Real Estate Professionals on Surviving the COVID-19 Lockdown: “This is the Time that the Clients Need You”

The real estate sector faces a new challenge today in the form of a worldwide public health crisis: the coronavirus outbreak. Discussing its repercussions to make sense of how the industry can cope, Lamudi launched its webinar series on March 20, starting with a discussion titled “Surviving Broker Business in the Time of COVID.”

Leading the online lecture are prestigious professionals in the property sector: Mr. Alejandro Mañalac, Chairman and Co-Founder of Havitas Developments Corporation and Operating Principal of Keller Williams Manila Bay Area, and Mr. Gary Hablero, Director of RE/MAX Capital Philippines and CEO of Gary Hablero Team. 

Speaking with Nadine Pacis, Training and Development Coach at Lamudi Academy, the two thought leaders shared their tips on how to keep the real estate business going amid COVID-19:

Check Up On Clients

While the coronavirus strain is new, the impact on businesses isn’t, according to Mañalac. He noted, “In 1989, we’ve been through this, in 1997, and then in 2008. This is the time when the market [dipped], the time when clients really needed [real estate brokers].”

As a principle then, he encouraged maintaining close communication with property seekers. “The best way to retain your clients is to check them: text, email, call. Talk to them. Ask them how they are, [rather than] just calling when you have something to offer.”

He emphasized the value of connecting with clients at present, “This is the best time to build relationships, especially now that everybody’s at home doing nothing. They’re bored to death. They love to talk to someone and to hear something positive.”

“Reach out to them. The message will be, ‘I’m here. I’m still alive. I’m still in business. Business as usual. How can I help? How can I add value? Is there something I can do?’”

To this, Hablero agreed, “Many people are really scared. As much as we want to be business-as-usual, this seems to become the normal now for the next 30 days. We have to connect with them, not only to sell properties, but to really find out how they’re doing.”

He pointed out that brokers can focus more on client service given the lockdown, “We have more time to connect with people, as we don’t have showings or meetings outside.”

Hold Regular Meetings Online

When asked what kind of issues property seekers have been facing on the ground, Hablero acknowledged clients’ fear of being infected. For this reason, he saw a couple of deals cancelled or deferred. To address these concerns, they’ve been meeting online through a video conferencing tool

“I try to meet [my team] every day to make them feel that there’s still work. We have a regular meeting. We call it a sales meeting. We discuss anything that can help us improve our sales and our scripts. And they appreciate [it]. We’re on our fourth day. So far, I still have a complete attendance for a team of seven or eight agents.”

Seek Opportunities Actively

Mañalac advised real estate professionals to go beyond traditional products to catch new sets of ready and willing markets. He shared, “Havitas is focusing more on development consultancy. Sometimes, it starts from property acquisition, so we’re dealing with real estate developers who think long-term, who have experienced [a time] like this.”

He added that some developers and other investors look at the coronavirus outbreak as a temporary bump. In fact, they could be waiting for a deeper dip in the state of the market before springing into purchase. This is what real estate professionals should be on the lookout for as an opportunity to expand business, Mañalac advised.

Hablero agreed with Mañalac, saying that in the retail market, he also saw a couple of savvy businessmen who are likewise merely waiting for the right moment. He shared, “People who have the confidence, be it institutional or retail, [only] want to see where this is going. Once they can adapt to the situation, they will look for opportunity. Now may be the time to buy.”

Use the Right Tech Platforms

When asked what technologies they’re using to keep the business going, Hablero said that they’re using Facebook and WhatsApp to communicate with clients. He reiterated, however, that the content is equally important as the platform: “What kind of messages are we conveying to our clients [is crucial]. [It’s] something that should be of value.”

Meanwhile, Mañalac considers social media groups as rich resources for information about good property deals, which will be very beneficial when clients come up later asking for recommendations.

“Use Facebook groups. Lots of them have hundreds of thousands of members. Use Viber groups to see and observe the movement of properties. Look for good deals. Once investors come in, they will be looking for good deals. So, take note.”

Generate Leads

For younger, starting real estate professionals, Mañalac advised continuing on lead generation. He acknowledged the role of technology in making this successful: “There are all these platforms [that can be used] to generate leads, especially at this time.”

Ngayon, walang nag-flyer sa mall. You have technology now, so use it.” 

He reminded the new ones, however, that the most powerful leads come through referrals. “If you establish your authority, name, or credibility, sometimes even without asking for it, you’ll be bombarded with referrals. Your problem will actually be on how to handle them.”

Be Creative

Although real estate professionals have limited mobility as of the moment, there are resources that can be used. In the case of Hablero, they treat clients to virtual tours. “There’s no physical showing of the properties, but […] they can still experience the property, a home, which they are intending to buy, without going to the site.”

“We’re even thinking of how to [facilitate] signing of documents and payments, because I think there may be ways.”

Mañalac likened the lockdown situation to getting stuck in a traffic jam. He advises maximizing the time in the ‘car.’ “Call your clients, your network, the team. Do your Zoom in the car, have meetings. Use Youtube or audio books.”

“In other words, walang downtime. Make the most of every time to improve your skills. And that is how you get ahead of the other brokers or agents.”

Will pre-selling prices drop with the COVID19 crisis?  Did that happen in 2008/2009?

Hablero shares that when the financial crisis of 2008 hit, there was a slow down in demand but it did not affect real estate prices. This is despite the stock market being down. “It only shows that there is little correlation or none at all between real estate and the financial markets,” Hablero says. 

Hablero also points out that the “viral” issue, though unprecedented, affects the market because of fear. “We have survived several strains of viruses for many years. The only difference is COVID-19 does not have a vaccine yet. This creates fear. The fear of people has a psychological effect on markets.”

Mañalac also reassures brokers that pre-selling prices did not drop, but instead, the 2008/2009 crisis opened the doors to more friendly terms. “There was a slow down in sales. Terms became more friendly and that is why we have the present ‘super stretched’ terms now.”

Mañalac also talks about a price correction possibly brought on by changes in the behavior of foreign investors, particularly the Chinese. In Manila Bay Area and other locations where prices were pushed up by Chinese bulk buyers intending to resell it to their clients in the mainland, the prices “really became incredibly high.”

“IF, and I emphasize IF, there will be movements of the Chinese either going out of the country or out to the other cities like Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, and Pampanga, then there will definitely be some corrections.”

This, Mañalac mentions, will then be good for the local buyers looking to buy in these prime areas. 

How long did the dips last for and for real estate to get back up? 

Mañalac, who started in the real estate industry in 1989, saw several dips in the economy. In particular, the country saw some of its difficult times in 1989-1991, 1997-1998, and 2007-2009. Seeing the performance of GDP growth in the Philippines following those years, however, it’s noticeable that times of sales increase immediately follow a crisis, peaking in the years 1996, 2000, and 2010. 

As Hablero shares, “Investors who have the holding power will be able to ride out this bump.”

The coronavirus outbreak has affected the real estate industry in profound ways, but as Mañalac and Hablero can attest, it’s possible to keep the business going even in the midst of a global crisis. Wrapping up the webinar, the two had this to say: stay calm and don’t panic.

Stay tuned for more on this webinar series on Lamudi’s Facebook page.

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