By Cath Dickinson
It’s an understatement to say that the real estate industry has been impacted by COVID-19. Almost every aspect of what we do has changed. Now, with the easing of restrictions and the hint that life is beginning to return to normal, agency leaders are asking what lies ahead. Industry leader John Cunningham gave us his view.
John said his team at Cunninghams were focused on being agile to respond to changes from the earliest stages of the Coronavirus pandemic.
“As a team, we identified very early on that there was a freight train coming at us and if we didn’t adapt quickly, we’d suffer the consequences down the track,” he said. “It was a case of rapid adaptation and putting a survival plan in place. How did our plans for 2020 need to shift? What were our new priorities? How would we communicate differently? In what ways did the working environment of our team need to change?
“We focused on these things early and put actions into place. And now, as we move down the track a bit, we’re looking at how we can make some of these things a permanent fixture in our operations going forward.”
Fighting fear with trusted information
“Whenever there’s a massive change, like we’ve had with COVID-19, the first response for many people is fear,” he said. “It’s the number one emotion that kicks in. People start thinking ‘my whole world has disappeared!’ It’s a matter of how long that fear remains before it becomes a case of ‘OK, what am I going to do about it?’
“What we’ve discovered over recent months is that we can help our clients make the transition from fear to action through how we communicate with them.”
John pointed to feedback he recently received from a landlord, who thanked him for Cunninghams’ weekly email updates.
“The landlord said that the updates gave him the reassurance that his investment property was in the best hands,” John said. “Yes, we include a lot of information in our email updates, including a video. The aim is to ensure our clients know what’s going on and our key message is always ‘we have your back.’ We want them to know that we’re working within the government’s restrictions and are across what various changes mean for them.”
John said the goal is to provide information to clients that they know they can trust.
“With the government making sweeping statements in the media, someone needs to provide the detail and explain the on-the-ground impact. As a trusted agent, we can be the person to provide that detail. That’s what we’re here for. We’re here to guide our clients.”
“There’s a real opportunity here,” John said. “At Cunninghams, we call it ‘strive to thrive’, because now there’s a real opportunity to move forward.
“In the past, almost as a default, the market allowed you to thrive if you did certain things. But those things simply can’t be done anymore. Now you have to strive in order to thrive. You need to identify the opportunity and work towards it. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t see the opportunity and it’s incumbent on agency leaders to help them do that.”
So how can agency leaders help their teams see the opportunity and therefore strive to thrive? According to John, it’s quite simple.
“The opportunity is in connection,” he said. “Now, more than ever before, people are looking for connections that have meaning.
“The smoke and mirrors. The froth and bubble. This is what existed in our industry for far too long. Now, when someone asks you a question, they expect you to have the answer. Importantly, they want to trust that you have the right answer.
“If you don’t have the answer and can’t give them options or recommendations, you’re missing the opportunity to demonstrate your value. Right now, we have a unique opportunity to move into the space we’ve always wanted to occupy – being a trusted advisor.”
John calls this the ‘currency of value’.
“Our biggest currency is the value we provide,” he said. “What value do you bring to the advice? To the transaction? As an agent, you’re being relied upon by a whole range of stakeholders. The seller, the buyer, the solicitor – you’re at the centre of the transaction and therefore your knowledge and your skills must be at the absolute forefront to guide people because they’re facing the unknown.”
According to John, now is the time to employ nurture tactics, not pressure tactics.
“Whether it’s a seller or buyer you’re dealing with, right now you need to recognise that they’re unsure,” he said. “Say to them: ‘I understand you need some time to work this out. Let me give you some information to help you make a good decision.’ When we establish this baseline and they realise that fact, our value goes through the roof.
“Our clients need us more in times of need. Establishing yourself as an agent who is safe, reliable and trusted is what will set you apart.”
For John, it all comes down to common sense.
“Treat everyone with respect,” he said. “Whether they are a seller, buyer, landlord or tenant, take the time to understand their needs.”