from day one to pivot into the tech space,” he says. “Real estate is changing. With the pandemic we were already headed in a digital space.” He points to the Keller Williams technology platform called Command, which helps with lead generation, and which Chin says is “touted as one of the best real estate tools out there.”
One thing that will likely change post COVID-19, says Cleeves, is that meetings, at least from the local office, will take place both online and in person as opposed to strictly in person.
The immediate goal, says Chin, is to ensure agents and clients are staying safe, and to continue support for “the busiest real estate market to date.
“This year the market is up in volume 10 per cent and the price point in the region has gone up 25 per cent,” says Chin. “It’s a sellers’ market, inventory is low and there are lots of multiple offers.”
And if the market takes a dive? “The real estate market has always gone through ups and downs,” says Chin. “No matter the market, people still relocate, there are births and deaths, the markets never go to zero.”