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COVID-19: From fee suspension to virtual parties

While everyone stays in their box, real estate companies are thinking outside the box to provide their Realtors with special initiatives during the COVID-19 crisis. Creative ideas range from virtual cocktail parties complete with virtual valets and taxi chits to regular weekday webinars open to all.

“One would have thought that working from home would have meant time passing slowly with the days dragging on, but it seems we are all working longer days: the volume of texts, emails and phone calls has increased dramatically and Skype, Zoom and Facebook have taken over our lives,” says Sotheby’s International Realty Canada president and CEO Don Kottick.

The company has increased the number of Zoom office meetings it holds and started a personal and caring initiative that includes phone calls to each member of the Realtor team to ensure they are well and are weathering the storm, he says.

Training topics include social media, sales techniques, marketing seminars, value proposition seminars and technology sessions. National Zoom events include real estate speakers such as Larry Kendall, creator of Ninja Selling, master ninja instructor Ryan Secrist and other motivational speakers. Professional and content experts, such as lawyers, mortgage specialists and industry experts will also be featured.

The company is keeping its agents informed about regulatory and legislative changes and has also increased the number of managerial meetings to keep the corporate team up to speed on initiatives and changes. More public relations content will ensure a consistent message to the public and the media.

And just for fun, virtual cocktail parties are being held across the country. Guests are offered a virtual valet and virtual taxi chits to ensure they arrive home safely.

Photo by Raymond Zhu on Unsplash
Photo by Raymond Zhu on Unsplash

Re/Max Quebec supported its 4,107 agents by suspending royalty fee payments for April.

“We wanted to provide tangible support and some relief to all of our members, who work hard to offer clients exceptional service and expertise. Although these are difficult circumstances, our agents remain available to serve their clients, many of whom have sold their property and must find new housing,” says Pierre Titley, president of Re/Max Quebec.

The company encourages the public to follow government guidelines and keep house hunting by visiting its website. Re/Max Quebec is also offering tools, such as webinars and training videos, and has a special section with a lot of content about the situation on its intranet.

Century 21 Canada launched a webinar series on March 24 to help its agents navigate this unprecedented time and to offer suggestions about what they can and should be doing, says Chiyoko Kakino, vice president of marketing. “We’re streaming it live on our C21 Canada Facebook page, so anyone can watch. We think this is a time for the industry to rally together. We are all in the same boat and we want to make the training/information available to anyone who might need or want it. Our presentations are done by people who are well known and respected in the industry. They aren’t C21 specific. When we set out to do this, we decided to create a community where people could come every day at the same time to build their business.”

The webinar series, which launched with coach Richard Robbins, will run weekdays until May 21.

Kakino says a number of resources for best practices as determined by CREA, provincial health recommendations and more are in the lineup. “We’ve provided documents about online open houses, Facebook Lives and going paperless. We’re adding things regularly as we get feedback from our network.”

Re/Max of Western Canada is offering its membership Re/Max Hustle podcasts that focus on sales associates who are having success in the current environment using virtual tools. Facebook Live interviews feature sales associates who focus on specific COVID-19 challenges and how to overcome them. Weekly educational sessions are being held to cover everything from business planning to marketing. Weekly Zoom calls with broker/owner groups by zone and region-wide meetings provide an opportunity to discuss mutual challenges and to share ideas, the company says.

Agents are being offered resources to help consumers source government financial and other aid packages, it says, and promotional messages are being realigned to support and thank health care workers.

And something to be enjoyed and appreciated by all: Re/Max is sharing positive stories about agents, brokers and owners who are helping out and supporting their communities.

Since the onset of COVID-19, Coldwell Banker Canada’s Canadian team in Burlington, Ont., has been making ongoing one-on-one calls to every broker in its network. It proved to be an important source of information as the company developed new resources during the first critical weeks.

“We heard great ideas and strategies utilized by local brokerage leaders as they navigated through the unique and rapidly changing challenges presented by this new business reality,” says Andy Puthon, president of Coldwell Banker Canada.

“As we drew upon the considerable resources of our parent company, Realogy and the global Coldwell Banker brand, we also incorporated these uniquely Canadian insights as we developed new initiatives for our Canadian affiliates. We’ve shared best business practices for operating virtually, keeping agents engaged during time of isolation, managing a strong social media presence and critical operational steps brokers can take to meet the challenges and prepare their business for the future.”

The list of resources for Coldwell Banker brokers and managers is long, including a national leadership webinar, broker surveys, a COVID-19 resource hub for brokers and a series of idea-sharing broker videos with topics ranging from operating costs to agent engagement to consumer marketing. A new robust learning calendar includes online courses delivered by Canadian team members throughout Q2.

A consumer campaign, Guiding You Home…virtually, launched April 15 and talks about how to promote virtual open house and remote home showings. New social images for all major platforms have been launched featuring the consumer campaign Guiding You Home, the highest-rated real estate ad of the year to date, the company says.

Other offerings include coping strategies, making walk-through videos and how to look and sound your best on webcam.

