Real Estate 2020: A Look Back

Written by Posted On Friday, 11 December 2020 00:00

In the history of real estate, there’s rarely been a year like the one coming to an end; born into promise, brought to its knees, then roaring back with uncommon force.

“The first thing I think of, looking back, is all the uncertainty we faced,” said Greg Zadel, broker/owner, Zadel Realty, Firestone, Colo. “As COVID swept into a strong market, it was tough to keep up with changing rules. What could we do? How should we do it? What could we tell our customers?”

But Realtors are nothing if not resilient, Zadel observed, and so the second thing he recalls, as they got their second wind, is the huge wave of accelerated learning - from Zoom calls and virtual home tours to sanitizing protocols and 3-D photography.

“With new ways of operating as our phones began to ring, we quickly learned to customize everything,” he said. “It all came down to individual needs, to comfort levels and innovative thinking.”

With a patchwork of rules changing every day, the challenge became a nationwide effort.

“We moved quickly from feeling powerless to getting ahead of the test,” said Bill Soffel, president and CEO, ERA Team VP Real Estate, Chautauqua, N.Y. “Being so close to New York City which, at the time was the pandemic’s epicenter, we had to develop a new playbook, putting safety first while devising ways to meet a growing customer demand.”

It began with staffing, Soffel said, ensuring that every agent and staff person had both the means to work remotely and the best information to share with customers.

“Our leadership team was brainstorming every day, meeting online, creating activity spreadsheets, and finding new ways to maximize technology to keep our agents engaged and informed.” Soffel said. 

Job one, he said, was to mitigate feelings of isolation and helplessness, among both agents and customers.

“Technology was, in many ways, saving the day,” Soffel said. “But in a relationship business, trust is everything. We worked hard to maintain company culture, to find hybrid models and the right balance between safety, individual needs, and protocols that made it possible to meet the needs of our customers.”

Across the nation, as consumer demand grew to unexpected levels, finding the balance between safety and commerce became a universal effort. 

“I think, looking back, we’ve done a great job of meeting consumers where they are,” said Craig McClelland, chief operating officer, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Metro Brokers in Atlanta, Ga. “We’ve kept up to date, done closings on the backs of cars, and managed to merge technology and humanity to chalk up extraordinary results.”

Part of that success, McClelland said, was achieved by meeting agent needs, digging deep into company culture to keep distanced agents working together even while physically apart.

“I won’t be sorry to leave the angst behind,” McClelland noted. “But the whole experience of moving through this pandemic has taught us important things - not least the value of a company culture that thrives on achievement and common goals.”

It has also put a spotlight on brick and mortar and the best utilization of square footage, he said, which brokers everywhere are re-thinking.

And it’s put technology front and center.

“The cat’s out of the bag on technology,” he observed. “Zoom and other platforms have transformed communication in ways that will surely stay with us, as will virtual walk-throughs and remote closings that save time, energy, and funds.”

In a market that remains unusually strong for December, there is no question that Realtor innovation been a contributing factor.

“We had the hard conversations,” McClelland said. “We kept people safe and secure as we took care of business - and that’s taken us to where we are now, closing out a chaotic year with strong numbers we could not have predicted months ago.”

With more people working remotely, demand for property continues to outpace inventory.

“People are moving closer to family, to open spaces and scenic and recreational areas,” said Zadel. “We are seeing unusual activity for the season, and new construction is ramping up. It’s been a taxing year, but we’ve learned a lot, and that makes the struggle to get here worthwhile.”

 It's been a year to pull together, brokers agree and, looking back, a year that encouraged growth. 

“I am intensely proud of the way our industry met this exceptional challenge,” said Soffel. “We stayed connected, we found new ways to meet a rebounding market, and while few of us will be sorry to put 2020 behind us, we are finishing strong and with great confidence as we head into the new year.”

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Barbara Pronin

Barbara Pronin is an award-winning writer based in Orange County, Calif. A former news editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism and corporate communications, she has specialized in real estate topics for over a decade. She is also the author of three mystery novels and two non-fiction books.

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