In the meantime: How Chicagoland brokers are getting ready for the rebound

by Meg White

Just because Illinois real estate professionals are considered essential workers during the COVID-19 shutdown doesn’t mean it’s business as usual for Chicagoland agents. We checked in with a few brokers to find out how they’re working through these difficult times, and what they’re doing to prepare their business for the long haul.

While some agents told us work is slower now, others said just the opposite. “There’s been an uptick in rental traffic and high-rise buildings have been responding by providing virtual tours, with brokers facilitating those virtual tours between the client and property,” Sophie Morrison of Downtown Realty Company told us. “Even with all that’s going on with COVID-19, people still need places to live, and leases are still expiring May 1.”

Whether business is crazy busy or super slow, local brokers have many ideas for how to react to market pressures in a positive way. Here are a few pieces of advice from readers that you can implement in your revamped business plan today.

Keep the lines open

Communication is key to ensuring a full pipeline of business for when stay-at-home orders are lifted. We heard from many agents who are relying heavily on social media and products like DocuSign, FaceTime and Zoom to stay in touch with clients and prospects.

Jill Clark, of Baird & Warner’s Naperville office, has been reaching out to her sphere of influence every day, whether via text, telephone conversation, email or videoconferencing. She has a dedicated list of items to hit on, from recaps of current activity in the marketplace to offers of help during troubled times. When contacts ask her direct questions about the future, Clark said she is sure to avoid making predictions while still focusing on the fact that “this will end at some time and we will be all together again.” Clark centers conversations around positivity, always being sure to ask how the other person is doing and what she can do to assist. She’s also been sending inspiring quotes and ideas of activities to do that have “nothing to do with real estate.”

For team leaders, clear communication is vital to keeping business running smoothly. Mario Greco, founder of The MG Group with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Chicago, noted that’s a major focus for both him and his team overall. “Communication is even more important now than in a normal market — and those agents who keep their present and future clients informed will come out of this stronger and better positioned to ride the eventual recovery wave,” Greco said. He added that the group is “staying focused on communicating with all of our active clients and keeping touch with those that may have had their plans changed or delayed by the pandemic.”

Morrison agreed with Greco’s point that information is at a premium right now, and that agents should do all they can to relay it with clarity. “My focus has been to stay on top of availability and pricing trends so I can give my clients as much information as possible,” she said. “Any amount of certainty I can provide them would be comforting and helpful.”

Most people who are stuck at home are spending more time on social media, but smart agents are doing much more than just scrolling. “This works to our advantage when we have a tuned-in audience for live home tours and virtual open houses,” said Gregory Dybas of Bellizzi-Dybas Partners with Keller Williams Success Realty, noting that he and his business partner have been working to engage their existing community groups on Facebook.

Use downtime to improve processes and support others

While he noted that activity is down, Phil Byers, leader of the Byers Home Team at Compass Chicago, is excited to have some spare moments to boost the back end of the business. “What an amazing opportunity to build our business systems stronger while we’re stopped,” he said. “Our team is focusing on our marketing and operations systems. These are the projects and improvements we never seem to get to!”

It may turn out that homeowners are using their downtime at home to make plans. Dybas said he’s expecting many Chicagoans to emerge from this stay-at-home order with a better idea of where and how they want to live. “We expect the market to rebound completely and are already prepping for homeowners who, coming out of quarantine, realize maybe it’s time to upgrade their space,” he said, noting that in preparation for that day, “we’ve already started marketing virtual options for listing.”

It’s also important to show some love to the businesses that may not be allowed to continue serving customers. “Staying in touch is the key,” said Clark. “My business partners and those I do business with — nails, hair, dry cleaners — are all entrepreneurs. I am supporting them both emotionally and monetarily.”

Show properties responsibly

Dybas noted that, while some of the team’s clients pulled back from the market indefinitely, many others rushed to get showings in or to get their home under contract sooner rather than later. “This has been difficult, trying to accommodate every listing with proper [personal protective equipment] for showings and making the sellers, showing agents and buyers comfortable,” he said. “It’s been awkward for a lot of clients to stay in the home or another room while showing, but we have overcome.”

Serving real estate customers under a stay-at-home order also impacts buyers and renters. Morrison noted that virtual showings actually put more pressure on buyer’s reps and listing agents to offer as many details as possible to those who are interested. “Committing to an apartment sight-unseen can be uncomfortable, so clients have been turning to brokers for more detailed information about buildings and neighborhoods in order to evaluate all the factors as accurately as possible,” she said.

While virtual tours are safer and take less time than traditional showings, there are undeniable trade-offs when it comes to checking out a property without physically being there. “Developing rapport with clients is less natural. There’s a lot of bonding and trust that is built in the car between properties,” Morrison said, noting that interactions with clients have become “more transactional” for the moment. “Organic relationship building is my favorite part of being a broker, so I do miss that aspect.”

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