Just four years after they started in real estate, Bryan and Colleen Souza weathered the storm of the Great Recession. The Fresno, Calif., real estate pair has now been in business for over 16 years, during which time they’ve sold more than 650 homes — $165 million in real estate.
After successfully emerging from one of the toughest stretches in real estate history, the Souzas feel confident they can maintain their business and mentor other agents through the current pandemic.
“Having gone through all that, I can tell you honestly, today's environment is a hundred times better,” Bryan says. “Having been through this bell curve before, riding the rollercoaster of the Great Recession, I can tell you that there's a lot of opportunity here for agents to really grow their business and not slow their business.”
Colleen says she and her husband were able to pull through the 2008 crash by cultivating relationships and differentiating themselves from other agents.
“We helped them through their circumstances, and then, they shared with other people, ‘Hey, you want someone that cares? Call the Souzas.’ And so what that did over time was cultivate a relationship-based business. And so that's how coming through the Great Recession and through all the housing crisis in ‘08 and all of that era — and working with people that were in serious need — that we were able to develop a reputation that has outlived that era and has carried us into a very successful business.”
But despite their optimism, the Souzas are quick to point out that things aren’t necessarily going to be business as usual. They have already begun to adapt to the changing needs and concerns of their current and potential clients and provide the reassurance they need to move forward.
“Obviously there's going to be a low right now,” Colleen says. “So if you want to have people be calm around you, then present calmness, present, peacefulness — present positiveness … If you choose to go crazy and sideways on this, then you're going to discover your clients are going to be going sideways.”
The Souzas have made it their mission to mentor agents who might benefit from the lessons they’ve already learned themselves. They recently caught up with our team to share their strategies for doing business during the coronavirus outbreak and beyond.
These are their tips for other agents who choose to power through, rather than wait out, the current pandemic.
Go the extra mile for people in your sphere.
Because her 80-year-old mother is currently recovering from a major back surgery, Colleen says she has a heightened awareness of a growing need in her community to help those most at risk.
“Who do you have in your database that is either in those categories that might be at risk? How can you serve them and help them? How can you deliver this stuff to their doorstep? Do you have someone in your database who also cares for an elderly parent? And so you can volunteer to take a little load off — you go do the grocery shopping for them or go run those errands, get gas in their car, for heaven sakes. Whatever you can do that would serve people.”
Check in on your past clients.
Last summer, Colleen was inspired to sit down and write handwritten notes to past clients.
“I threw a few cards in there, reminded them that we loved working with them and that we love them. And one way that they could boost our business and be a part of our life this year was to hand a couple of these cards out. Who do you know that might want them?”
Within a week, the couple had seven new transactions that stemmed from their outreach.
“I gave them the cards and they say, ‘Hey, you know what? ‘My brother!’ ‘Oh, my neighbor!’ ...It makes people feel cared for at a time that they’re stressed, which is going on right now. But the other thing is it does — it does pay off.”
You can also check in with past clients through email, text message, or even a phone call.
Use social media to your advantage.
“If you haven't done so already, rather than scrolling through posts with social media, start embracing social media, send private messages to all of your clients and private messages to everyone,” Bryan says. “You know, chat away — Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn. Have conversations. Everybody has access to these things, and everybody's home, and everybody's more available than they've ever been because they're working from home.”
Bryan says he tries to post positive things going on in his community — like people spending more time with their families, playing outside in their yards or exploring nature.
“Whether it's a quote you post or a quick video or something right now, people want encouraging words … How can you change someone's day for the positive?
“Learn how Facebook algorithms work. So Facebook live, Instagram, TV live — they're going to have a higher reach than just posting a simple meme or an image. Learn about that because you've got time right now to do that and use it to your advantage so that your voice can be heard as the expert in the area.”
Invest in self improvement.
We’re all guilty of putting off things we said we would or should do when we get busy with other things. Now, Colleen says, is the perfect time to stop putting off what you’ve wanted to do.
“Honestly, this is a great week or two or three —maybe four. I don't know what the circumstances are going to be, but this is a great time where you have a little more time in your schedule to go online and take some of those classes that you've seen that might help you.
“So really collaborate with people, find people across the country. There's so many places you can go to be knowledgeable about the market, about what's going on, how it's affecting real estate, how you can be better at what you do. This is a great time to pause and invest in ourselves.”
Cultivate meaningful relationships.
The Souzas owe much of their success during the Great Recession to their ability to form relationships and build trust with clients. And none of it is an act — the Souzas genuinely care about the clients they serve.
“What we used in that time was that people were in need and if we just loved on them — if we took care of them, if we built relationships, if we didn't try to hurry everything — but one at a time, we just took care of the people that came into our world, into our business, into our life… We called all of our clients our real estate family, and we really do feel that way,” Colleen says.
Support local businesses.
Part of establishing your reputation within your community means forming relationships and promoting local businesses.
The Souzas recently promoted a local Mediterranean restaurant through Facebook live and encouraged their followers to order food from them.
“You can do Uber eats, you can do Grubhub, you can do any kind of delivery,” Bryan said.
There are a lot of businesses no longer operating or that are operating below their normal capacities. There are ways you can support them during this time and encourage your followers to do the same.
