This piece first appeared in the 2019/2020 Market Report. Request your copy here >>
When Washington State Governor Jay Inslee enacted a stay-at-home order, the ground shifted in our community. Our houses became our office, our school, even our favorite restaurant. For the brokers at Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty, these homes are also the foundation of their business. “Homes are the center point for where life exists,” says RSIR co-owner and Chief People Officer Stacy Jones.
This new reality, however, left the global real estate advisors/brokers of RSIR grappling with the possibility of not being able to conduct business as they knew it. They asked, ‘how will our work, a service industry and based on face-to-face interaction and client relationships, be effected?’ Jones, who often fields calls from the company’s 280-plus brokers, has been a sounding board to some brokers and a counselor to others, and like many in our community, their concerns ranged from how do I keep myself and my family safe, to questions about how they could safely conduct business in an unusual environment. Doubt and uncertainties were ever-present amongst this reality. Her response: “It’s important more than ever before to show that there’s still good happening in our lives, our communities and in our real estate industry all while there are many challenges.”
Many businesses made the difficult decision to layoff or furlough employees or stop moving altogether. The real estate industry was no different: across the region, brokerages laid off staff, assuming their real estate agents wouldn’t be able to help clients buy and sell homes under these conditions. RSIR resisted layoffs. The brokerage, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, was founded during economic uncertainty in 2010 and has always had at its foundation a family-approach, a commitment to high-touch and personalized services, and forged ahead during times of adversity with positive approaches and innovative actions. And amongst economic uncertainty again, Jones’ approach for RSIR was people-first. “A company is made up of the people, and if you can care about the ‘we,’ and how we come together, then the company will continue to thrive and survive.”
It was time to evolve forward—because business could still be done (albeit in a new and unusual way). There continued to be clients needing to buy or sell due to life’s changes and goals, and while best practices were changing before their very eyes (would the handshake and hugs be gone forever?) there would still be the need to responsibly support our clients.
Jones and RSIR’s leadership team went to work reimaging the brokerage amidst the stay-at-home order, with the goal of creating a supportive, positive, and productive culture. They looked to answer the questions: How will our brokers and staff work? How can we connect with them and inspire communication and ideas to keep flowing? And in a time of uncertainty and stress, can we help create a positive path that lifts their mindsets and helps them to be their own best?
From the outset, solutions were created to help brokers manage their business and access all the tools available to them, and establish a regular, streamlined communication so that even though they were isolated, there would still be time to come together. RSIR also performed several insightful surveys of its brokers to gauge their perceptions and needs to help collaborate and focus resources.
Daily emails, ‘The Boost’ and ‘The Wrap’ included inspiring stories and videos, highlighted colleagues’ birthdays, presented opportunities to learn more from home, provided updates on the changing market fundamentals, and shared the latest broker wins from new listings to serving dinners for the emergency relief workers. Market news was shared here, too, like real estate market and stock market updates, economic indicators, mortgage industry news and impacts to critical functions like inspections, title and escrow services, and best practices to do so in a responsible way given CDC guidelines.
“It’s super important to show there’s still personal and professional good happening in our market during these challenging times,” said Jones. “And things are changing daily, sometimes hourly, that’s why we started using the daily emails to keep to everyone in touch, leading with information to advise their families and clients, and support solutions that are key to keeping business flowing.”
RSIR’s bimonthly brokerage meetings took place over the video conferencing tool, Zoom, where the gallery of faces, some relaxed and comfortable at home, others dressed up for the occasion because they were approaching each day as a professional, could come together and create community and collaboration. Many brokers were motivated to pivot and found new ways to support their clients.
The RSIR family was inspired to support each other, ranging from caring for coworkers and their families that were suffering through loss and recovery with COVID-19 to sharing best practices and market observations on the company’s online forum. The message was clear across all of RSIR’s platforms—“It’s a good time to invest in relationships, personal and professional,” said Jones. “This is a business built on personal relationships. We’re slowing down to focus on the people—not the transactions—which are key to our culture of caring.”
While video chats make client meetings look a little different, the stay-at-home order has opened the door for increased learning opportunities. RSIR brokers have embraced the opportunity to take continuing education classes online. Brokers met up virtually to learn about new tech tools, industry best practices, and tips on how to grow your business, as these regular in-person classes were shifted to an online format. Collaboration hours, hosted by brokers for brokers, became a common occurrence with a spike in attendance. Brokers shared insights with their peers on what to do about appraisals, how to handle virtual open houses and best practices for buyers, among others. And Virtual Happy Hours held by RSIR preferred mortgage partner Caliber Home Loans were toasted with ‘Quarantinis’ as they shared their insights with the brokers about how the lending industry is also adapting to the times.
Jones also reached out to Ryan Secrist, Ninja Selling coach and Sotheby’s International Realty® leader who put together a series of online classes for RSIR brokers, an opportunity they might only otherwise have by attending a multi-day workshop. “He put together classes role-played new ways to work with clients in this climate, another with a family therapist who addressed the challenges of working from home with family and kids, and how to handle the concerns we have about what’s happening in the world right now,” said Jones. “Ryan was amazing because his Ninja Selling is really a positive mindset system to keep you in flow with your clients and living with gratitude.”
Leading the Way
For Jones, this has also been a time to reach out to others in her network, to her peers on the West Coast, and other leaders among the Sotheby’s International Realty®. “West Coast owners, SIR market leaders—we’ve been on calls looking beyond our homes for information.” The collaboration has offered thought leaders their own opportunity for growth and reflection in a time of uncertainty. “In a lot of ways, it’s a great time for us to slow down a little.”
She’s been encouraged by checking in with peers in different markets and to brokers across the country. There’s also been more activity on RSIR’s online forum, where brokers share experiences and collaborate. “We’ve found support by reaching outside of our backyard, too, using brand tools and connections to fuel business.” Jones is passionate about ensuring her family of brokers, “arm themselves with strength and power they can implement in their daily practices.”
And while all markets worldwide have been impacted by this global epidemic, business continued as brokers, clients and the community came together to serve and support one another.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 response, it was unclear what services would be deemed “essential.” Eventually, real estate earned that distinction. Jones says that it’s because of the incredible professionals and their respect of the guidelines for their own health, and for their clients, that the essential service title would stick. “I’m proud of our industry,” she added.
With the support of RSIR, the firm’s brokers successfully managed to pivot and meet their client’s needs and expectations by selling and buying while others pulled back. “There’s always a market need between buyers and sellers no matter where we are in the cycle,” said Jones. “It’s our job to unite them.”