How do you show empathy when you’re social distancing?

by Martin Cooper on May 4, 2020

Real estate agents need to be able to better show their empathy to Kiwis who are under financial and emotional stress, says one of the industry’s leading figures.

Martin Cooper, who runs Harcourts Cooper & Co on Auckland’s North Shore, says housing market headlines since the start of the Covid-19 crisis have been dramatic, and many Kiwis will be fearful for their employment and their financial position.

Real estate agents typically thrive in one-to-one meetings with buyers and sellers, so how do they connect with people when social distancing is still required, and may be the norm for quite some time?

Cooper says his team used the four-and-a-half week lockdown that ended earlier this week to find ways to bridge the gap.

“The old cliché is ‘better never stops’ and better is required right now. We’re going to have to work harder than we have for a long time to help people,” he says, adding that his agents have been doing a lot of preparation for life at Alert Level 3.

The easing of lockdown restrictions has allowed the real estate industry to start work again. While open homes are still banned, viewings by appointment are permitted, with agents allowed to hold two private viewings a day for properties that are for sale or for rent.

Harcourts Cooper and Co’s Martin Cooper says his agents have been working hard to prepare for the challenges of Level 3. Photo / Ted Baghurst

Cooper says Kiwis are all in this together, and the job of his agents is to help people find solutions.

“If we can help sell some of their real estate to relieve a financial burden then we’ll do it to the best and in the most gracious manner that we can,” he says.

Other clients may not be in financial hardship but looking at upgrading and when the market is uncertain customers need the best real estate service available, Cooper says.

Harcourts agents Jordan Selwyn and Brooke Barrass say they have looked at ways to limit in-person contact with clients – which is challenging for a job that typically involves a lot of driving around at 10.30pm with contracts and sitting down with people.

“That’s obviously a bit dated and we’ve got technology that can do better than that, but it’s hard as well because there’s so much information you learn by sitting down across from somebody face to face,” Selwyn says.

He says using tech solutions like FlexiSign for documents when negotiating contracts “will make a big difference rather than sitting down with our vendors face to face every couple of days”.

“And now everyone’s au fait with Zoom, whereas previously it was only a handful of people. Everybody knows about it so our clients are more comfortable using technology.”

He and Barrass spent time making sure their listings were comprehensive with excellent floorplans available and with good walkthrough 3D technology – something which vendors may find they need to invest in as part of their marketing from now on.

He hopes mortgage relief measures will limit the amount of pressured sales, and he advises people who are thinking of selling to try to resolve unconsented works on their properties.

“Now that we are in an environment where banks are going to be more cautious with their lending vendors should consider working a little bit harder to remove those obstacles prior to listing.”

Phil Mitchell, a senior agent also on the North Shore, says his team is proactive about keeping in touch as vendors “need a bit of love at the moment. They need to know you’re thinking about them and caring about what happens and not pushing them into something.

“I don’t worry about what the market’s going to do, I just know that day to day we deal with the market. You have to be proactive, not reactive, so you just deal with the day to day.”

Martin CooperHow do you show empathy when you’re social distancing?