If the pandemic had any effect in the real estate world, it made real estate professionals more aware than ever of how quickly business can change. “Adaptability” isn’t merely a buzzword for the last two years of doing business; it’s a necessity going forward as well.
The RISMedia Power Broker Forum, “Embracing Change for the Win,” examined how brokers can use the past two years and beyond to define how they move forward in a market that continues to change rapidly.
Brokers and their companies face a new world both in the market and in their offices in ways that have never been seen. Many brokerages saw record-breaking numbers in 2021 but, as Todd Hetherington, CEO and founder of Century 21 New Millennium, which operates in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, stated, 2022 is already off to a very different start.
“I’m hearing from my colleagues that for many, the start of 2022 was the worst first quarter in the past 10 years,” Hetherington said last week during the REALTORS® Legislative Meetings in Washington, D.C.
Amid rising interest rates, the war in Ukraine, inflation, a crisis of inventory, and the new hybrid working world, it’s more important than ever for brokers to hone and articulate a value proposition in their offices and out in the field. That includes getting down to the granular level when assessing finance and processes and maximizing the use of their affiliated services.
Adapting to a Hybrid World
A hybrid work culture is here to stay. The pandemic has highlighted the many tools that make working from home successful, and a return to the office isn’t necessarily right for all workers. This includes real estate agents.
Kymber Menkiti, president of Keller Williams Capital Properties in Washington, D.C., said that rather than requiring everyone to return to work in the office, her brokerage is working diligently to outfit its offices for this new hybrid world. It’s adding technology and resources so that whether agents are in person or online, they have a good experience interacting and connecting for educational sessions, check-ins, and meetings.
The transition into a hybrid world, though, isn’t always as easy for older brokers and managers, some of whom have had trouble adapting, said Christina Pappas, vice president of The Keyes Company in South Florida.
“The skill set needed for the hybrid world is very different,” Pappas said. “Now we’re having to teach brokers and managers how to reengage the agents who aren’t here.”
It’s time to grow the skill sets that brokers need to ensure agents are engaged because, in many cases, it’s harder than ever to get them into the office, Pappas said. Securing the tools needed to make the hybrid office more accessible and providing training is necessary.
Offices Refresh Post-Pandemic
Both Heatherington and Bulman have made extensive renovations to their brick-and-mortar offices, and now they’re both seeing a surge in office attendance. More agents and staff are coming into the workplace than before the pandemic, both say.
Bulman said that the process took some time but the process has accelerated in recent months. After the brokerage’s original building caught fire and was a total loss during the pandemic, Bulman said the company decided to strategically rebuild, bringing all affiliate services under one roof, making sure the building was cutting-edge technologically, and structuring the rebuild in a way that included open space, green space, and a café.
“We built a building that people would want to be in,” she said. “In the last five weeks since we opened the building, there is a vibrancy and feeling that we just didn’t have when we weren’t seeing each other in person.”
Heatherington noted that in his Alexandria office, where attendance was low long before the pandemic, 150 people showed up for the grand reopening.
Articulating Value Proposition
In a market where agents can writing five or more unsuccessful offers for their clients, a new layer of difficulty is added to agent retention. As a broker who runs a smaller, independent company in a market where large firms are just getting bigger, Bulman said her brokerage used the pandemic as a time to redefine its value proposition.
“It was time to dust off and reenergize the brand,” she said. “We had to clarify our image and message to the world.”
It’s just as important to circulate the message as it is to define it, she said. Brokers need to get in front of their agents and make sure the agents understand the value of being under their name.
The value proposition looks different for every brokerage, said Pappas. Many variables, including the brokerage’s size, name, location, and service offerings, make a difference.
“The goal isn’t to follow what someone else is saying,” she said. “You have to know what makes sense for you.”
Once a brokerage defines its value proposition, it has to be clear on how to use that information to retain. Brokers should bring agents into the fold and reiterate those benefits over and over as time goes on.
Maximizing the Numbers
Now is the time to dig into the numbers, Menkiti said. Agents aren’t going to have the same understanding of the numbers as brokers, and they’ll be mostly focused on their own numbers. Putting that into context can help agents plan accordingly and adjust where they need to.
Because the industry is changing so rapidly, Menkiti continued, it’s not enough to only communicate quarterly or just share annual figures.
“Track the numbers and communicate them to the agents. Track the lead indicators every month so you know when and where to double down.”
Processes need to make sense and be easily accessible, she said. Agents need to understand what’s available to them within the office and how to use those things. When it comes to affiliate services, she said, it’s important to place the agent at the center of the transaction and let them know that everything they need to complete the transaction is at their disposal.
“We invest our agents into our [affiliate] services so that they have a stake in that side of the business.” This, she said, gives them a sense of ownership and encourages them to fully use the services available.
Bulman said that if a brokerage is not investing in affiliate services, now is the time.
“These are not ‘nice to haves’ at this point. They are necessary,” she said. “We must be branching out into affiliated services, and we have to impress upon our agents the value these services add.”
At Heatherington’s brokerage, investing in its “tech stack” and explaining to agents the time and money that tech stack saves is important.
“The tech stack wasn’t in our P&L before, but it is there now. It’s been well adopted,” he said, adding that about 25% of his agents use it.
All of the brokers agreed that adoption is another stumbling block that should be addressed at this time.
Panel participants suggested that a 20% to 25% adoption rate of affiliate services, technology, education, and events was a typical number. Now, said Pappas, the focus should be on how to encourage the other 75% of the agents at the brokerage to use them.
All agents and brokers are busy, Heatherington said, but in a market where changes are coming at record speed, finding the time to plan for the future and invest in further education is paramount to the success at the brokerage and the agent level.