By Paul Maranger

Without question, we have entered one of the most precarious and dark times in both world history and our profession. Where do we go from here?  When the dust settles, how do we restart our businesses?



Realtors who were around during 9/11 and the 2008 global financial meltdown will recall that the taps shut off for inbound leads overnight. This time around, it seems even more personal, even more dire.

In many markets across the country, we have seen strong seller market conditions. The tide will turn though. We will see worried sellers and unmotivated buyers nationwide. This environment is where we, as true professionals, will earn our salt. Unfortunately, many markets in Canada, particularly in the West, have experienced such challenges for some time.

We will survive this. The taps will re-open and we will get through this difficult period. However, to succeed, each of us needs to create an action plan focused on getting back to basics, trimming expenses and staying positively focused. Shrink your budget, but not your time nor your effort.

The best salespeople in our industry don’t just sell houses and condos. That is only one aspect of their work. The top salespeople are also the best communicators and have an incredible ability to connect with prospective buyers and sellers. More than ever, we must communicate clearly, confidently and dispassionately. Although our communications must show empathy, they may also include “tough love”: giving sellers information that may be hard for them to swallow but will ultimately help them make decisions that will be in their best interests (although they may not see it that way at the time). In difficult markets, compelling and well-priced listings still sell. Listings will in turn generate buyers and the cycle of our business will restart.

The COVID-19 crisis has created inertia in our business. Let’s get the ball rolling again. When buyers fear missing out on a good deal, they’ll jump in. When sellers fear losing more capital, some will start to price ahead of the market. Where buyers’ and sellers’ fears of missing out intersect is where we will be able to put transactions together.

This leads me to our action plan.

Step one: Getting back to basics

Start by buying 100 (or 500) non-branded thank you cards.

No one gets handwritten notes anymore. They are truly very special. All of our communications tend to be so impersonal. Start by handwriting notes (yes… handwriting) to your recent past clients (beginning with the most recent transactions and working backwards). Thank them for doing business with you and add a warm thought you have about the client, their family or their life. Include your business card because, after all, we are businesspeople.

Start by writing 20 to 25 notes of appreciation a day. If your budget doesn’t allow for card purchases, create your own personalized letterhead on Word, print off the sheets, and then hand write the note. Or try to find a local purveyor of handmade greeting cards. Every city has one. I found Inkwell while visiting Halifax a few years ago. Let’s support Canadian small businesses like our own.

Dig up all of your past opinions of value.

Reach out to those people. Are they contemplating a move in 2020? This can be done through your contact management system, in bulk. Better yet, pick up the phone and call them.

Step two: Trimming expenses

Analyze your business.

Speak with your accountant and your managing broker. Where can you cut unnecessary costs? Where can you best focus your efforts? You probably now have more time than money. Pick up the phone and make some calls, simply to touch base.

Social media engagement.

I mentioned the support of small businesses and taking a positive approach to your own business. Social media is the least costly method for building visibility.

Here’s a thought: Write down the names of 10 small businesses that you have supported over the years. Call each owner or manager to say that you would like to highlight their business. When it’s safe to do so, maybe you can shoot a brief amateur video of yourself baking bread with the baker in your favourite bakery; donning an apron and making a cappuccino in your favourite coffee house; interviewing the organic greengrocer. Or arrange a group of friends to clean up a park or public space and post your achievement. You can be the voice of your local neighbourhood. YouTube features countless videos to teach you how to ramp up your social media presence.

Step three: Stay positively focused

Change your attitude.

Be positive. Present market facts (dispassionately). Present your best advice and strategy to your sellers. Pricing is more important than ever. Be positive in your social media posts, advertising and newsletters.

Expect traditional public open houses to bring poor results.

Yes, this is the new world order. Will buyers fear congregating in groups? Will they shift their consumption patterns online in even greater numbers? Will sellers continue to have reservations about public open houses? You will need to find new ways to connect with people. This further emphasizes the need to connect with past clients on a highly personalized level.

There will be business this year. Simplify your business structure and get back to basics. Devote more effort and more of your time on it. Together, we can get through this challenging period: we will survive this.

