The new human touch: How top real estate agents in NYC and LA are still networking, touring homes, and meeting clients in the social distancing age
- The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way real estate agents do business on a day-to-day basis.
- Business Insider got the inside scoop on just how different "business as usual" is from 6 leading agents in 2 major markets: New York City and Los Angeles.
- Client meetings, house tours, and networking all have to be more digital now, but there are still ways to preserve the all-important agent-client relationship.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
The real estate industry has changed dramatically since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, but it remains a people business.
In a pre-covid world, real estate agents were constantly out and about, meeting with clients, networking with other brokers, and touring homes. But now, with social distancing and COVID-19-related restrictions the new norm, the typical day-to-day interactions in the real estate world have come to a halt.
Those social elements will always play a crucial role in the business, though, so agents have been creative in running and growing their businesses, and networking.
Business Insider got the inside scoop from six leading agents from two major markets, New York and Los Angeles, on how the day-to-day business has changed since COVID-19, and how they are managing.
1. Meeting with clients
In an industry where face-to-face interaction is such a crucial part of day-to-day business, agents have been forced to find creative yet somehow effective ways to communicate with their clients.
"When it comes to meetings with clients, It completely depends on the client and their comfort level,"Rebecca Blacker, a broker at Warburg Realty in New York, told Business Insider in an email. "I have some clients that I have not seen in person for many months and then I have some that I am seeing regularly."
Blacker said she goes on socially distanced walks with clients, while Noemi Bitterman, also an agent at Warburg, said she's found Zoom calls an effective way to connect.
"Zoom meetings are the new 'Let's meet for Coffee, Drinks, Lunch or Dinner' with clients," Bitterman told Business Insider in an email. "Video meetings allow for each person to be able to see each other smile, see their facial expressions, and have a chat that feels personal even though you are both facing a screen."
Michael J. Franco, a New York broker at Compass who ranked No. 19 in Manhattan and No. 190 in the US by The Wall Street Journal and Real Trends, said his process aligns with Bitterman's.
"I do feel that the lack of face-to-face contact with clients creates a distance that needs to be bridged with more phone calls, more texts, and, lastly, more emails," he told Business Insider in an email. While he said he has always tended to quickly respond to texts, phone calls, and emails, he said he's even quicker to do so now.
2. Touring properties
Of course, bringing clients to open houses is not as easy as it used to be in prime markets like New York City and Los Angeles.
"When it comes time to showing a home in person, we have been very vigilant with health and safety measures and taking all the precautions," explained David Parnes, principal of The Agency in Los Angeles who, according to his bio, was named in The Hollywood Reporter's Top 25 Agents in 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Parnes said it's important to get to know clients before taking them on home tours. That will help keep all parties involved in the search safer.
"During the tour, I limit the number of people who attend, even if it means showing the property separately to the buyers' agent," Franco added. "Masks are worn by all parties. I will open all doors and cabinets for the visitors and ensure that any surfaces touched are wiped afterward. Everyone is required to take their shoes off for showings."
For broker Arlene Reed of Warburg Realty, dealing with buildings is the hardest part of selling in a COVID-19 world.
"Where COVID has made the most difference is in dealing with buildings. Most require that you contact the managing agent to schedule the appointment and all require COVID forms in advance. This is the new normal," she told Business Insider in an email.
The days when one could host a dinner or attend a crowded networking event are roughly half a year in the past, especially in densely populated areas like New York City and Los Angeles. However, the need to network in the real estate world still holds incredible importance.
"Networking is a challenge and our current reality has given us the opportunity to utilize social media more and virtual outlets like Zoom events to make new connections," Becki Danchik, a broker for Warburg Realty explained.
But in addition to networking online with new brokers and potential clients, when it comes to building more personal relationships one on one, Franco suggests grabbing socially distanced coffee.
"I am having coffee with lots of clients and colleagues. I am finding it to be easy, outdoors and brief enough to not make anyone nervous," he explained."I am also sending handwritten notes to clients and referrals sources checking in with them and asking them if they need help with anything. I am getting a tremendous response."
But if meeting up in person is not in the cards, blocking off time to connect one-on-one virtually will also go along way.
Louise Phillips Forbes, an New York-based agent at Brown Harris Stevens with over $4 billion in career sales, keeps up with her network by writing emails, newsletters, and hosting webinars on Zoom. Only recently did she start in-person meetups.
"During this pandemic, I am in constant contact with my network whether I'm hosting a webinar on zoom about urban and suburban markets, writing an email or newsletter, or meeting clients in person which we were allowed to do starting in late June here in NYC," she said. "Connection, whether it's virtual or in person, is about partnership and leading clients through good times and bad times, but most of all through the long haul. Real estate, after all, is one of the greatest means of building wealth over time."
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