By Tami Bonnell, CEO, EXIT Realty Corp. International

Bob Dylan famously sang, “The times they are a’changin’” and following are a few ways they’re a’changin’ as a result of COVID-19’s business as unusual.

People are becoming accustomed to working from home so we’re going to see a lot of open commercial spaces. Change always inspires creative entrepreneurs, some of whom create the change and others react to it.  As a result, we’re going to see a tremendous number of zoning changes primarily in commercial with mixed use. We’ll see shopping malls turned into condo projects, perhaps to accommodate people aged 55 and older, or perhaps a group of millennial entrepreneurs who envision a hub where everybody can share the space. We’ll see strip malls become mixed use, some even including residential space in order to get those properties filled.  Some families will continue to home school their children which may impact the future location of schools.

Because many more people are comfortable satelliting from home now, a trend that once saw people flowing to the city core will now see them moving back to the suburbs.  They’ve realized they don’t mind an hour and a half drive because they’re not doing it five days a week. They want a better quality of life and work/life balance. They’re saying, “My world’s not the same anymore.”

Years ago, my oldest brother was a nurse who ran a national home health care organization and was a former president of the American Nurses Association.  In a quest for a better work/life balance, he left everything behind and moved to Costa Rica. He got a part time job working six weeks on and six weeks off in California. His interesting and diverse assignments included working on an Indian reservation and in a hospital.  He ended up making more money working this rotation and enjoying an excellent quality of life than he did running a national organization.  He decided not to wait for the next thing to happen to actually live his life.  I’m witnessing this same mindset today as people around the world reassess what’s really important during this unusual time.  Like my brother, many people are saying, “I’m not going to wait to start living my life.”  And now that they’ve been forced to reduce their working hours to 32 or 24 per week, they’re realizing they can actually make do on that income.  Many will forego returning to the pre-pandemic hustle and choose instead to live simpler lives.

People move house because of their circumstances and traditionally those circumstances included earning more or less money, relocating for a job, adding to their family or becoming empty nesters. But now people are analyzing their place in a world that became more humanized overnight.  People became neighbors again – they became part of a community – they were “all in this together”. There are countless stories of people genuinely helping and connecting with one other. They learned to appreciate other human beings. Since they’ve been home, they’ve had time to stop and think, what do I really want for the rest of my life? What do I really want for my family? What do I really want my lifestyle to be?

Some people will conclude that the right answer for them is to move to a smaller home because they’ve realized they don’t need all their space.  For others, suburban McMansions will provide the solution. Instead of a cramped three-bedroom, they’re going to want a spacious four or five, so that the home functions well inside and they can have a home office.  People will deliberately plan multi-generational households, not just because their millennial kids moved back home.  Some Gen Xers will choose to live with their parents because having been separated from them during the pandemic, they want to be close now and don’t want to waste the time they have left.  Generations will pull together.

Real estate brokerages and agents will shift to meet these needs. We’re certainly seeing more brokerage owners considering mergers and acquisitions because they don’t want to jump back into the fray. A lot of them with smaller brokerages, simply don’t want to keep up with the lightning speed of technology. They’re tired, and now that they’ve experienced a lull in business, they’re looking for alternatives where they can transition successfully and ensure their agents are cared for.

Agents, too, are moving because of their circumstances. Pre-pandemic, when they were caught up in their daily grind of making the next sale, even if they were unhappy, they were reluctant to make a change, but the Universe forced us all to change. Suddenly we had to stay at home.  Character isn’t made in a crisis, it’s revealed, and many agents aren’t happy with the character revealed in their leadership during this time. They’re saying they don’t feel appreciated or heard.  They’re assessing their options.

Agents who didn’t produce or pay attention to market knowledge will disappear.  Those who remain will have to embrace and leverage technology as well as accurate market knowledge and the ability to read trends so they can identify and seize windows of opportunity for their clients.

Agents who are paying attention to the trends are keeping a close eye on planning boards and municipalities. As we see zoning changes, we’ll see business changes. Paying attention to zoning changes on shopping malls and being proactive might mean you can represent the condos.  Changes to businesses will impact employees which may lead to an opportunity for a proactive agent to educate them about their home ownership and refinancing options.

The next few months will shine a light on who has that skill set, because agents will have to bring their A-game to be the solution for their prospects and clients. Accurate, thorough market knowledge along with an outward mindset focused on the needs of the person they’re serving will be key differentiators.  Check with your sphere because their motivation and timelines may have changed.

An example comes to mind of a client who was retiring and one of our agents was helping him find the right location.  The ideal spot happened to be out of town, so the agent referred the client to an agent in the new town.  However, because the agent had solid market knowledge and an understanding of the client’s financial position and long-term goals, the agent suggested holding onto the primary residence to take advantage of rising home prices. Eventually the client bought five investment properties. Over time, the agent benefited from seven transactions by being exactly the solution the client wanted.

For agents to earn their keep, they’re going to have to leverage technology and knowledge; the consumer deserves to know the value of what they’re paying for. People generally have no problem paying for an extraordinary experience with a solid return on investment. The client in the above example was happy to pay the agent’s commission because his net worth increased by $2.4 million.

I believe this pandemic has opened everybody’s eyes more than ever to the importance of relationships. How is somebody going to feel comfortable about telling you they’re making money or losing money, or they’re afraid they’re not going to be able to pay their mortgage, or they have dreams of bigger things, unless you get in close enough to build a relationship with them?

The most important thing as an individual, a real estate professional, or a brokerage owner, is to know who you are. Who are you in this mix? What is it you represent? EXIT Realty is a company built on human potential, so if we say that people are most valuable, we have to ensure we’re living and breathing that every single day. So, what’s next?  I believe companies and individuals will take a long hard look at who they are and what they want and then work to align their values, beliefs, and actions with their awakening.

 

 

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