At the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, when its broad effects on real estate were still uncertain, Emily Chenevert, CEO of the Austin Board of REALTORS® in Texas, didn’t waste any time. Reaching out to large brokers, agents, title companies, lenders, and construction companies, Chenevert had one question: How can we help?
Through daily phone and Zoom calls, it became clear to Chenevert and her staff that members and association affiliates were relying on them for information that was both current and accurate. “In our new Stay Home, Work Safe Resources Kit at ABoR.com/WorkSafe, we post business-building resources, client FAQs, expert interviews, and wellness tools on a regular basis to make sure our members are informed, equipped, and empowered during this difficult time,” Chenevert says. “We stayed alert and worked fast to ensure changes in health regulations or government orders were shared with members within hours, and we pivoted quickly to offer free, live online education through ABoR On Air.”
Still Working for You
Although state and local REALTOR® association offices are closed, staff are working remotely to deliver new products and services to help REALTORS® better weather the pandemic. From webinars on getting business done virtually to Zoom-enabled town halls on how to file for state unemployment benefits or apply for Small Business Administration emergency loans, REALTOR® associations have kicked it up a notch when it comes to member service.
One of the first steps associations took once stay-at-home orders were announced was to ramp up lobbying to ensure lawmakers included real estate services as an “essential” business. This allowed members to continue to help home buyers and sellers who needed to complete transactions. “Although New Hampshire REALTORS® were originally left off the governor’s list of essential businesses, our state leadership team made an appeal and got us added so real estate business can continue as long as agents follow certain restrictions, such as keeping appropriate social distance and showings by appointment only,” says Jim Lee, an agent with RE/MAX Shoreline in Portsmouth, N.H., and president-elect of the New Hampshire Association of REALTORS®.
Even before Florida had a stay-at-home order in place, the Broward, Palm Beaches & St. Lucie REALTORS® association was developing a new platform for virtual open houses and video showings. The association launched VirtualHouseSearch.com, along with a public awareness campaign to drive consumer traffic. “As many MLSs suspended open houses across the country and moved toward virtual capabilities, we decided to get creative and connect our members with consumers,” says Anthony Acevedo, the association’s vice president of communications. “We launched an event called Virtual Open House Week for April 20-26 to promote the site, and we have local businesses, including chambers of commerce and municipalities, signed on to help get the word out.”
As more REALTORS® have turned to virtual showings, many MLSs across the country have suspended policies that normally would prohibit open house URLs in the public comment fields. Other MLSs, including the statewide UtahRealEstate.com, quickly programmed new virtual tour options into MLS software, enabling REALTORS® to include such tour information into the data that is syndicated to IDX sites and portals. At the same time, associations have been quick to offer free online education to fill members’ knowledge gap on best practices for conducting virtual home tours.
More Robust Online Resources
At the Cape Cod & Islands Association of REALTORS® in Massachusetts, hundreds of members have tuned in to a new weekly webinar show called “Zoomed in on Real Estate.” Each edition features a guest expert discussing issues in an interactive, informal question-and-answer format. Topics cover legal and ethical issues posed by the pandemic, including what REALTORS® need to know about tenant rights, evictions, and short-term rentals under stay-at-home rules.
REALTOR® associations nationwide have moved continuing education classes and events to virtual formats and lowered the cost for online education. Some are providing courses for free. “As soon as our county stay-at-home mandate came down, we converted all of our classes to Zoom within one day,” says Jonna Fernandez, COO of the Collin County Association of REALTORS® in Texas. “We hold multiple CE and non-CE classes almost every day, along with the Graduate, REALTOR® Institute (GRI) designation, via Zoom.”
Information that members can pass on to worried clients has taken on a new urgency. Rather than monthly market reports, many associations are posting weekly or even real-time market data. Stellar MLS in Tampa, Fla., is using a combination of stats pulled in-house from ShowingTime’s service and other sources to compile a weekly market brief posted online and shared with REALTORS® through its now-more-frequent webinars.
Through it all, associations haven’t forgotten their members’ need for social time. The Austin board has moved member-favorite events and programs to Zoom, such as its Small Broker Meetup and Global Lunch & Learns. The Reading-Berks Association of REALTORS® in Pennsylvania, and its Young Professionals Network, cohost member happy hours on Zoom, where guest speakers lead conversations on topics from virtual work-life balance to staying focused and hopeful in times of crisis.
“The past few weeks have been an absolutely dizzying time for us all as we’ve rapidly retooled our communications and overall operations,” says Jim Schiefelbein, director of marketing and communications at the North Shore-Barrington Association of REALTORS® in Illinois. “We’ve taken this as an occasion for innovation and embraced the unique challenges and opportunities of this unprecedented time.”