A social media campaign called, Home. It’s Everything, helps agents stay in touch with their consumer base with positive messages. Digital images were formatted for Facebook and Instagram to showcase the emotional value of owning a home.

 A series of business-related video sessions was launched internally on April 20.

“The Educational Expo videos provide us with the opportunity to share our expertise with colleagues throughout the industry, to help everyone during these difficult times,” Puthon says.

Exit Realty Corp. International is offering a corporate stimulus package to bolster broker/owners and agents. The Take Action Stimulus Package, the company says, represents over $50 million in value and is a co-ordinated effort providing business tools, enhanced technology and exclusive training at no charge.

Some highlights include personally branded lead generation technology to provide every agent’s clients the ability to text for information on any listing for sale on the MLS. Free training and coaching is being provided by the company’s exclusive international Mind-Set trainers. Topics include sales and marketing, leadership, growth strategies during changing marketing conditions and learning to let go and be present.

The company’s focus is on providing support to its brokerages and agents, and to provide additional tools and training to fortify their business right now and in the future, the company says.

“We recognize that this is a unique window of opportunity for everyone at Exit to work on their business,” says Tami Bonnell, CEO.

Exit has launched new premier partner EasyKnock, which offers sales-leaseback programs so buyers can rent-to-own their new home.

“Adversity doesn’t create character, it amplifies it, and the same can be said for a company’s culture,” Bonnell says. “If a company is focused on answering to shareholders and investors, it’s more likely to lay off staff by email at the first hint of disruption, whereas if a company is privately owned, nimble and focused on people first, it will act quickly to increased opportunities and services during turbulent times.”

At Royal LePage Canada, the Royal LePage Pandemic Fee Relief Plan provides its network with downside protection. “If an agent makes zero, he/she pays zero (fees),” says a company spokesperson. “If an agent makes a little, the agent pays a little. Royal LePage subsidizes their fees.”

The plan moves financial risk from brokers and agents to the company, providing a safety net and some peace of mind at a time when it is needed most, the company says. It also provides flexibility, allowing brokers to implement it in a manner that makes sense for their business.

“If this crisis ends quickly and we somehow make up for the lost months with a market that comes roaring back to life with agents making lots of money, they keep it. They will not pay more than the standard fees,” says the spokesperson.

Brokers and sales reps are continuing to receive a suite of virtual products and services. The company is also working to launch rlpSHPERE, “an end-to-end digital ecosystem that is expected to be a differentiator to the network in 2020 and beyond.”

Royal LePage has a COVID-19 resource centre to help its agents offer essential real estate services (excluding Quebec) and best practices; a Daily Digital email that provides a province-by-province look at news and initiatives and provides resources and interesting activities to help people cope while at home; and specific communications for the Quebec market, where real estate is not on the government list of essential services.

Maintaining Momentum, a weekly live webinar series, was designed to help agents stay focused, positive and productive. Social media covers (for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) have been developed to thank frontline workers and remind clients to be safe during the pandemic. 

The company is also providing Royal LePage documents, such as seller consent, release and indemnity, a property showing health disclosure declaration and an overview of government relief programs related to COVID-19.

“The Business Continuity Response Team continually monitors and meets daily to assess the rapidly changing landscape. Team initiatives include best practices, an upgraded online training platform and company email accounts to Google Suite for Business accounts and a financial webinar on cash management. Brokers who want additional assistance or guidance are being offered a one-on-one consultation,” the company says.

Engel & Völkers is offering two months of brokerage financial relief options, as well as a weekly live stream series hosted by Anthony Hitt, president and CEO of Engel & Völkers Americas. Hitt guides advisors through a personal conversation on self-wellness topics related to staying positive, strong and healthy during challenging times. Special guests are featured on each live stream for added perspectives and valuable lessons.

Advisors can tune in every Wednesday at 8 p.m. or watch episodes on Engel & Völkers’ YouTube channel. During the live stream, advisors can engage via Google Chat @anthonyhitt and send in questions, comments and stories in real time for discussion.

Other initiatives include weekly executive updates. Coffee Time Google Hangouts are offered three times a week. The video conferencing hangouts feature network license partners and advisors who come together to share their best practices.

Network-wide chat channels in the existing Google Suite have been boosted, and training teaches how to leverage all aspects of the Google Suite platform.

The company says it is building on its existing virtual offerings (tours, open houses) by expediting its rollout of Matterport as its strategic partner. Matterport provides an all-in-one 3D data platform that turns a space into an accurate and immerse digital twin (360-degree 3D rendering).

At HomeLife, education is the focus. Before the pandemic, HomeLife was planning a significant upgrade to its online education offerings. Last month, the company launched an all-new virtual learning experience for members via HomeLife University, an education arm led by Gabrielle Jeans, director of education and dean. The combination of live meetings and recorded lessons allow members to build on their careers and gives them a chance to earn their HomeLife Five Star Higher Standards Service Certification while working from home.

The company has also developed a 10-Point Work Plan, an ongoing thought leadership series. The latest video address is by Andy Cimerman, founder and CEO, who uses the tool himself. The plan helps members across the country to adjust to the shifting work schedules caused by COVID-19.