16 COMMENTS

  1. David, valid point. My brother works at Canada Post and they have very strict hygiene protocols. I would hope that Realtors would do the same. Emails would work too. Keep well. Paul

  2. Are any REM readers old enough to remember the TB epidemic after World War II in the 1950s?

    School children aged 10-12 seemed particularly vulnerable as I recall. I knew doctor’s children who died. Churches and schools were closed and the TB was easily transmitted in community environments. One immediate neighbour was hospitalized in an iron lung, sometimes for many months.

    People in iron lung machines often died anyway. She was in her thirties, married with three small children. Her family was quarantined and these beautiful people were shunned like outcasts in bible days like having leprosy.

    Public transit was particularly vulnerable. Don’t touch anything. Don’t get books from the library. The TB bug was on everything everywhere. Whole families were quarantined.

    Big r-v like vehicles visited school parking lots and everyone had to have government monitored chest x-rays in an effort to control the passing of TB.

    Don’t shop in open produce markets. Someone might have sneezed on the fruits and vegetables.

    I haven’t heard anyone or any newscast recently talk about TB. I don’t remember what the end result of the TB situation was. I don’t recall having heard about a vaccine or other preventive measures.

    But it wasn’t very many years later that polio arrived. All water venues closed. No beaches, no public or private swimming areas. Intermittent school closures. But polio seemingly was not passed in community contact.

    As with the TB impact, polio seemed to eventually just go away.

    Are either of these impactful situations cousins of the Covid disaster.

    Do such things just gradually go away on their own?

    There was no Medicare. People having babies had to pay plus or minus a hundred dollars for their related medical care and mostly spent a week in hospital. Scarborough General Hospital run by the Roman Catholic “Sisters of Misericord” had no ambulance service (a nurse nun had to emergency transport a newborn with an oxygen tent in the back seat of a private car to take a baby to Sick Kids Hosp), and the General hospital was state of the art built in the middle of a farmer’s field.

    Bellamy Road was a bumpy holed dirt cow path. Likewise at the old international (Malton) airport where Air Canada flew viscounts and vanguards, the Constellation Hotel was built overlooking cows in pastures, by a recent Hungarian immigrant whose sanity was questioned by many for gambling on the questionable location.

    When I first got licensed in 1980, the owner became a possible residential client and offered if I hadn’t been working for a company to have an office in his, by then world famous, hotel. It would be ten years later when I had enough confidence to open my own bouquet agency. And the world had become a very different place in 1991.

    How different will the world be when Covid goes into hiding or underground? Maybe in a few years to resurface as another monster.

    Carolyne

    • Further to my post re TB…

      Those of us at REM who are older remember the associated TB trauma of the day and I think it, maybe even subconsciously, in no small way affected me personally (such events contribute to how people process and deal with things as adults); I was only ten or twelve years old. Children are severely impacted by things that can’t be explained. Particularly children who are curious – as I was and as an adult still am.

      I always wanted answers and to be able to fix things, or at least be able to explain to some degree. Just like back then, today’s world has no fix or explanation. I can only imagine the stress parents with precocious children are going through. Young children seem so much older in these times. And they are trying to process grief that even adults have difficulty dealing with.
      ===

      Coincidentally in my prior post I mentioned the atmosphere involving TB of the day.

      Today’s newspaper header in London UK where the number details are more than shocking… and here everyone knows someone who has been affected if not infected.

      There is true trauma associated with the pandemic situation in our own country. And as things begin to open up, don’t stop being careful. It’s the new norm. Yes it’s difficult and a nuisance and not everyone is computer-friendly to the same degree. What can we all in our industry learn from this experience that seemed to appear with almost no warning.

      And our prayers are with agents who won’t get paid – and there surely will be more than those left wanting in the current REM story about when a brokerage goes upside down. The coming year will tell. A different kind of plague.

      Carolyne L 🍁

      ===

      “Millions predicted to develop tuberculosis as result of Covid-19 lockdown | Global health | The Guardian”

      ===

      https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/may/06/millions-develop-tuberculosis-tb-covid-19-lockdown

  3. A tender read in these often heart wrenching times, a link from 680 news:

    https://www.680news.com/2020/04/09/cruel-times-how-coronavirus-has-changed-the-way-we-live-die-and-grieve/

    Canadians tend not to talk much about such things. There are those with no families, few friends, and a definite shortage of support systems.

    I got a personal call yesterday from my cardiologist who I met in hospital during ambulance arrival during massive heart attack, that said I was pretty much dead on arrival. I had had no pain warning. A cardio surgeon had told a nurse: “if she has any family you need to contact them because we cannot keep this patient alive” (I learned after the fact).

