Real estate unplugged: Growing closer through social distancing

by Timothy Inklebarger

Weeks before states and municipalities across the country put in place stay-at-home orders, Yuval Degani, CEO at Dream Town Realty, was already making his plans to keep his company running.

Screenshot from the Dream Town Digital Connect channel

Degani said in an interview with Chicago Agent magazine that he began establishing an online portal for employees whom he knew would eventually be working from home back in early March.

The Dream Town Digital Connect website was initially intended to provide a few weeks’ worth of content — mostly COVID-19-related training videos and other practical information — for its roughly 400 employees and associates.

“Dream Town prides itself on culture. Our brokers have a strong sense of community, and are used to things like weekly classes in our training center, broker growth groups, life coaching, a massage therapist in the office, and mediation courses,” Degani said in a recent press release about the company’s portal.

But Degani didn’t stop there. He knew that the pandemic would cause a huge disruption for his company and that his employees would need more than how-to videos, he said. Along with the business-related classes, Degani began offering live guided meditation sessions that he and others at Dream Town hosted. Cooking and mixology classes; live music concerts, which have come to be known as Dream Town Unplugged; and more soon followed, and the experiment that was expected to last a few weeks has now become a transformational moment for the company.

The portal now broadcasts multiple video streaming events every day. It’s not all fun and games, though. Dream Town Digital Connect also offers courses such as “How to Invest in Your Properties,” “Buyer’s Agreements 101” and “Overcoming Adversity: Lessons from 2008.”

“This is truly a collaboration with our brokers. Every member in the organization showed up and contributed,” Degani told Chicago Agent. “As three weeks grew to 70 days in shelter, our brokers showed up and participated in the programming, creation and delivery. Our community is stronger than ever.”

Marty Walsh, a broker at Dream Town, said the pivot toward video was immediate once the stay-at-home order was put into place. “The very same evening the shelter-in-place order was announced, we had virtual classes and events scheduled,” Walsh said. “This helped to create a sense of community; it really felt like we came together as a company to support one another.”

Screenshot from the Dream Town Digital Connect channel

Walsh added that the virtual community has also helped build new clients and prospects. “We are hosting virtual bingo and poker games now. I even have a 75-year-old client who loves getting online to play bingo,” he said.

Degani said the process of creating and building the portal has taught him a lot of lessons about his own business as well, including the advantages of employees working from home. “I learned that work from home is a real thing,” he said. “As the employer, my fear was that people would be sitting at home in their pajamas watching ‘Days of Our Lives.’”

Degani discovered after a few weeks that the opposite was true. He first noticed Dream Town employees working harder to prepare for the end of the stay-at-home order, noting that the company’s marketing department has been inundated with requests from brokers working to update their marketing strategy for the coming year.

“I know that people are willing to transact, they’re willing to study and they’re willing to get trained online,” he said, adding that doing business virtually was not a concept that was historically embraced by many in the industry.

Degani said he’s seen brokers become increasingly comfortable with appearing on video over the last few months; clients are also warming up to the idea of doing business virtually, he added.

“Clients and agents alike are very comfortable to ‘jump on a Zoom’ to conduct business. People also want and need more human connection,” he said.

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