Building meaningful client relationships is one of those skills that even the best sales professionals struggle with. Throw in a fiduciary responsibility and a market that feels like an amusement park ride, and you’ll begin to understand why so many agents are panicking right now.
The good news is that you don’t have to. Because in reality, this pandemic offers an incredible opportunity to build and nurture lifetime relationships with your clients. Yes, really.
That’s why we decided to reach out to some top-producing brokers who are handling the pandemic a bit more calmly, a bit more strategically, and with a whole lot more experience-driven optimism than most. Here’s what they told us:
Vickey Barron, Founder, Vickey Barron Team, Compass, Manhattan
With her eponymous team ranked number two in Manhattan by volume by The Real Deal for 2017, and too many awards and accolades to list, Vickey Barron knows a thing or two about building and maintaining relationships.
Since any agent can reel off market data and make predictions about where the market is going, Vickey and her team focus more on maintaining a personal connection to her ultra-high net worth clients. With the economy lurching between bad and terrible seemingly minute by minute, those personal connections are more important than ever.
“I reach out to those on my list every Friday with a quick note before we head into the weekend. That has continued, but I’ve also been picking up the phone and simply checking in on them on an emotional and personal level. NO SELLING! You do not make the call to talk about real estate—you connect to them on a human level. If they bring real estate up, be ready to wear that hat and answer questions accordingly.
“I’ve also been sending out little things to clients and their children, a puzzle or a water jug the kids can paint, just showing that you are thinking of them during these difficult times.
“Compass has done an amazing job providing support during this time. Rolling out a new host of tools, including Virtual Agent Services, to help us better connect and service our customers. Leonard Steinberg shares daily emails with us too, which I read religiously and often reference some of his facts.”
Dawn McKenna, Principal, Dawn McKenna Group, Coldwell Banker, Chicagoland
Since her 2003 debut as Coldwell Banker’s Rookie of the Year, Dawn McKenna has become a force to reckon with in the Chicagoland luxury market. Today, with almost 20 years of experience under her belt, Dawn and her team have expanded their burgeoning empire into a lucrative rental business—building relationships with young professionals at the very beginning of their homebuying journey.
Like any good team leader, Dawn’s thought leadership on relationship building has been crucial to her success. Here’s Dawn’s take on nurturing those relationships during the pandemic and beyond:
“Interestingly, one of the biggest questions I’m fielding right now is from potential buyers and those buyers beginning to think about starting families outside of the city. These buyers want to know when is a good time to leave the city for the suburbs and if that time is now. Because of this, coupled with incredibly low interest rates, I’m finding a large portion of my time is now dedicated to educating these buyers and ultimately selling the lifestyle of what life outside the city feels like.
“I’ve hosted individualized walking tours with buyers of the towns they’re considering moving to. We maintain CDC guidance and local guidance specific to social distancing, but it allows a unique and interpersonal opportunity to connect with and to educate those who are on the fence in how to move forward in their home purchasing decision.
“Additionally, the health emergency has people adding new considerations to their lifestyle purchases. Schools are closed so buyers aren’t bound by school districts and we don’t know when schools will reopen. Working from home places larger emphasis into a buyer’s decision on various living spaces. That is, where and how do you want to be able to remote work. The bottom line is if you can afford a change of pace, now is a great time to start.”
Louise Phillips Forbes, Broker, Halstead, Manhattan
With career sales volume eclipsing $3.5 billion, Louise Phillips Forbes consistently ranks among the top 1% of New York City real estate professionals. While encyclopedic market knowledge and a tech founder’s work ethic helped her get to the top, her skills at relationship building are what keep her there.
Like many financial luminaries, such as Mark Cuban and Warren Buffet, she sees opportunity for real estate agents to define their careers during the pandemic. After all, this crisis will force agents to put ego aside and start becoming real educators and advocates for their clients. Those who keep trying to do business as usual will get left in the dust.
