On Sept. 17, RISMedia hosted its first-ever virtual CEO Exchange, co-presented by the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). The all-day event brought together more than 50 dynamic real estate leaders who graciously pulled back the curtain and shed some light on the ways in which they've had to pivot in order to adapt to the new environment caused by COVID-19.
And while there's no playbook for dealing with a global pandemic, during "Learning on the Fly: Wins and Fails in Confronting Crisis," panelists Michele Harrington, Kuba Jewgieniew, Diane Ramirez and J. Lennox Scott candidly discussed what they've learned in navigating the crisis.
Moderated by Mary Lee Blaylock, president and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties, the lively discussion kicked off with a look into the future, as panelists shared the changes they believe will stick as we close out 2020 and kick off 2021.
For Jewgieniew, founder and CEO of Realty ONE Group, the biggest change centers around communication.
"Going forward, there is going to be a more efficient and more effective way of communicating, as everyone is going to be more mindful of new habits and behaviors," explained Jewgieniew, who believes we'll be more connected, albeit in different ways, in 2021 and beyond.
"We're still in a relationship business, and while our agents will never go away, we're going to be communicating in a way that's a little bit different," he added.
Communication aside, Ramirez—executive chairman and senior advisor of Brown Harris Stevens Residential Sales, LLC—noted that the pandemic has changed us all.
"For me, the focus is going to change to being more open to the comfort and sensitivity of people's mindsets," said Ramirez, who explained to attendees that everyone is coming through this situation with their mindset at a different place.
"What I've learned is that dealing with people isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. I'm focused on being sensitive to that because the only way we're going to be able to help our agents get back to business is to deal with them at whatever level they are on."
To that end, J. Lennox Scott—chairman and CEO of John L. Scott Real Estate—emphasized the importance of leadership.
"This is the time for leadership," said Scott. "With so much going on in this society around residential real estate, we took a look at where our listings came from and noticed that there was this great divide between those that had a database and those that did not, so we're pushing for 80 percent-plus to have a relationship database, because that's where our business will come from moving forward."
As for adapting to the new normal?
"Think big, dream bigger and walk in the positive outcome," added Scott.
"We are excited about the way we are going as far as how the new normal is going to look," explained Harrington, broker of record and COO of First Team Real Estate.
While today's market is reminiscent of what we experienced back in 2008 when everything just kind of froze, Harrington underscored the importance of being nimble in order to pivot to best deal with the crisis.
"Before, every one of our offices was an island that did things its own way. Now, we do things on a company-wide scale," said Harrington. "Our communication level has stepped up, and we're truly taking things to the next level."
Throughout it all, the pandemic has taught real estate professionals many powerful lessons that will undoubtedly carry them through the weeks and months to come. If there's one thing Jewgieniew learned, it's that even though there was no playbook, everyone at Realty ONE Group came together and figured it out.
"One thing that was confirmed during COVID-19 and this whole shutdown is that our organization was built for this," said Jewgieniew. "Even with 75 percent of our executive leadership sprinkled throughout the nation, we came out more aligned and connected than ever before."
"The office experience doesn't need to be a focus anymore," added Ramirez. "It has to be safe and purposeful, and it has to work, but it doesn't need to be the main focal point. This was a lesson learned that will cause us to look at our offices much differently going forward."
Closing out the discussion, Scott offered attendees some foolproof advice.
"We've gone through the first six months of COVID, and Sept.1 was the start of the next six months," he said. "We have to get through the wintertime, so nail down your strategies and help your agents."
"Do everything you can to make your company better, but don't forget about the industry," warned Harrington. "We need to do everything we can to fight for our industry, as we wouldn't be here without it."