Now is an important time to take a look at surviving a recession as a real estate agent. We know that the COVID-19 crisis has made, and will continue to make, an impact on the way we can do business. In this article, I am going to walk you through six key elements to surviving a recession in real estate.

The United States – if not the entire world – is moving into an economic recession right now. This is not to say the housing market is going down. The housing market before this crisis was gangbusters with prices moving up very quickly, and low housing inventory.

Now we are seeing less homes go on the market than before. That is keeping supply low because more people are wanting to wait until after this crisis has ended to list their home. Because there’s a lower supply and there’s still high demand to buy houses, we’re seeing prices hold up, if not increase, in most areas of North America.

At some point we must acknowledge that if businesses continue to stay shut and people are forced to stay at home, we are moving towards a recession. Much of the demand in real estate is dropping, despite the low inventory, because people are losing their jobs. People are facing economic uncertainty. Stocks are crashing. The government is using various economic stimulus packages and lowering rates to slow the recession.

We’ve been here before

We have been through situations like this before. We’ll make it. In 1989 we had a decent recession. In 2008 we had the “Great Recession.” We had a short recession after the dot-com bubble, and of course we experienced a recession post 9/11.

I have personally experienced what it was like to practice real estate through all of those recessions. Surviving a recession in the real estate industry is something that I am familiar with. I may be dating myself here but I’ve been in the real estate industry a while.

How is surviving this recession in real estate similar and different from other recessions?

This recession is very similar in a lot of ways to the other recessions we have experienced, except during this COVID-19 crisis, we are confined to our houses. Also, this recession appears to have an “end date.” We know that this virus will run its course, so that does help us realize that we need to find a way to get through in the short term – this won’t last forever.

At Icenhower Coaching and Consulting, we are working with all our clients on these six key elements for surviving a recession in the real estate industry right now. We have clients with different situations and different backgrounds. Some of our clients are broker owners, some are large teams, and some are small. Some are solo agents. These six key elements apply to every one of our clients, and it applies to you and your business, too.

The race car driver analogy – as it relates to surviving a recession as a Realtor

Before I dive in on these six key elements, I want to start off by explaining an analogy that I will weave throughout my points below. It’s the analogy of a race car. When you’re driving a race car, you drive around a track and when you are going through the straightaways, life is easy. The straightaway portions of the track don’t test the merit of a race car driver. Every driver has their gas pedal down. They’re going straight. Race cars don’t advance their position at a high level until they get into the turns of the track.

surviving a recession in real estate

During the turn of the racetrack is where you’re taking risks. You’re speeding up and trying to pass people despite the fact that inertia is pushing your car out to the edge of the track. You are strategizing and making difficult moves. This is where the skill of a race car driver surfaces.

In the real estate industry, and the general economy for that matter, we have seen positive growth and value increase since 2009. There have been constant increases in economic prosperity. Now, in 2020, we have experienced a turn: the Coronavirus crisis.

As we move into this turn on our racetrack, this recession, we know that this is where the strong and savvy real estate businesses will survive. Realtors that use these six key elements to benefit their position will make it out of this turn ahead of those that decide to play it safe, or not race at all.

1 – Keep your head on a swivel

You must pivot the way you think. You must shift and change your thinking. I like to use the word “pivot” because you’re still in the same place, but you’re going to pivot and look at things differently. Try to be creative and progressive to figure out how you can change your normal activities and your normal routine. Your normal way of doing business must change. You need to be innovative, and that’s the key.

A lot of people get frustrated by change. You may like routines. The turns aren’t good for you, the turns are tough, so you must allow yourself to get uncomfortable. You will get comfortable again someday, but right now, in order to succeed, you need to change in a big way if you want to come out of this turn and be in a good position in this “race.”

Keeping your head on a swivel, you can be aware of different ways to look at things. The context has changed for your business in real estate; your focus has shifted to surviving a recession. You must find different ways to generate business, different ways to save money, and different ways to conduct your business.