    On Friday at dinnertime, day six, I walked out of the hospital. Why? On day five my CCU bed was desperately needed for an incoming heart patient. All tubes and support lines removed and trundled off to regular semi private room, bed nearest the window with a standard drape between the two beds.

    I recalled reading years ago that in Ontario all mental hospitals had been closed and the patients moved to regular general hospitals and interspersed with regular patients.

    Now I experienced the results first hand. I just wanted to sleep. The senior woman in the adjacent bed kept saying: “talk to me.” She was completely mobile. She tried to pull down the separating drape on Thursday evening. I rang for the nurse who said: “pay her no mind. She’s not all there. We know about her. She’s harmless.”

    I called again when my room mate said: “If I had a knife I would slit your throat.” Again the change of shift nurse said, “pay her no mind. Go to sleep.” I didn’t sleep all night just kept drifting off.

    When the cardio doctor made his rounds on Friday about dinner time, I said: “go to the desk and sign me out or I will call for a ride home.” He signed me out. But I learned there was no support of any kind when you leave the hospital.

    A day at a time, I survived. On my own.

    The cardio doctor said in his current phone call something most meaningful and touched my heart especially: “Are you still able to walk your cocker spaniel?”

    He couldn’t remember my surname, didn’t have his file, just had a note with reminder to call Carolyne and the phone number. Interesting. And a treasured call. Meant a lot that he would remember my shelter pup. The smallest things sometimes matter most.

    Carolyne L 🍁

  4. Especially during Covid times, but include at all times as a regular health protection habit, and teach your children. It is said a kitchen sink has more bacteria than a bathroom.

    Get a plastic wash basin the same size as sink. They cost almost nothing. Available often at many shops: Cdn Tire, Walmart and such. Save it just for washing vegetables not for cleaning dishes. If no plastic basin on hand, rinse a large turkey roaster or oversize pot with boiling water. Then use to rinse all vegetables. NEVER eat pre-washed bags of vegetables. NEVER! Especially in these Covid times!

    I wash lettuce with quite hot tap water and shake, then wrap in a clean white cotton (not terrycloth) tea towel. Keeps many days crisp, crunchy and fresh, refrigerated.

    I use baking soda and or plain white vinegar in laundry, along with Dawn dish detergent instead of laundry soap; if safe to wash oil-soaked birds it should be okay for laundry? (You don’t need much in a washing machine.) I told my secretary about this back in early 90’s. She reminded me I saved her many hundreds of dollars not buying products such as Downey, Fleecy and such. Apparently not healthy for baby laundry.

    I am deathly allergic to them, and Febreeze for people who have asthma can end up with collapsed lungs. In Covid times perhaps do not use such products. Children and seniors are particularly vulnerable.

    This is not medical advice: a dentist in the 1970s recommended a gargle / mouthwash called Betadine. It’s a sweet sort of iodine rinse. And you need only use a little. For recent several years the product was not available in Canada. High demand brought it back thankfully. Now Shoppers and others carry it again. Just in time during the Covid crisis.

    The company makes other products but I refer to the mouthwash. It is ALWAYS in my cabinet. At the first sign even of a dry throat I use it. I get a cold only every 5-7 years and I believe this product helps in that regard. Of course if you are allergic to iodine avoid it.

    Not everyone can benefit from Tylenol. I am one who cannot take it. There are multiple opinions on its value in life-threatening situations. Have that conversation with your doctor ahead of time in case he prescribes not thinking it through. Carry a list of products you are allergic to, or aggravated by in your wallet right with your health card or driver licence.

    An odd thing, perhaps: I can use Comet cleaning powder cleanser but not Ajax. Seems crazy. For me, like Febreeze, VIM is a “killer product.” My throat closes. When showing houses, I had to avoid the laundry room.

    Be careful using hand sanitizers. They are not all safe products. Be guarded. Likewise certain wet wipes (make your own) – wet a clean wash cloth or even paper towel and carry in a plastic zip bag. I would avoid using hand sanitizers and wipes on children. Plain soap or bacterial soap and water is a good choice many times.

    I often cook with beets and carrots and other hand-staining foods; I don’t like or work well with rubber gloves, so I invested in a box thin surgical gloves many years ago. Very inexpensive and allows freedom of moving and are easily tossed after each use.

