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The real estate industry is no stranger to adapting to changing times, but a global pandemic resulting in mandated stay at home orders is a whole new ball game. How do you conduct business in a world of ‘business as unusual’? Real estate professionals with a prosperity mindset will always find ways to see the proverbial silver lining in any cloud, even amid the exceptional challenges brought about by COVID-19. “Finding the silver lining is about looking at the situation and asking yourself, ‘How can I do business a little bit differently?’” says EXIT Realty Corp. International’s CEO, Tami Bonnell.
When the gathering of large groups and non-essential travel was halted, Bonnell saw the cancellation of 50 in-person speaking engagements where she was booked to appear across the U.S. and Canada. The first one that cancelled was an event hosted by WomanUP!® a movement empowering women to consider careers in real estate leadership. “When we realized we weren’t going to be able to hold the in-person event, we switched to Facebook Live,” says Bonnell. “Surprisingly, six times as many people as would have been in the room have already viewed the recording in its entirety, so we actually got a bigger return than if we had held the event live.” On the heels of this initial success, Bonnell reached out to the organizers of the other cancelled events and 35 of them agreed to host virtual events instead.
Rob Dipiero, Sales Representative and Manager with EXIT Realty Specialists in Saint John, New Brunswick, says, “I believe that the COVID-19 crisis has presented all smart, hard working and empathetic REALTORS® with a great opportunity. At our brokerage we have focused on connecting and taking care of our agents so that when things go back to normal, they are able to connect and take care of their clients.”
The professionals in Dipiero’s office have taken the time while self-isolating to focus on training, education and embracing new technology, “Agents have been implementing technology like Zoom for virtual meetings, BombBomb to record and send videos, Dotloop for digital signatures, EXIT Realty’s Enhanced Mobile Business Card™ and EXIT’s digital presentations to connect with clients.”
When the agents aren’t able to come to the office, the office, goes to them – virtually. “In the past we were only able to connect once a week and usually had low turnout to our meetings,” says Dipiero. “Now we are connecting anywhere from two to four times per week and have great participation.”
Carol O’Hanley, owner of EXIT Realty PEI along with her husband, Steve Yoston, says, “Our agents as well as Steve and I have definitely stepped up our technology game. Many of us were hesitant to try new technology tools but since the pandemic and the temporary closure of our physical office space, several of us have embraced technology and used it to engage with clients and other agents. Our agents have also focused on building and strengthening their relationships with past and present clients. Many agents with EXIT will come out of this pandemic more organized and more prepared to deal with the boom that is expected in the real estate industry.”
Kristen Trembinski, the owner of the subfranchisor rights to EXIT Realty in Northern Ontario, is also co-owner of EXIT Realty Lake Superior, Brokerage, in Sault Ste. Marie, a company with an average annual per-agent productivity of 23-25 closed ends. “One of the best changes that has come out of this time is the increased interaction with our people. The cohesiveness within the team is beyond what we’ve ever experienced,” she says. Trembinski’s team has been busy updating their databases, bios, social media and website presence. They’ve also participated in the training included as part of EXIT Realty Corp. International’s Take Action Stimulus Package, a $50 million bundle of training and technology offered to bolster EXIT agents and brokers across the U.S. and Canada. “The work that they are putting in now will definitely pay off moving forward,” she says.
Trembinski and her team are also reaching beyond the brokerage. “We have increased our relations with agents from other companies,” she says. “Although we may have considered them competition in the past, this time has brought us together as a team all going through the same challenges. Community involvement and client care have always been important to us, and this time has been wonderful to reflect on ways of giving back. We’ve put together a one-year plan including projects where our team can make a difference in the community.”
Trembinski and her partner, Jamie Coccimiglio, have also fortified the underpinning of their operation. “This time has forced us to strengthen our budget and understand ways of cutting back on unnecessary expenses,” Trembinski explained. “We always said this needed to be done, and we’ve now taken the time to trim where necessary. It feels great!”
Leadership and staff are assessing operational practices at all levels. “There are projects, such as onboarding and training manuals, checklists, etc. that needed to be done, and day by day we have been able to check them off our list. We’ve kept our employees working full time and we believe that this is going to keep us strong once our office doors open up.”
For many agents and brokers across the EXIT system, the silver lining in the COVID-19 cloud is the opportunity to pause and recalibrate their priorities. “In this industry, we are often guilty of high stress, long hours and not taking very good care of ourselves,” says Trembinski. “During this time, I have developed a whole new routine, including self-care that I will continue moving forward. We’ve also challenged our staff and sales team to develop their own routines, including daily affirmations, reading, exercise, meditation, journaling and practices that allow them to get present and clear. This has been a wonderful time to recognize all that we are grateful for.”