It is time for real estate agents to move to virtual

You’re seeing other real estate agents moving their business to virtual. They are conducting virtual listing presentations, virtual showings, virtual buyer consultations, and embracing different systems and processes for accomplishing a completed transaction. We’re seeing virtual notaries, virtual appraisals, etc., so we know that many industries are being forced to get uncomfortable.

surviving a recession in real estate

And then, you must deal with the naysayers. Some are saying you shouldn’t even show property. They are saying that you should not take any listings, and that you must put everything on hold. Not only that, but if you don’t do that, then you’re a bad person. These people will tell you you’re spreading the disease, even though you have ways to conduct your business safely. Everything can be done virtually. We don’t have to do any part of our process face-to-face. Everybody stays in their own home.

You are seeing some people just wave the white flag. They are refusing to swivel. They won’t pivot in their business. By doing that, these agents are letting others advance their position, because many are still working in safe and compliant manner. You must pivot if you are set on surviving this recession in the real estate industry.

2 – Step on the gas

You must work harder than ever before. You may need to let go of your work/life balance right now. Most of our life, it is super important to maintain that balance. I’m a big believer in it. But we’re not in the straightaway right now. We are in a turn.

Right now, people’s routines have been flipped upside down. Everyone is working from home. The kids are at home. Your spouse or partner is at home. All of this change is going to slow us down. It will be an excuse not to do work. Unfortunately, now is the time to roll up your sleeves. Times are hard, and it’s going to get harder to bring in a commission-dependent revenue. It’s very important that you double down right now if you are focused on surviving the recession in the real estate industry.

You must spend more time on lead generation and conversion activities. You need to either close business now or pipeline the business so you will have it ready and waiting when this mess is over. When you can show property and list property easily and normally again, you will have a full pipeline so you can quickly generate income to make up for what you lost. Now is the time when heroes stand up and legacies are created. Now is the time to work.

3 – Lighten your weight

Just like a light race car, we must keep our business light and fast. We need to be able to easily maneuver and adapt in the turns. You must sit down and calculate how much your operating expenses are over the course of the next few months in order to get through it. This is key to surviving a recession in real estate.

Figure out your worst-case scenario. I would assume that this COVID-19 crisis lasts five months. You will need to figure out how much it takes to keep your household and your business going at your current rate of monthly operating expenses. Add those all up.

surviving a recession in real estate

Let’s say it’s $20,000 a month. That’s a lot. Let’s assume this crisis puts us out five months. That’s how much you will need to have in cash reserves to make it through, if nothing else changes. If you don’t have that amount in cash reserves right now, then you need to think about tightening your belt and cutting some expenses.

Figure out your back up plan

If that is the case, you also need to talk to some people that might be sources of capital and support, if push comes to shove. Research credit unions, home equity lines of credit, and reach out to family members that are well off. It is possible to take a loan from a family member, on a short-term basis. Your loved ones want to help.

Analyzing your options will help you know if you have money in an emergency situation. You want to secure that because if this COVID-19 crisis does run longer than you anticipated, it will become harder to secure that help, especially during a recession. Get the line of credit now or get the agreement from the family member now. Do what it takes to identify those sources that will help you if you need it.

4 – Change your routine

If you’re behind in a race or you’re ahead, you will change your strategy. You may drive more cautiously if you are far ahead, protecting your position around the turn so people can’t pass you. If you’re behind, you may take more risks. So you must adjust quickly and change your normal routine while we ride through this turn.

This means a new schedule for you. It is still important to have a routine, but you must quickly change it given these new circumstances. You will have a new schedule that you must stick to because you can’t operate in chaos.

Surviving a recession in real estate also means surviving a change in routine

Amost all of our schedules have been totally wrecked. For example, I’m at home right now. My wife is at home. We have kids at home with us, and we are both pitching in to homeschool them. We also try to work out. All of this has made our schedule completely out of whack, and it’s brutal.

surviving a recession in real estate

We focused on working hard to quickly adjust and accept this new normal. We found a routine, and we both have calendars that reflect this new schedule. Switching off with each other, we can allow each other some time to get work done. Our schedule is set so that we know when we’re watching the kids, we know when we’re exercising, and we know when we’re working.