“The nature of my business means that I am intimately involved and a part of my clients’ lives. This blessing has made my work feel tremendously purposeful, particularly in times like these where it is marking a chapter in their lives. It is no longer a business transaction, and it is imperative to beat to the rhythm of their drum.
“The coronavirus has been the perfect opportunity for all of us, no matter what side of the table you are on, to check our egos at the door and enter with empathetic intentions to be part of the solution.”
Philip Scheinfeld, Founder, Philip Scheinfeld Team, Compass Manhattan
With more than $100 million in sales over the last two years, Manhattan Compass agent and team leader Philip Scheinfeld has some very demanding clients to placate. Glossy marketing and platitudes about “uncertain times” just won’t cut it with the ultra-wealthy clientele that Philip works with. Instead, they rely on him as a trusted adviser, and since many of them get pitched daily, sitting back and relying on his past success to float him through this crisis is not an option.
Here’s how Philip and his team are communicating with their clients with an eye toward nurturing crucial relationships during the pandemic:
“We are communicating with clients more than ever with frequent calls, text, and emails. First and foremost to ensure they are safe and healthy—everything else comes second. We are lucky enough to consider most of our clients close friends, so it comes as second nature.
“We are a 24/7, 365-day full-service real estate brokerage team, but when something like a pandemic occurs, we let the client take the lead and navigate. Right now we aren’t aggressively sending buyers listings unless we know they are interested in investing—it’s a bad look to be overly bullish when people are losing their jobs and their lives. That said, many of our savvy clients know there are incredible opportunities out there. Everyone’s situation is different: some families have been directly affected by this virus and others are waiting it out to see where the market lands.
“One question that I keep getting asked is: ‘Isn’t everyone moving out of the city?’
“My answer to that is whenever there is a major financial or human crisis in a densely populated city, people look to make a change—in this case, relocate. For example, a family that lives in a 100+ unit condo may not feel as comfortable in such a large building (hard to avoid social distancing) and want to move to a smaller boutique building or a unit with direct elevator access. We may also see a spark in the townhouse market; it’s been down the past few years for buyers in the $10 million to $20 million+ price range, but ideal for those looking for a very private home for their family.
“There are many unknown factors now, but the city will bounce back—it always does. New York will always be New York, and there will be ongoing demand. At this point, we can only arm our clients with information and facts on the current market until they are ready to bite. We are here to answer questions, send data reports, and facilitate virtual sales.”
George Case, Case+Byers, Warburg Realty, Manhattan
If you went by social media alone, you would be forgiven for thinking Warburg’s George Case is one half of a hip interior design firm. That’s because George leverages his background in visual merchandising and antique dealing to help his well-heeled listing clients put their best face forward.
Of course, while Case and his business partner, Jeanne Byers, may look like they just stepped out of the pages of ID magazine, they are both highly accomplished real estate agents and have the relationship building skills to match. Here’s George on how he is communicating with his clients during the pandemic:
“Since the stay-at-home order, we’ve been reaching out via social media, email, and phone to check in with our clients. As it certainly isn’t business as usual, the back and forth concerns well-being and an occasional ‘Is anyone buying apartments online?’
“In terms of buyers and sellers asking specifics about the when and how much, we point to historic market responses to recessions and catastrophic events like 9/11. We give dates and percentages, but the truth is, no one knows how the New York housing market will react in the aftermath of a global pandemic—we just don’t have precedence. We do know that it is New York and people will always want to live here.
“At the moment, we’re staying safe and keeping a close eye on social and economic indicators in order to find the best apartment for the best deal for our buyers and trade at the highest price to the most qualified buyers for our sellers, making sure that every marketing platform will be utilized when the stay-at-home order is no longer needed and we can resume in-person showings (safely, with precautions).”
