The residential real estate market and the health of the U.S. economy go together like peanut butter and jelly. So when the economy takes a dip—like it has as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic—it’s natural for homebuyers, sellers, and real estate agents to get a little edgy.
But although it will likely be weeks or months before we have a full picture of how the pandemic has affected the residential market, we can say that—in the words comeback king Rocky Balboa—it “ain’t so bad.”
In those fraught first days of the COVID crisis, the agents at Element Realty Group @Allen Tate Realtors felt just like almost everyone else—plagued with uncertainty. But as the days stretched on, the team of 11 Realtors® and two support staff realized something: “We were—and are—really busy,” says team leader AnnMarie Janni. “We didn’t see buyers terminating offers, we didn’t see sellers taking their homes off the market,” she explains. “That gave us confidence.”
North Carolina News Daily recently spoke with AnnMarie to find out how her team channeled their creativity to build their business, and support their community during this ongoing public health emergency.
Know Your Challenges
The last U.S. housing crisis was close to over a decade ago. But its effects are still fresh in the minds of those old enough to have experienced that disastrous 2008 downturn. Understandable, yes. But it’s a mistake to let past fears dictate today’s game plan. “We’re not in a housing crisis. We’re in a health crisis,” points out AnnMarie. “It has nothing to do with housing.”
Prior to the pandemic, the Triangle was a seller’s market, and that shows no signs of changing. While some buyers have put their purchase plans on hold, some sellers have also decided to hold off. “We are definitely seeing a little less inventory,” observes AnnMarie. “But what that means is that there is a real need for housing.”
Low interest rates have supported buyer demand, and low supply has kept prices steady—even driving them up in some cases. “At certain price points—in my opinion 500K and under—we don’t have enough inventory. We’ve had all-day showings, multiple offers, and homes under contract in just days,” AnnMarie says. “People are not afraid to spend.”
Stay Close to Clients
“My initial worry was how the pandemic was going to affect our clients,” AnnMarie recalls. “Our first priority is always our clients and what they’re going through.” Channeling that empathy required AnnMarie and the Element agents to change their perspective. “We shifted from thinking about the transaction to thinking about how we could help lessen our clients’ anxieties”, she says. “How can we make this time a little bit more fun?”
The answer? The Front Porch Project. AnnMarie explains, “We reached out to all of our past clients, and offered them the [complimentary] opportunity to be professionally photographed in front of the home we helped them purchase.” “We shared the picture with the client as a memory of this time,” she says. “We won’t know what things will look like until we’re out of [the pandemic], so we wanted to give our clients something positive they could look back on.”
Those heartwarming images were also social media-ready, providing content for the Element Facebook and Instagram pages. Followers don’t always want to see sales content, and over-advertising on social media will cost you followers—and potential clients. “The posts that do best are the community posts,” AnnMarie confirms. “Most of us are transplants [from other states], so we like to share what we think is great about the community we serve,” she says. “We love our team, our towns, our clients, and we want to spread that love, along with our listings.”
Seeking Partnerships in Apex
Whether it’s wearing a mask or delaying that long-awaited visit to the grandparents’, the pandemic has asked us to put others first. In times like this, strong community ties are essential. In both lifting up the individuals, and the businesses, that are grappling with a new—and perhaps unwelcome—reality.
Historic downtown Apex has an undeniable charm stemming from its history as a bustling railroad town. But “main street” is filled with unique, independently-owned shops and restaurants that would bear the brunt of the virus’s economic impact. “We knew they were going to be struggling quickly,” AnnMarie says. “The businesses needed help but weren’t interested in a handout.”
Along with agents from three other Apex real estate firms, AnnMarie began participating in Apex Realtors Care. Their plan was two-fold: With guidance from the Apex Downtown Business Association, the group would raise over $26,000. They would use this money to purchase gift cards from local stores and restaurants. Then, in partnership with the Apex Public School Foundation, Apex Realtors Care distributed the gift cards (along with “swag bags” from local sponsors) to teachers at each of Apex’s 18 public schools.
“A snowball of good comes from this,” AnnMarie says. In addition to giving downtown business a much-needed revenue boost and showing appreciation for the community’s teachers, AnnMarie expects longer-term benefits from the gift card project. “Using the gift cards, teachers might discover new shops and restaurants, bringing those businesses customers they didn’t have before.”
Looking Ahead in Apex
So what’s next, now that Apex businesses are opening up and regaining their footing? AnnMarie expects another influx of buyers and sellers, as the usually busy spring season transitions into summer. But the agents of Apex Realtors Care and Element Realty Group are never too busy to care. “Our intent is to continue [Apex Realtors Care] and to look for more opportunities to help Apex in any way we can,” says Annmarie. “My philosophy is that, as a small business owner, if you can help, then help.”
To learn about other businesses and how they are adapting to COVID-19, visit our Pivot Series.