UPDATE 3.21.2020. As per the new New York and New Jersey “stay-at-home” restrictions, we are now instructing our agents to no longer provide showings of listings, our offices are closed, and we encourage everyone to stay at home at all times unless you have “essential business.”
Can you continue to work through the coronavirus epidemic? Yes, but you need to take precautions.
As we write this in mid-March, healthy people are not being advised to self-quarantine unless they are in “hot zones” or have pre-existing conditions that make them particularly susceptible to the coronavirus – if they are over 60 years old or have heart or lung problems. So for most of you, there’s no reason you can’t continue to work, and your clients can’t continue to buy and sell homes.
That said, you should be careful about how you talk to your clients about buying or selling homes, and sensitive to their concerns. We don’t think it’s a good idea to blast out emails or posts like “RATES ARE LOW – IT’S a GREAT TIME TO BUY!!!!” when people around the country are sick and maybe dying. You never know if that client has a family member who has been afflicted. So be careful in your messaging, and provide them with the advisories we’ve prepared for our clients.
As for you, you should take some basic precautions to protect your business and your clients during this time:
- Prepare yourself to work remotely.
You should be prepared that we might at some point get advice or instruction to close the offices and work solely from home. Do you have all the equipment you need? Do you have all the papers you need? Do you have access to all your accounts from a laptop or home computer? If you don’t, then now is the time to get prepared for a potential lockdown.
- Prepare your “vacation coverage.”
You know how you prepare coverage with your colleagues for when you go on vacation — “while I’m away, could you handle my calls, and I’ll pay you a referral fee if they buy/sell?” You should find someone you trust right now, and make your arrangements to cover situations if either of you get sick or get quarantined. You don’t want your business to grind to a halt.
- Learn how to use video conferencing.
As we get further into this pandemic, you’ll want to limit travel and in-person meetings as soon as possible. It’s a good reason to get familiar with videoconferencing systems that you can use to meet virtually with clients:
- Google Hangouts. You all have access to Google’s videoconferencing system through our deal with Google. Learn how to use it!
- Facebook Messenger: You and your clients are both probably on Facebook, which means you can use the Messenger video conferencing feature.
- Facetime: if you and your clients are both Apple iPhone users, you can communicate easily through Facetime.
- Skype: Skype is the original videoconferencing app. You and your clients will both need accounts, but they’re easy to set up.
- Snapchat: You may not be on Snapchat, but your younger clients probably are – and it has videoconferencing features.
- Whatsapp: Whatsapp is also popular among younger people and international clients, and has an easy-to-use video feature.
- Zoom: the advantage of Zoom is that you can invite your clients to videoconference through a browser, without requiring them to have an account or an app.
Practice with them now so that you’re familiar with them if and when you need them. And, to be honest, you should probably know how to use them anyway!
- Buy a box of disposable gloves for showings
Buy a box of disposable gloves that you can give to your clients on showings. They can put on the gloves when they go into a house, and then throw them away when they leave. it’s a good way to avoid touching anything surfaces you’re your bare hands. And get a box for each of your sellers so they can leave them at the front door for visitors. Right now, you can buy a box of 100 gloves on Amazon right now for about $15, and have them delivered in a couple of days.
- Reduce in-person closings
We’ve always said that there’s no reason we need everyone to be in a room for a closing. Now, we should live by that. Talk to your attorneys about setting up staggered closings to avoid requiring all the parties to be in the room at the same time.
- Continue to hold showings and open houses.
At this point, we see no reason to discontinue showings or open houses so long as you follow basic distancing protocols. Try to follow these guidelines:
- Keep your distance, even if it seems unfriendly.
- Remember: no shaking hands when you meet!
- Let your buyers drive their own cars on showings
- Remind people to minimize touching of surfaces in houses.
- Get a clean paper towel or tissue to hold when you open doors.
- Leave interior doors open when possible so buyers don’t have to use door handles.
- At open houses, use a “one group at a time” rule for each floor of a house, to minimize interaction among visitors.
- Sign people in yourself on your phone or tablet, rather than requiring them to touch anything.
- Try to wipe down every surface or handle after the showing or open house.
- Try to wash or wipe down your hands on the way in, and the way out.
- Maintain a positive attitude for your clients
A great real estate agent provides clients with amazing service experiences regardless of the situation. While recognizing the seriousness of the situation, try to focus on what your clients need from you, and how you can give it to them. Again, without being too pollyannaish about what is going to be a difficult time for many people, remember some basic messages for our clients:
- For buyers: It really is an amazing time to buy a home with rates lower than at any time in 50 years, and other buyers sitting on the sidelines.
- For sellers: there’s no reason to stay off the market right now — buyers are still out there, and showings carry a minimal risk of infection if you take basic before-and-after precautions.
- For sphere clients: If you have not refinanced your mortgage in the past year, you should look at doing it now.
Again, the point is simple: we should continue to do our jobs. Our clients need us.