The COVID-19 pandemic has forced real estate associations across the country to adapt and become more creative and innovative in delivering their services in a challenging and changing environment.
Some of those initiatives have included financial breaks for its members as they face these difficult times.
Darlene Hyde, CEO for the British Columbia Real Estate Association (BCREA), says the association has a robust digital backbone and it was able to switch staff to remote work within a day of the crisis setting in.
BCREA’s office has 26 staff members. There have been no layoffs due to COVID-19.
“We forgave member boards’ learner fees for online courses for three months. So we were able to give something back to member boards because they were suffering and we were able to give Realtors a 25-per-cent discount on our online courses for three months – May, June and July,” she says. “Our online courses take-up has gone through the roof. It’s 130 per cent over what it was this time last year.
“We pivoted to virtually becoming a broadcasting and publishing entity,” says Hyde. “We are online in video or in the written form to our entire organized real estate community in British Columbia. We started generating podcasts and new material on our website. We have a weekly community of practice, which is a webinar for our managing brokers every Wednesday. We get north of 200 managing brokers attending this.
“We’ve put out monthly podcasts on issues of particular interest to Realtors. . . We’ve had COVID leadership meetings through Zoom. We’ve invited all the member boards, their EOs, their Boards of Directors, to weekly meetings to update them on things . . . We’ve been the hub and spoke go-to, to get information whether it’s from the regulator, from the superintendent, from government, from various ministries, from WorkSafe, from public health.”
The bottom line, she says, is the association has embraced change and new technology and Realtors have done so as well, discovering they can do open houses and showings with drones and cameras.
“I’ve seen some really beautiful work in terms of showcasing properties through virtual means. Realtors have jumped on to that. They’re very entrepreneurial and adaptable people anyway,” says Hyde.
“The key was, we’re there to serve and we need to serve on the spot in terms of what you need as fast as you can get it. We were going round the clock at times. Realtors have clearly used the time when the market wasn’t as busy to take advantage of online offerings. It’s worked out for everybody.”
Sean Morrison, president of the Ontario Real Estate Association, says the association made a big shift early in its operations as COVID-19 started to become a major issue. It put a group of staff together for a COVID-19 response team, trying to determine how it was going to affect OREA and the industry overall and how it could assist and help its members make that pivot.
“We immediately ceased college operations. We recognized having 30 people in a classroom was not a good idea and allowed the students to transfer from the college in-class learning to learning online for free,” says Morrison.
OREA has about 78 staff, and there have been no layoffs. Everyone was transitioned to work remotely.
“As far as the members go, one of the first things we did was call for an end to open houses and that was before the province banned it,” says Morrison. “We asked our members to please cease doing face-to-face open houses and shift those to virtual open houses for the safety of their communities and I’m happy to say that the vast majority of Realtors moved into that space,” he says.
“We immediately started lobbying our provincial government so that we could continue to have real estate as a essential service because we realized there were people that needed to close a transaction, there were some that maybe had a transaction firm but still needed to buy a house or had bought a place and needed to sell their home to afford it.”
The association also brought forward a $1.4-million relief response package for its membership. It includes webinars on mental health, government support programs and the tech tools that they could use in their business to make that shift to the virtual environment.
“We offered our Leadership 200 course for free so that they could upscale their leadership abilities during this because we know when we come out the back end of this there’s going to be a lot of community need for leaders. So we wanted our Realtors to have those upskill leadership abilities,” says Morrison.
OREA is also offering a member assistance program (MAP) called LifeWorks by Morneau Shepell. It’s a wellbeing solution that offers members access to mental health, physical, social and financial support, referrals and resources. “The MAP is a confidential self-referral service that encourages OREA members and their dependents living in their household under the age of 25 to seek help early, before a minor problem becomes more serious,” says the OREA website. “LifeWorks is available at no cost, any time 24/7, 365 days a year, and can help you deal with a wide range of personal and work issues.”