    Don’t forget to sanitize door knobs and light switches, even lamp switches, and automobile steering wheels, key chains. And the bannister on your stairwell pickets. And even wipe down the adjacent stairwell walls where children love to put hands on wall for support. Coming and going. Stay safe.

    Disinfect walkers and canes if used, and car door handles. And wear the disposable surgical gloves on handles for store shopping baskets. Toss immediately.

    Use one piece of toilet tissue on handle, to flush toilets. Toss. Teach children. For small children carry a potty in your trunk or vehicle, in a large travel toss-away zip bag. Carry extra thermos of hot water for rinsing or washing up so as to avoid needing public washrooms. Keep a couple of large bath-towels to act as temporary change tables using seats in vehicle.

    The surgical gloves let you use smart phone buttons, as they are so thin. Slip a thin sandwich wrapper on your handheld tv channel changer. Change daily. Observe these small things when you travel or use someone else’s pen such as that used by FedEx and Canada Post delivery people. Toss immediately.

    I repeat: NONE of this is medical advice. Use your head and common sense. Such things can be considered even when life gets back to normal.

    I will include such things in my manuscripts in a hints area, along with what I posted at REM called Timer, Timer, Timer.

    Carolyne Lederer-Ralston

    © Spirits in My Kitchen: Lady Ralston – Canadian Cooking with Bouquets and Aromas

  5. Yes, David. Absolutely! Since 1980. Here we had mortgage rate buy-downs. I think the highest interest rate got to 23%. My first six months in that outrageous time, I wrote 75k gross my ends. I learned the ropes with the help of an experienced mortgage broker and a fabulous banker/client.

    For me I invested heavily in business cards and all sorts of inexpensive creative marketing. At one point I was the only local agent using sign boxes that I had to buy in the States. A very worthwhile but expensive tool. Sometimes they got stolen. They were coded as mine but they occasionally appeared on other agent signs. Really.

    I supplied xerox photocopy feature sheets; but why waste the blank back side of the paper. I put all my other listings addresses on the back side of the feature sheets. Subject property on the front, others listed addresses on the back. A notation that said if this listing is not of interest to you, maybe drive by these other addresses. I had each seller sign that it was okay for me to do that, because sellers thought I had been hired to sell THEIR house. I thought so too, thus so many double ends. I needed to explain the usefulness of cross-marketing and how the cross-referenced properties all helped each other. Plus when agents showed my listings they got to have a reminder of other properties on the market to maybe show their buyers. It was productive.

    Carolyne

  6. Dale: Could I ask to whom you are directing your REM comment? I don’t recall seeing anything in the article about the south of France and bragging agents???

    Respectfully
    Carolyne L 🍁

  7. Tuesday 7 April 2020 – REM

    Hang in there, Alina. Nothing about my business was complicated. I started with nothing and knew no one.
    There’s so much more education to be had after all the courses. I was fortunate that I had a business background prior to coming into our industry that served me well.

    You might have read here on REM where I spoke to having been told I would never make it; even after I had made it, my manager of the day said: now that you’ve made it to the top of the company there’s only one way to go and that’s downhill, because it won’t happen again. It never does.

    So when I opened my own (unusual at the time) boutique office I heard it all again. I had built a 24% market share and in 1991 when I opened I was blessed indeed to retain that market share against all odds and didn’t spend any time thinking about the recession of the day.

    Have been giving some serious thought in my old age (nearing the big 80) to see if I would have any worth as an advisor. Would like some feedback thoughts on that from REM readers. The business is in my blood. And I couldn’t wait to get to work each day.

    Be blessed and stay safe. Connect any time. And thank you sincerely for the encouraging comment.

    Cordially
    Carolyne L 🍁

  8. Now is the time to stop posting Just Sold Over Ask aka big commission and STOP posting your gala events in vineyards in the south of France and beach front award destinations. It is these boasting agents who give the whole industry a bad name and thus the need for firms like Purple Bricks. So many well know agents do this with the new Mercedes the expensive retreats. Stop and think, many are without work and will not want to part with money to support the commissions of the boastful. Hats off to the those who promote local small business and restaurants in their community. The posts supporting local and STAY AT HOME are far more effective than Just Listed during these times.