Gill Chowdhury, Broker, Warburg Realty, Manhattan
As one of storied Manhattan luxury brokerages Warburg’s top-producing agents, Gill Chowdhury is no stranger to building and maintaining meaningful client relationships. Here’s Gill’s take on how to deal with your client’s main worries: how to make the current market work for them:
“Buyers and sellers have the same hesitations in this market—and that is uncertainty. Sellers tend to think that they need to wait because prices will be down now, while buyers think that prices may not be down enough. To both groups, I point out the limited amount of inventory that currently exists and the limited activity levels. Buyers need to be aggressive in their offers and be prepared to move on to greener pastures, while sellers need to hold firm on their price. The truth is no one will know how the current situation will affect pricing for months. It’s very likely that both a buyer and a seller can achieve their results in this market.”
Isaac Rosenberg, Agent, Compass Manhattan
With more than 200 closed transactions in his first two years in the industry, it’s not surprising that Isaac Rosenberg relies on the same personal touch that his more seasoned colleagues do. After all, real estate empires are built one relationship at a time.
Here’s Isaac on how he’s changed his client messaging during the pandemic. Spoiler alert: he hasn’t.
“I treat all clients as friends or family, whether in a global crisis or not. Always making sure to give them all the current and relevant information possible, not simply focusing on making a deal, but more importantly being there for my clients during these tough times to answer any questions or concerns they may have to help make the right decision for them.”
Gerard Splendore, Broker, Warburg Realty, New York City
With more than 20 years of New York City real estate experience, Warburg’s Gerald Splendore has built an enviable list of clients in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Because so many people in this city tend to trade up as their careers blossom, maintaining those relationships for the long haul has been the key to Gerald’s success. In order to stay top on mind during the pandemic, he’s using some surprising, yet powerful old-school techniques:
“I am communicating with my list of potential sellers via email and the old-fashioned way—handwritten notes. As I have essentially missed the spring market, I am hoping to list for the summer market. I am considering sending a few gifts and calling sellers.
“My suggestion to overcome listing objections is that motivated sellers will have less competition, as less will be on the market this summer.”
Bill Kowalczuk, Broker, Warburg Realty Manhattan
Coming from a hospitality background before becoming a top producing broker, Bill Kowalczuk understands how to talk people through sometimes delicate situations. Since Coronavirus is the mother of all delicate situations, he naturally has a strategy to educate clients and show them the potential upsides of a down market.
“When talking to buyers, I am advising that now could be one of the greatest opportunities to buy in decades. With interest rates near record lows and coupled with getting a discount on already reduced prices, a buyer could score big. The downside right now is not being able to physically visit the property. Virtual tours would have to be relied upon. If the buyer has already seen the property, the world could be their oyster.
“When talking to sellers, I have advised that the price on their home needs to be aggressive—if they need to sell. Right now, we are seeing accepted offers at 8% to 10% off the most recent asking price. Depending on what the seller needs to do, they could make up any loss by buying up. The higher you go in price, the bigger the discount you will see.”
Your Turn: How Are You Changing How You Talk to Your Clients During the Pandemic?
Since you’re reading this article, we’re going to assume that during quarantine you’ve been studying the market like your career depends on it. Because, well, it does. The only problem is so has everyone else. That means your hot take on which bubble might pop or where the hidden opportunities lie isn’t worth very much. After all, no one really knows what’s going to happen next, and worse, if you don’t center your relationship building during the pandemic, no one is going to stick around long enough to listen to what you have to say.
Instead, why not start brainstorming ways to work on your relationships as hard as you’ve been working on your market knowledge? As you might have already guessed from the strategies our top producers just laid out for you, that means making personal connections with your clients.
While you can, and should, be relying on a blended relationship nurturing strategy that includes texts and phone check-ins, social media is a great way to quickly scale those precious connections you’re going to need to stay top of mind during and, more importantly, after the pandemic.
If you’re still scrambling to come up with ways to connect to your clients on social media, we’ve got you covered. To help you get your creative juices flowing and start connecting with your clients today, we put together a 30-day social media challenge with tons of ideas you can use to stay top of mind.