Every industry has been impacted by COVID-19. From hospitality and tourism to insurance and real estate… the way Australian businesses operate has changed significantly.
While COVID-19 has presented challenges, many businesses have shown strength in the way they have adapted and evolved to this unusual situation. Real estate agents (in particular) have had to innovate to stay afloat and have been quick to embrace all the technology available to keep on top of day-to-day real estate life – from tools for virtual inspections to apps to transact easily online.
As the complete fallout of the pandemic is still unknown, it is safe to say that the way we all do business will continue to change over the years to come.
To find out exactly how real estate agents are faring during this time, and where the industry might end up in the future, we chatted to one of our agent partners, Melbourne Real Estate (MRE).
Below, MRE’s Head of People and Culture, Adriarna Nunn (pictured right), answers a bunch of questions about the challenges of COVID-19, the silver-linings of the pandemic, and her predictions for the years ahead…
What has been the biggest change for Melbourne Real Estate during the COVID-19 pandemic?
We have had a working from home arrangement since 2018, with 20 per cent of the team taking advantage of this model prior to COVID-19. However, during the pandemic, we have moved our 60+ person team to a 100 per cent remote setup. The infrastructure was set up and ready to go (all agents are equipped with laptops and mobile phones) so we jumped in proactively before the lockdown was enforced, putting the safety of our team at the forefront of this decision. A lot of challenging operational shifts presented, with our processes needing to be rethought, and long-hours worked to ensure we had the right formula to support our team and our clients. It has proven that with a well-thought-out setup and aligned team, remote working can be successful and offers real savings to businesses if done well.
In addition, we have seen the transformation of our leasing strategy, with our 12 Leasing Executives adapting to one-on-one private inspections in the first lockdown, then moving to virtual inspections (with all inspections and new tenancies conducted online to facilitate the leasing of its properties) when restrictions tightened. Conveniently, we have been using video tours to market our properties since 2012, making the adjustment and roll-out a much easier process for our team. MRE has successfully leased 1,360 properties since March 2020, abiding by all government regulations.
What do you believe has been the toughest thing for agents to tackle during the past six months?
The emotional impact COVID-19 has had on our clients and our MRE community is vast. We have been on a mission to ensure our team is supported with our various employee offerings as well as the continuation and implementation of learning and development programs, to facilitate individual development plans and career path succession. This has also been a time to launch a stronger wellbeing strategy for our business, ensuring we take proactive steps to ensure we all maintain a healthy mind, body and spirit. We are proud of our teams’ vulnerability, openness, and genuine care for each other during the pandemic – the true MRE spirit!
What have been some of the silver linings?
Solidifying the cultural journey MRE has been on for several years and witnessing the importance of strong values and alignment from the entire MRE community. Upon reflection, we believe 2020 has been a year of supercharged cultural evolution; we have grown the team, built more trust, become more transparent and applied more empathy to all our exchanges.
It has been a time to work on the business – we have not taken our foot off the pedal once. There has been a significant focus on evolving our learning and development programs, integration of new technologies and enhancing our employee experience to ensure strong retention as we look ahead to 2021.
How do you think COVID-19 has impacted the real industry moving forward? What do you think will be a lasting impact of the pandemic?
The agencies offering cheap fees will struggle to survive. The rental market has shifted, and rents will take some time to get back to where they were, meaning agents on low fees will likely be forced to increase the portfolio sizes of their property managers, resulting in more pressure, a decline in service levels and a high risk of lost managements. Businesses with robust systems, processes and strong team cultures will be able to justify their fees more easily, and primarily be more competitive when prospecting for new business.
What can agents expect in 2021 – how do you foresee the industry moving forward?
- CBD/student rental markets are unlikely to improve for some time – city apartments designed for this market will likely have longer vacancies or achieve a smaller return to what they were previously achieving, until international travel resumes.
- There will be an increase in the adoption of electronic and virtual transactions – agents can expect to be more mobile and less reliant on shop-front office spaces, as working remotely is integrated into the ‘new normal’ of business operations. It will be important that agents get the balance of office and remote working right to maintain engagement with teams.
- Turnover of property managers – this will impact those who did not feel supported throughout the pandemic. I believe agents will understand their value and have clearer expectations on what they want from their workplace for the future. The common motivations of candidates in 2020 seeking a new opportunity has been a lack of trust, micromanagement and little ‘reward for effort’. I anticipate there to be a larger talent pool of property managers in 2021.
Do you believe COVID has highlighted (even more so) the importance of insurance?
Without insurance, many clients would have suffered significantly more than they have during COVID-19, and those that didn’t have insurance are regretful. Landlord insurance is cheap compared to other types of cover and will usually pay off several years of premiums in just one claim.
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