  9. Carolyne, great job! I wish to be like you when I grow up (lol)- all of the things you did take a LOT of effort. I’m sure it paid off, but I just don’t have the energy anymore and the fact that our world changed in a split second left me paralyzed (emotionally). Hoping for better times soon- thanks for sharing!!
    And to the writer- good article, keep them coming!

  10. It’s easy to write the article on how to cope. I have been a Realtor for 30 years and I have gone thru different scenarios but nothing like this present one.
    This situation is bud, ugly and risky, not only for a buyer or a seller but for yourself. Buying or selling a house can wait, an infected person can not. I can’t put anybody at risk neither can put myself at risk. Sure, we depend on what we sell but money comes and goes….when health and life are gone, everything is gone. I will write to my old and recent clients notes of greetings and encouragement in this difficult time but I will stay in my home and I encourage everyone to stay home. I think that is very irresponsible to promote human contact when it’s so dangerous. I say again, selling or buying a house can wait; it’s not a matter of life and death. I don’t admire those realtors that like to play Russian roulette.
    Thank you for the article anyway. Gave me the chance to express my opinion.

    • Luisa, thank you for your comments…. the narrative was for post Covid-19. I don’t think anyone is encouraging anything less than social distancing. Keep well and safe. Kind regards, Paul

  11. Agreed. I think the concept of the article was to prepare ideas for when the virus has disengaged its grip on our world. Kind of a make-ready planning for the future was my interpretation.

    And an additional comment: nothing sells like a sold sign.
    And running a close second is a just listed card followed quickly by its twin sold card.

    Marketing stats say multiple contacts eventually turns into business. I always called it building business for the future. Plan ahead.

    Cordially
    Carolyne

  12. Great article. Always surprised to see no or few comments. Sounds a little like a mirror image of my career for nearly four decades before a medically related sabbatical changed my world likely forever.

    I started in 1980 with a hundred custom but inexpensive general seasonal cards, spring flowers, fall leaves, snow men, sometimes the unusual holidays like St. Patrick’s Day. The secret was in being seen as different. No one in our local market had attempted that kind of marketing. Word got out and the wonderful George Cormack (d) sent me a private note acknowledging my marketing efforts always putting the company in the foreground. One spring I sent out happy birthday cards en masse because I never asked people when their birthday was.

    So I would choose a November card or a March card. You might not believe the calls I got. People “collected” my things. Years later they would show me when I listed their house. At another time I was at the Estée Lauder counter buying my makeup and I always left a business card everywhere I went.

    The clerk said: “oh, my you are the one who sent me a birthday card and we’ve never met. It was the only one I got (wow! made her day as a senior); I live in the G section and we are thinking about selling.” Odd things like that happened regularly.

    I sent odd things including a current new listing MLS copy to business reception desks. And added a note; please post in your office lunchroom.

    We had cross-country interoffice mailbags at head office. I sat on the floor in the family room sometimes late at night while the next day’s meal was in the oven next door in the kitchen, and I rolled seasonally related streamers / banners to look like cigarettes shape and tied them with our red, black and white Corp Carriage Trade colours twisty ribbons that you pull with a dull knife to spring back, tied to a hole-punched business card.

    Of course that kind of mailbag was opened by branch receptionists. And they strung up the banners in their cross-Canada office reception areas. Then I’d get a surprise referral within weeks. Some agents might remember my networking marketing. Some applauded the idea and others criticized thinking I was completely crazy.

    At a Toronto office area convention as I gave out my business cards, one of the other top agents said something to a nearby colleague: oh, she’s the crazy one always sending out things to the offices. But I netted 35 referrals typically annually. Just one example that matches what your article stresses. Stay in touch. Might be crazy but it works.

    I got to the stage where I ordered 10,000 cards at a time (wholesale). A few times a year, mailed at selected areas in our town. Had my blue-ink pen signature litho-printed on the cards at that stage and it by then looked like I had signed them personally. I had custom-made bookmarks that people loved and saved because many took long trips on the subway or train to go to work carrying paperbacks en route. Again custom made with Emerg info printed on.

    There’s no end to staying in touch. Clearly it continues to work as you discuss it even in today’s day and age.

    Cordially
    Carolyne L 🍁

  13. I’d highly recommend not doing step 1. As we now know, the virus can survive on surfaces for many days and we can spread the virus while being asymptotic.
    We shouldn’t be sending anything by mail. This includes cards, postcards, just solds, etc.

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