Why real estate agents need to tell stories, not sell promotions right now

After five weeks down the coast*, I came home to a letterbox stuffed full of real estate flyers. Every single one of them talked about themselves – their Google reviews, their qualifications and the fact that they had made a sale around the corner, although not revealing a price, address or anything useful.

Not a single piece of marketing paid any kind of passing recognition that there was a global pandemic, or even that people were in lockdown. Don’t say the C-word, seemed to be the agreed approach.

The result was that every single one of them seemed delusional and out of touch. Every one of them stank of what TOM PANOS CALLS “COMMISSION BREATH”.

Not one did anything that would even vaguely encourage me to actually sell with them. I mean, if an agent thinks one of the world’s biggest economic shocks isn’t worth mentioning, what else won’t he or she tell me?

At a time when potential sellers need insights, help, confidence and support, these agents talked about themselves and their needs.

Here’s what we all need to be doing instead:  

Once Upon A Time, A Wicked Pandemic Terrified All The Villagers In The Market…

Tell a story.

Remember when you were frightened as a kid? Chances are, one of your parents would have hugged you close, sat you on their knee and told you a story to help you stop feeling afraid.

In stories, we suspend our disbelief. Heroes regularly face impossible challenges, fight terrible villains, overcome obstacles, win hearts, and come out the other side. Stories help give us perspective and information about what to do. They help us process events and circumstances. They provide advice and guidance and help us process our fears.

Which is why there has never been a more important time than right now for real estate agents to start sharing stories.

Stories Always Start With A Dilemma

Every good fairytale starts with a problem. A princess has been asleep for 100 years. Hansel and Gretel had no food. Red Ridinghood’s grandma was sick.

In the real world right now, Covid-19 is one doozy of a dilemma. Property buyers, sellers, investors and renters – and agents – have all been thrown for six. What do we do? Is it safe to do anything? In times of uncertainty, the natural response is to do nothing or to stop what you were doing. That’s why we’ve seen transactions drop off so steeply, and sellers withdraw from the market.

Sharing these sorts of stories help people understand that their response is completely normal and gives them a safe place to start to explore the idea of responding differently.

Everyone Is Afraid Right Now

Fear is a constant in our lives at the moment. We’re scared we will get sick, or someone we care about will. We’re frightened we will lose our jobs, or for those who already have, there are worries if we can make the money available make the stretch. We’re worried about going out, touching our faces, putting on weight, drinking too much, ruining our kids by being appalling homeschoolers  – there’s a million fears, and all of them valid. 

In real estate, sellers are worried their property won’t sell for the price they want or that they’ll catch the virus from someone who visits their home. Or that if they do sell, they won’t be able to find anything to buy because of reduced stock and they’re worried they will be homeless.

Buyers are worried they will pay too much in a market that’s easing. They worry that now might not be the right time to buy – what if things get worse after they’ve bought and prices drop further? While real estate agents are worried that in an environment of seriously declining listings, their jobs and income are on the line.

The wicked pandemic does seem to be an impossible monster.

What Is The Story Of Covid-19 So Far?

But all stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Right now, we’re in the middle of the Covid-19 tale. Transactions are down by about 30 to 40 per cent, but property values have not plummeted. Prices are holding firm because listing volumes and seller activity is so low, the supply of properties to buy is limited.

Current isolation policies are seen as necessary but temporary. Sellers assume these will end soon so many can afford to hold out for a price they like. There has been no wholesale rush of distress sales. This is thanks to banking policies to pause mortgages and government action to support many who have lost jobs.

Our monster, while having terrible jaws and terrible teeth, has terrified but not destroyed the market.

Meanwhile, the villagers are getting restless. The summer market was seriously affected by bushfires, while Autumn was a bust due to coronavirus. It’s not that people don’t want to transact – many have been itching to since late last year. It’s just that right now they’re not sure if it’s safe.

Where Will The Story Go Next?

In fairytale terms, the monster will be defeated by a vaccination, or a great battle will wound him seriously causing it to withdraw. But there will an ongoing worry that he could return with a vengeance.

In Australia our winter market is a time when volumes are typically lower. This indicates the recovery of transaction volume will be slow over the next few months before it jumps into serious overdrive in spring. It means a period of fewer transactions at good prices before the market leaps in terms of volumes. At this point, prices are likely to soften a little as they so often do in spring.

What Stories Should You Be Sharing Right Now?

After more than a month of lockdown, every resident in your local market is sick to death of where they live. Everyone is starting to go stir crazy. At the same time, lockdown has been an extraordinary time to help us understand the importance of home.

For those who have found their domicile wanting, the impetus to move is going to be extraordinarily strong. So why wait until spring on the basis of an urban myth that it is the ‘right’ time to sell or buy? The time to act is when everyone else hesitates.

We need to share the story with vendors that now is not the time to be frightened. You just need to work the market. You are still very likely to get a very good price due to low supply, and with the new technology that agents have quickly deployed, it’s possible to manage inspections and hold auctions and negotiations virtually so the risk of catching the disease during the sale is significantly minimised.

As isolation restrictions lift – even if they’re gradual – market activity will also increase. For those even just thinking of selling, now is exactly the right time to start to prepare. But wait til Spring and you’ll be joining thousands of other properties on the market.

Share The Happy Ever After With Your Sellers

In this story, the agent is not the hero. Rather, we are the magic weapon wielded by our sellers to help them feel brave and beat the monster.

It’s our job to make our heroes feel safe. Foretold, is forearmed. Our role is the guide to get them through this successfully.

Now is the time for agents to put your sellers fears at the centre of your narrative. Add market insights and experience, think through the consequences and speak calmly and directly to that.

Markets only ever do three things; they go up, they go down, they go sideways. In every single one of these situations, sellers need information to help them avoid making a bad decision. They need help to make great decisions, and reassurance that what they’re doing is going to be okay.

So yes there is a monster, yes, it is scary. But with the right game plan and magic talisman, every hero gets a happy ending in the home of their dreams.

  • Our house at Bingie Corner is currently being rented to a doctor working as a locum at Moruya Hospital.