- Buy gift cards to places like restaurants, bars, hair salons, mechanics, etc. Hold contests on your social media pages to give them away, and encourage your followers to buy gift cards of their own to use at later dates.
- Encourage people in your community to give business to people who still offer products online or who are still open for takeout/delivery.
Don’t put everything on hold.
While the coronavirus might slow business for a short time, it doesn’t mean you have to halt your business completely. If you change your approach and take precautions, the Souzas say, you can make money while other agents sit on the sidelines. These are a few things they’re doing differently to keep their current clients from backing out and continuing to gain new clients.
The Souzas have been taking advantage of modern technology to stay connected to clients, reach new ones, and promote the homes they’re currently listing. Here are some tools they’re using:
- Facebook live and other video sharing programs like Zoom, Skype Google Hangouts or FaceTime
“I am going through all of our properties that are available, and I am doing Facebook lives, and I am making sure people know, ‘Hey, this home is available for you to see — make an appointment,’” Bryan says. “So obviously I can't open doors and let people walk through it freely, but I can freely make sure they feel like they've walked through it virtually and then really encourage them that if this looks to be a fit for them to get their Realtor or give me a call and we'll get them in the property so that they can still see it."
- Google Maps
“So Google maps, you can actually put the property address in Google maps,” Bryan says. “There's a little icon of a person — there's a little orange person. You can drop that person down to the neighborhood, and you can view the neighborhood. How many times have agents driven to a home and they get out of the car and the buyer looks at the neighborhood, about 10 seconds later, says, ‘I don't want to buy this house.’ You can save everybody that time using Google maps.”
“Now, just about everybody uses digital signatures — digital signatures for sellers and documents, but also mobile notaries,” Bryan says. “So every title company has a relationship with mobile notaries. They can go right to their home, and that notary can meet one-on-one, especially if they're elderly. They can meet one on one with that, with the seller, get all the documents, sign and take it back to the title company so that that person doesn't have to go into the title company or the title company is closed, which has happened in some places.”
Setting Showing Restrictions
“So we have put three house houses on the market this week, and we have to — because we're on a stay at home, shelter in place — we had to modify our open houses. So what are we doing in our market to comply with step number one, we put a little note over in the restroom,” Bryan says. “It says, ‘Please do not use the toilet.’”
They are also setting restrictions on the number of people who can tour a house at any one time and attending all showings of the homes they’re selling.
“We're going to ask adults to hold the children's hands,” Bryan says. “We'll have most of the doors open for people already and all the lights will be on, so eliminating the touching of surfaces is going to be really important to comply, as well.”
“It's gonna be a little more work for me, but it gives my sellers the assurance that people are being monitored in their home or that if something happens, I'll be able to report that to them,” Colleen says. “I'm going to let you know the person that came through never stopped sneezing. You might want to go buy a case of Clorox wipes, whatever the situation is, and then reassuring them to clean the house up afterwards.
They are also modifying open house procedures by standing outside of the property during the time frame the open house is being held and taking families through one at a time.
The Souzas have done their best to encourage their sellers to be patient and reevaluate their expectations in the current market.
“We sent out a very lengthy email this morning just encouraging them, ‘Your house will sell,” Colleen says. “We are still in a seller’s market and our market, we have two months worth of inventory. It's not enough. I mean, houses are still going to get multiple offers in our area right now if it was a standard market ... It's important to just remind our sellers that it may take an extra few weeks because of all of this.
“And that way, if they have an expectation that their home might not sell for 60 days, but it sells in 22, now we have over-delivered.”
Cultivating Buyer Relationships
Because current buyer demand is so high, even if it drops off for the few weeks the country is sheltering in place, those buyers will still be anxious to find homes once things settle down. The Souzas are using this time to build relationships with buyers who will want to work with them when things return to normal.
“Buyers are concerned right now, interest rates and mortgage markets and all that,” Bryan says. “Partner with a loan officer and do a Zoom meeting … that the loan officer can talk about the interest rates, can talk about what's going on in the bond market, can talk about how now is the best time ever for buyers to buy and use that to market on your social media that you are the expert because you brought in an expert.
“It's never about just what business is going on right now,” he says. “Otherwise, we'll starve. It has to be the business that we're doing in three months, the business that we're doing in six months. What's in your pipeline? What's in the hopper? So this is a great time as you're working with your buyers who may be a little distance out, make some fun little educational videos, make them just that seem personal but just generic enough where you make the one on what's the process and why do you get pre-approved? What's the escrow process look like? So if they feel like it's going just to them — but really what you're doing is creating one and you're sending it out to all the potential buyers — you have a great time to educate buyers.”
The Souzas have built their business around being transparent and truly caring for the clients they serve. They encourage other agents to become someone people can rely on in this difficult time.
“I don't think there's any magic. I think it's just being authentic,” Bryan says. “And at the end of the day, your authenticity means more to people. I think agents are so worried about perfection, right? They're worried about perfection, and they're worried about doing everything absolutely right … You being authentic is way more important than how your hair looks, how you're dressed and all those things … Get out there and start. Get out there and just do it.”