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REAL Trending  Special Edition: Leading Through A Challenging Market

Apr 17, 2020 7:00:00 AM

Candace Adams, CEO, Berkshire Hathaway HomeService, New England, New York and Westchester Properties

Located in one of the harder-hit areas of the U.S., Adams and her leadership team took a deep dive into their marketing budget, halted all sponsorships and started a weekly communication plan with staff, agents and leadership. Find out what other steps she took to minimize losses due to the coronavirus.

Tracey Velt:

In this special edition of the REAL Trending Podcast, we're speaking to real estate leaders on what they're doing to minimize the impact of the coronavirus on their businesses. We'll talk about actions they're taking, lessons learned from 2008 and more.

Tracey Velt:

This is Tracey Velt, editor in chief of content for REAL Trends. Today we're speaking to Candace Adams, president and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England, New York and Westchester Properties. Welcome, Candace.

Candace Adams:

Hi Tracey, thank you so much for having me.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah, thanks for joining REAL Trends. I know things are busy for you right now and so I'll kind of cut right to the chase. Tell me some of the business steps that you've taken immediately to lessen the impact on the company.

Candace Adams:

Yeah, we are all working remotely both on our New York offices and our Connecticut, Rhode Island offices. In New York, we are considered non-essential and so everyone is actually in lockdown and so we've been able to allow all of them to work remotely. Connecticut, it's a little less strict but what we did do is close our offices to all but one person per office.

Candace Adams:

We've made sure that we have significant online presence for all of our sellers and access to virtual showings for our buyers. We're looking obviously at across the board, what we're going to do to have operational excellence and some efficiency with our P&L.

Tracey Velt:

Okay. So have you made any cuts overall yet or taken, retooled your budget or started saving cash, any of those business steps?

Candace Adams:

So what we've done is, we have three buckets obviously, we have marketing, we have occupancy and we have staff. And so we've tried to preserve our employees, right now we have offered them shorter hours if they'd like. Some of them who are actually non-essential and who were receptionists or just couldn't work remotely from home, they are getting paid for two weeks and then we'll look at it with them after that.

Candace Adams:

We have taken a deep dive right away into our marketing budget and we were still one of those last companies who did print that we have eliminated, all of our print advertising and that will probably be forever. And we are looking at streamlining our digital marketing as well. We've gotten rid of all of our sponsorships, we just wiped those right out of our budget for the year, anything that we're doing outside of the norm.

Candace Adams:

And we're really zeroing in on making sure that as I said, our virtual presence is significant and we have actually got into partnership with some companies that are providing us with video services, so we're increasing our spend there. And then lastly, we've contacted all of our landlords and we're asking them for some kind of relief.

Tracey Velt:

Okay, okay. So tell me a little bit about that, you said that you're communicating to your agents. Have you held any company-wide virtual meetings or are you sending videos out? What does that look like?

Candace Adams:

We're doing all of the above. We're having company-wide announcements that are going through social, they're going via email, they're going via video, we have Zoom meetings, we have Zoom meetings with our management team weekly and sometimes more than weekly depending on the need. Each one of our offices is doing the Zoom meetings as well and inviting me so I get an opportunity to go and see everyone at an individual office.

Candace Adams:

We've not done a company-wide Zoom meeting at this point because we do have close to 2000 agents, not sure how that would work out. But we definitely are looking at every single possible way of communicating across the board both digitally, in person, on Zoom and via email and social.

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Tracey Velt:

Okay. And obviously this is very, very different than the 2008 downturn but there are things that you probably did during that time that allowed you to learn what will help you lead through a crisis. So tell me a little bit about that, what did you learn during that downturn that's actually helping you through the coronavirus crisis?

Candace Adams:

Well I think we learned in the 2008, '09 that there were really weren't any sacred cows that we did go through our P&L and go line by line and pretty much eliminate whatever we felt we needed to eliminate and it wasn't really that bad, I will say.

And if I look back, the one thing we did eliminate and we shouldn't have because we're actually in our offices then, we eliminated coffee and water and I would never do that again because that was not well-received. But we're not in our offices now and so we're looking at just every single line item and we did that in 2008, '09.

Candace Adams:

And one of the things that we were very successful in doing in those years was the scaling back on our occupancy costs. And the landlords were really good, we worked with them and some of them just gave a strict rate, rent abatement, and some of those we extended the leases to give another, an extra year at the end, or that we trued it up after a year of going on a small abatement from them.

Candace Adams:

So we've learned a lot, we know that we can eliminate low-hanging fruit, cleaning companies, supplies, copy machines, communications, marketing. So it really wasn't as hard this time to pull that P&L out and do the line by line and start crossing off and we're just going to continue to do that.

Tracey Velt:

Okay, great. What advice do you have for other brokers who are struggling right now and concerned about the future with how long this may last?

Candace Adams:

Well my advice would be, again, looking at those buckets and starting with an occupancy, any lease that hasn't been signed, if you have any leases out or month-to-month office leases, I would consider closing. I think that's an opportune time to do that, you can get back into the market when the time is right but just relieve yourself of that number one, obviously if you have a lease and you have terms and you have to work with that.

Candace Adams:

Secondly, I really would look at your entire staff and employee counts and I'd go after that, I try to really make a change there. One would be surprised if you're reaching out to your employees and asking them to volunteer to take fewer hours or time-off or furloughed. Many of them would step up to the plate believe it or not, an offer to do that.

Candace Adams:

Some might be ready to retire and just retire earlier, so there's opportunity there. I think that we have to be fluid and nimble and be able to take each day at a time and look at where we are spending our money and opportunities to consolidate offices, consolidate management over offices more than one office, consolidate administrative staff and centralize as much as you can see a fewer bodies doing it.

Tracey Velt:

Okay. And I know a couple of the brokers I've spoken with feel like there will be a lot of pent up demand either to sell or to buy and they're expecting that to come forward once the crisis is lessened. Do you feel the same way?

Candace Adams:

I do think we're going to have pent up demand and I think if we have listings that are not coming on the market, we're going to have an inventory problems, so we are encouraging our sellers to continue with their plan of listing their property. And even though we're listing it virtually, we're getting it out there and having it ready to be shown because when this thing ends, I think we're going to see a fabulous market.

Tracey Velt:

Okay. And I know in Florida, the Florida Realtors have put together an addendum for the coronavirus for buyers, and do you have anything like that in any of your states right now?

Candace Adams:

We do. We have addendum, we have our own addendums that we did for buyers, we've added it to our buyer rep agreements and these are states have done so as well.

Tracey Velt:

Okay. And finally my last question is, let's just put the numbers aside and talk about what you're feeling right now.

Candace Adams:

I think there's a massive amount of anxiety. We are going to be hosting a Zoom meeting with our management team and then I'm going to encourage them with their agents as well with the psychologist to try to get them through the mental anxiety of this because we just can't control it. And most of us certainly who are entrepreneurial are control freaks and there's nothing we can do to control this so we've got to put it in perspective and it's very, very hard, it's very scary.

Candace Adams:

You worry about your loved ones, you worry about your friends, your family, and we are in the epicenter of this virus in New York and now in parts of Connecticut. And so we're experiencing things that we never dreamed would happen and we're going to be fine, we'll come out of it but right now I think we have to be very careful to understand that emotions are running high and people need care, consideration and patience.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah, great advice. Well Candace, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with REAL Trends today, I appreciate that.

Candace Adams:

Thank you so much Tracey, I appreciate your time and take care of yourself, stay healthy.

Tracey Velt:

Yes, you too, stay well.

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