How would a Coronavirus pandemic affect real estate agents?

by Ray Wood

 How real are the risks?  What are the ramifications and what can agents do to prepare faor a pandemic?

 On Tuesday February 25 2020 a top US health official said “The coronavirus outbreak that’s shuttered commerce across China will likely become a global pandemic.”

Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US) told reporters “Current global circumstances suggest it’s likely this virus will cause a pandemic”

Clearly Ms Schuchat, quoted in a report published on CNBC, is not shy about using the ‘P’ word. I guess it’s a question of where being alarmist stops and informing citizens of the potential for real concern begins.

“It’s not so much a question of if this will happen any more, but rather more a question of when this will happen and how many people in this country will become infected and how many of those will develop severe or more complicated disease,” she added.

I notice the number of social media comments urging people to ‘relax’ has dwindled to a trickle as they begin to comprehend the potential for risk.

The real experts who are qualified to speak on the subject are free to speculate but that’s a challenge because right now there are so many questions.

Will a vaccine be found and quickly? Can authorities in countries around the world effectively contain the spread with quarantining? Will a warmer Northern Hemisphere summer help kill off the virus and provide some much-needed research time before next winter comes. (The vast bulk of the world’s population is in the Northern Hemisphere)

Clearly China, the country of outbreak origin, is already suffering economic fallout. In a few short months, the virus has spread quickly causing the government to virtually shut down and restrict travel. At time of writing, a CNN (Hong Kong) report says 780 Million people (or half China’s population) are under some type of travel restriction.

Long before the Coronavirus became any kind of global threat, a number of economic forecasters were predicting an economic slowdown and many would argue the Trump government’s aggressive pro-business policies have spared the world economy from taking a dip.

And when you consider that for the better part of the last twenty-five years, (with a few minor blips) much of the developed world has experienced record growth, record prosperity, record low interest rates and record low unemployment, you could be forgiven for following the law of averages and forecast that some kind of economic slowdown is on the cards.

In fact, some would say the world economy is tinder dry and the Coronavirus is the match.

Naturally, the real estate market, and with it the fortunes of those of us that make a living from the real estate industry, are justifiably concerned about current events and the potential for an escalating health crisis.

A buoyant real estate market is less about actual property prices and more about actual turnover and volume of sales and while it’s fruitless to speculate, a long, drawn out global health crisis or pandemic could, in all likelihood, cause consumers to pause and delay a major real estate decision.

But never underestimate the power of property. There is no other thing we can own that’s essential to our needs with a proven record of continual value increase over time. Nothing!

Property is the basis of world wealth. Not gold, or stocks or oil. Follow the logic: People need to live somewhere.

Also, millions of homebuyers have been waiting for that rainy day when they can finally afford to buy.

So many property markets around the world are running white hot and this has kept a massive number of buyers out of the market. With change comes opportunity. The federal reserves in a number of countries are already talking interest rate reductions in order to maintain stimulus.

So what can we do as real estate professionals to weather the storm if it comes to that? How can we prepare?

There’s never been a better time to build and nurture your database of contacts.

The best agents I know are out there working hard to make new real estate friends and are always searching for new and innovative ways to engage and connect. When you build your sphere and grow your network you expand your influence.

In the last big recession of the early nineties, it was my personal list of real estate contacts that got me through four very challenging years. In fact, I grew my list in those years and it set me up for the rest of my career. I searched for a point-of-difference and wrote my first book (How To Sell Your Home For More) to help sellers through a tough patch. It worked and super-charged my brand.

Why not prospect for listings with real buyers? My wife and I just bought a gorgeous home off-market without a bidding war in the strongest real estate market in a generation after distributing  a well-written message to property owners where we wanted to buy. The agent we hired to make it happen won a fee from our purchase and now has four or five other sellers to follow up. Action creates opportunities.

Look at ways to leverage social media and develop your brand story by positioning yourself as the authority and guide. Make your potential clients the hero in your story, not you.

The most valuable marketing lesson I ever learned is that people are most interested in themselves and their welfare. They really don’t care about your awards or if your #1 in town.

They DO care about what people say about you so make sure your client testimonials and reviews are both powerful and plentiful. Reviews and testimonials are the #1 influencer when a seller comes to choose an agent.

Companies like Amazon, TripAdvisor, Rate My Agent and Google Reviews have proven reviews influence consumers to make decisions.

In times of trouble, people are looking for a helping hand and a confident, guiding advice to make their real estate transition a good one.

If all hell breaks loose it will be lead, follow or get out of the way!

The ill-informed will panic and put their energy into the wrong places because they literally don’t know what to do. The well-prepared will see any potential setback for what it is and respond with calm and confidence because they’ve followed best practice and invested resources into the best tech, the best systems and built their contact list.

My advice to real estate agents is to put your resources into the things, tools and actions that get you in front of more sellers.

Make sure you do everything in your power to win the listing.  That includes a powerful and well-prepared Pre-Listing Kit that’s backed up by a cool and confident listing presentation that is more listening than talking and more asking than telling.

There is always something we can do. There is always reward for preparation and there are always leaders and followers.

History shows we’re very good at thinking the world is going to end only to discover the threat is short-lived and before you know it, it’s business as usual.

With so much at stake, I’m confident a vaccine will be soon be found and world markets will quickly bounce back from any potential downturn.

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