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REAL Trending  Special Edition: Leading Through A Challenging Market

May 15, 2020 6:00:00 AM

Find out how Nancy Fennell and her leadership team considered the safety of their agents first while developing a plan for business during the Pandemic.

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. This is Tracey Velt, Editor-in-Chief of Content for REAL Trends. Today, we're speaking with Nancy Fennel, CEO and Broker/Owner of Dickson Realty in Nevada. Welcome, Nancy.

Nancy Fennell:

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Tracey Velt:

Great, so I'm going to go ahead and start at the very beginning. Tell me a little bit about some of the business steps you've taken immediately to lessen the impact of the Coronavirus and the basic shutdown of our communities on the company.

Nancy Fennell:

So first we concentrated on safety. We closed our offices to the public. We reduced our staff to really one person about every 6000 square feet. We've asked our agents to work from home, work remotely, use a separate entrance when they come in. And that is Nevada. In California, last Friday, all offices were closed and so they're closed.

Everyone is shelter in place and don't go to work. We have reduced payroll immediately and we started with partners. We didn't feel like we could roll everyone back, particularly those who live at a different level without us taking the first hit. Then we went to managers and senior staff, then frontline administration, and we actually didn't reduce their rates, we just rolled their hours back.

We've looked at every operational expense from occupancy and rents, although we own most of our building, but it's more about cashflow. Everything from janitorial to coffee services to couriers, we have changed because no one's in the office.

Nancy Fennell:

We've changed that janitorial to once a week. We've put the coffee service on hold. We're acting as the couriers. We're negotiating with all our vendors, including our software licensing vendors. We've looked at all marketing, advertising, and software engagement. 30% engagement of tools is probably not going to be good enough for right now. So we're really looking hard at everything and we're applying for everything we can get that's offered through SBA and other government entities.

Tracey Velt:

Okay, great. And now you're saying Nevada though, have you seen much of an impact in Nevada?

Nancy Fennell:

I think this morning there were 107 cases that had been identified in Washoe County, which is the county that we're in, which is a big geographical area. It goes from just South of Reno all the way to the Oregon border. I think we've had four deaths, so certainly we are not in the same place that other urban areas are.

Tracey Velt:

Okay. Okay, so you said your office was still open though in Nevada?

Nancy Fennell:

Yes. Our Governor last Friday said that we real estate and real estate related affiliated businesses are essential business. So technically we can be open.

Tracey Velt:

Okay. Okay, great. So how have you been communicating to your agents, particularly I guess the California agents, but really probably everybody? Have you held virtual meetings? Are you sending videos? And how frequently are you doing that?

Nancy Fennell:

They're probably tired of hearing from us but we start with our branch managers and they're talking to the agents. Our partners are calling every agent at least one time a week. We're holding multiple daily virtual training sessions. A lot of those are one-on-one, which have been very productive.

Last Wednesday, we held our first Google Meets Sales Meeting. We talked about safety, we talked about new office hours and operations. We had a 90 day plan for our agents. We had inspirational videos. We're doing daily written communication first about how to stay safe for agents and our clients, then including things like a help survey questionnaire that we ask people to respond to.

The next, we're about safety of our staff that were in the offices. For about the past five days we've been getting ready because tomorrow is April 1st. We're getting ready with rent release applications for our property management business and procedures on how to communicate with both tenants and property owners.

Nancy Fennell:

We're trying to do a weekly data report. So every Monday we're sending out to everyone what's happening in our business. Fear is paralyzing so knowing what's going on, like the number of closings, the number of showings, the number of open escrows, canceled escrow, data, data, data, that allows our agents to share with their clients.

Tracey Velt:

Okay, great. So you sound like you're doing a great job with communication. And I know this is very different than the 2008 downturn, but what did you learn during that that's helping you lead through this current time?

Nancy Fennell:

I think how important it is to be a leader, to be the calm voice, to have a team that you're in constant communication that rolls out from everyone to everyone. We actually have, our interim tagline right now and everything that we're doing with our agent is, focus over fear.

Tracey Velt:

Okay.

Nancy Fennell:

So action and movement reduces anxiety and all of us and our managers and our agents and ultimately to our clients.

Tracey Velt:

Okay.

Nancy Fennell:

I think pivoting and moving quickly is what we learned. We learned to live simply and could be as debt free as possible.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah, definitely. So what advice do you have for smaller brokers, maybe one office brokers or those who might be struggling right now with the idea of what this may look like for them?

Nancy Fennell:

Well, I think apply for everything through SBA and other entities. Listen to every webinar, every meet, anyone that you can listen to that is bigger than you listen to them because really we all need to be doing the same thing.

I was on a call this morning with REAL Trends' Steve Murray and four of the top companies in the country, the four largest companies, and I'm just struck, there's no other industry that shares like our industry does. So reach out. I know I'm talking to a lot of the smaller brokers who are calling asking, "How are we have this?" Or, "How do we handle that?" We want everyone to survive.

Tracey Velt:

I agree. It would be very nice. So let's just put the numbers aside. And my last question is I just want to know how are you feeling right now about everything?

Nancy Fennell:

I am focused, but realistically, I am going to be thrilled if we're back to somewhat of a normal place in the next six months and I'm hopeful that we will survive. I worry most about the people who live more paycheck to paycheck in our communities, the casino workers and the domestic people and those people who just don't have a lot of reserve, the restaurant workers. All of our restaurants are closed.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah.

Nancy Fennell:

So I am feeling hopeful but focused and trying to be realistic and calm and just gathering data, and passing it on. And listening to every single person that I can listen to.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah, definitely. Well, Nancy, thank you so much. I know you're super busy, so I appreciate you taking the time to speak with REAL Trends and I wish you the best of luck.

Nancy Fennell:

Well, thank you.

Tracey Velt:

Stay well.

Nancy Fennell:

I wish you all the best of luck and I'm happy to help anyone.

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