This is going to be uncomfortable for a while, and that’s ok

Sure, we may have a routine, but it’s still uncomfortable. And it may be uncomfortable for a while. Sooner or later it will become comfortable because we have a routine now and we are practicing it every day. If we didn’t have a routine, it would just be straight-up chaos. Chaos never gets comfortable and it’s never productive. It never gets us the results we want.

Don’t allow yourself to float around through the crazy drama around you and get all caught up in news, and all the chaos. This will prevent you from being productive. Change your routine and change your urgency and you can advance your position right now.

5 – Communicate with your crew

Your people are just like your pit crew. You need to make sure your people are on the same page, just as a race car driver needs their pit crew to be on the same page. How much gas do you need to get through this race? When are your tires are going to get changed? When are you making your pit stop? You need to work with your people. How are they surviving the recession in the real estate industry?

surviving a recession in real estate

Working with your clients

You should be doing virtual meetings with your clients much more often than you may be accustomed to communicating with them. You should be talking to your active listings at least every week. For your buyers, possibly even more than that. They, too, are figuring out how they must survive during this recession, and how their real estate ventures will be affected.

Working with your lenders and vendors

You should be talking to your lenders and other vendors on a weekly basis. Have a schedule. Be reaching out on a certain day at a certain time. Don’t wait for problems to come up to reach out. You need to be proactive and foster these relationships to continue working together.

Working with your team members

If you run an office or a team, you should be having regular meetings. Do them daily. They can be very short meetings but they should be every single day. You can use a video conferencing system like Zoom. You should meet every day, 15-30 minutes, because during a recession, it’s a rollercoaster of emotions. Your people are going through a lot right now. Family members are losing their jobs. People get sick. Your people know people who are getting sick.

When you’re going through a turn, there are so many factors outside of the “norm” and it’s very important to keep your people close. Your people need you as a leader to keep them going. You need to know where they are. They need to know as their business is changing and you have to do everything differently now. As a team, you can work with your team members to learn from other people’s mistakes and issues so that they can avoid them in their business.

6 – Establish your boundaries

A race car driver knows their car inside and out. The driver knows the car’s specs and how it handles. They know how quickly they can close gap in between themselves and the other race cars because they know the car’s dimensions and they know it’s quick acceleration. They know the boundaries of the car and the limits of the car. We need to know our boundaries and firmly establish them with those around us.

We are living and working at home now and our business has gone through a lot of changes. We even changed our physical environment as we work from home. For that reason, it’s really important that we understand what our boundaries are, and we need to figure out how we will be able to fit into really tight spaces at home. This is going to be tricky for us because now we’ve got family members that are all over us. We have kids playing with us. Our spouse working in the same location. We must have conversations with our family and establish boundaries.

You need to tell them that you’re hours are going to be long. Explain that this is a critical time for you and your business and it is going to be demanding for you right now. You need to explain that right now you have to work a lot harder than you ever have before. Explain your boundaries. Tell them the space that you need, and the time that you need it. Explain your routine. Your routine will help establish these boundaries.

Get your real estate team on board: work together to survive this recession

For your team members and your coworkers, the same thing applies. We must establish expectations. They need to know when they’re supposed to work and how much urgency is behind their tasks. There must be a lot of communication about how they need to establish boundaries for themselves, too, as they work from home. You need to talk to them about work/life balance. Remind them that right now, work needs their focus in order to survive this recession.

surviving a recession in real estate

This is very important. There tends to be a lot more working “after hours” and on weekends now because at home, we aren’t set up for working from 9:00 to 5:00. That’s okay and that’s probably what is needed in this environment to survive this turn. You must make sure everybody knows this. Make sure everyone is aware of this reality, and make sure they agree to it before holding them to that expectation. This is part of why these team meetings are so important. Setting boundaries is so important.

Surviving a recession as a real estate agent: you can do it

Do more than just survive. Win this race. You can make it through this turn. You are in it, and what you do right now will determine where you are when this crisis is over. Work on these six key elements and you will make it.

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Stay up to date on what’s happening in our industry and join our Facebook group, the Real Estate Agent Round Table for free, relevant content daily, including breaking news on the real estate market and the coronavirus crisis.

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