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REAL Trending Special Edition: Leading Through a Challenging Market

Ryan Gorman, president and CEO of Coldwell Banker Real Estate

Gorman says he’s learned one big lesson during his time in leadership: provide clarity and communicate continually. This has especially been vital during the pandemic when the Realogy headquarters building has been closed for business.

Find out what Gorman and the leadership team are doing to serve network agents and brokers through a challenging market.


Tracey Velt:

Welcome to the REAL Trending podcast, where we talk to real estate leaders about current market trends, market opportunities, lessons learned and more. This is Tracey Velt, editor of content for REAL Trends.

Today, I’m speaking with Ryan Gorman, president and CEO of Coldwell Banker Real Estate. Previously, Ryan served as NRT’s chief strategy and operating officer and senior vice president of strategic operations. Welcome, Ryan.

Ryan Gorman:

Well, thanks. Thanks for having me.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. So let’s talk a little bit about COVID. So obviously, the country, most of the country, is reopening. I say post COVID, but it’s really in the middle of it still. So tell me how Coldwell Banker, as a company, was impacted and how you’re doing today.

Ryan Gorman:

Sure. Yeah. I mean, you put it well. We’re kind of still in the middle of it. But I think what’s happened is everyone’s learning to live with it, hopefully, learning to live with it safely and to transact. So as a company, we had to pivot really quickly, like everyone else.

We had to try and pivot to being able to do everything we possibly could do virtually. Fortunately, we had the tools available to be able to do that, but it was a learning curve for everyone to become more familiar with everything that we had out there.

So of course our adoption rates skyrocketed. But we were able to pivot pretty quickly and also to help our agents to pivot pretty quickly using a lot of the kind of consumer facing tools, including Facebook live and even TikTok.

I’m sure you’ve seen examples of agents making creative use of TikTok to try and market properties when they weren’t able to get consumers into the property once people were home and had time to dream, but not necessarily the ability to transact just yet.

Ryan Gorman:

So fortunately, now we’ve been deemed an essential service in most markets, and we helped to ensure that took place in a lot of areas, and educating governors and legislators about how we can transact safely.

So now we are crazy busy, as so many people are, with an inventory constrained environment and just a lot more compressed selling season than we’ve seen in the past. So people are running around like mad right now, but we’re still trying to do so very safely and as efficiently as possible.

Tracey Velt:

Okay. Great. Many brokerage firms and national networks had to pivot priorities due to the markets temporarily closing and potential short term disruption. So tell me about what Coldwell Banker is doing now to serve their brokerage leaders and help them through this unprecedented time.

Ryan Gorman:

Sure. Well, early on, I’d say even today, we just try to remind everyone, including ourselves, that our priority is the health and safety of our people. So we really tried to focus on making sure that we got everyone safe and kept everyone safe.

So try to make sure people can work remotely who have the best information and most recent information available from all of the most credible sources about how to stay safe, how to transact safely.

That helped them to also be able to educate their clients, for instance, on, ways in which they can gain confidence in knowing that they can be able to move forward and keep themselves and their families safe, but also move forward with their lives.

Ryan Gorman:

So part of that is communication, part of it is just reaching out and listening, and a big part of it is trying to make sure they have all of the tools they need to be successful, including the technology.

So we try to make sure that they have a high utilization rate of what we make available, as well as what they might decide to get for themselves. So we put on virtual education expos to try and make sure that, again, they had a really high understanding of the tools we make available and how to most efficiently use them.

But we also brought on people from, for instance, Facebook, to make sure that they were able to use even those consumer facing tools as efficiently as possible, whether it’s Facebook live, or using Facebook and Instagram to market properties in ways that they hadn’t in the past, and sort of catchy high ROI approaches to try and allocate their time. So that was a lot of our focus.

Ryan Gorman:

We’re still doing that today. So we’re still networking virtually, we’re still connecting folks virtually and making sure that they could use those tools in really efficient ways. And one of the best examples we saw come from that was how our agents were using somewhat we provide, but a lot of what they create, to really help their communities, whether that’s raising money, creating awareness of certain issues, helping be able to do shopping for folks, making face coverings, making sure that neighborhoods had wifi access, the kids who were trying to attend school remotely head wifi access.

So a lot of our focus was trying to make sure that our communities had what they needed, which is of course what real estate agents do best. And we were just enabling that, which was pretty cool.

Tracey Velt:

Okay. Any new initiatives that you have happening soon or just recently launched?

Ryan Gorman:

Sure. We have a lot going on. So we really didn’t pull back on a lot of what we were rolling out. I know a lot of firms had to do that, unfortunately, totally understandably, but we tried to just kind of charge forward with a lot of what we were rolling out.

So for instance, our RealVitalize program, which is our listing make ready program that we had already rolled nationally through Coldwell Banker Realty, the company owned brokerage operations, we were gearing up to expand that, to allow a listing client to be able to do paint, carpet, landscaping, repairs, get the property ready to list.

And we were able to continue that rollout. And a lot of folks took advantage of that during the downturn in the moments where they couldn’t necessarily sell, but they had time to maybe complete some work on the property. They were able to get that done. So it was a big initiative.

Ryan Gorman:

We even launched our pilot teams for new programs, whether that’s Exclusive Look, which we’ve now rolled out nationally on the company owned side and moving over to the affiliate side, which gives folks an early look at properties that are coming on the market or broker exclusives, or even a real short program, which we just augmented.

That’s a 45 day cash offer program that’s already available to our company owned as well as affiliated operations in a number of different markets today, which that is essentially a cash offer that’s valid for 45 days, that gives you the confidence when you list your home to know that you’ve always got that backstop there.

And we even enhanced that last week to extend it to another 45 days, if indeed you accepted another offer, but you just wanted to keep that sort of backstop behind you along the way, and even an option to flexible stay. So if you take advantage of that option, you sell to us, then we can still allow you to stay in the property for up to 30 days.

Ryan Gorman:

So there’s a lot going on. We didn’t pull back too much on that. Tough to crack through the messaging. There’s a lot of messaging flying around to keep these programs going, but there are a lot of people who are really paying attention.

So we had a lot of our highest participation rates ever with some of our programs. I mean, thousands and thousands of folks joining our sessions to be able to share some of this information, which is great.

Tracey Velt:

Great. I’m sure you’ve learned a lot of lessons adapting to COVID-19. So what are two of the top lessons you’ve learned through this and maybe through your business career as well?

Ryan Gorman:

Two across my career. I’ve learned so many lessons and I feel like I keep relearning some of the same lessons. Maybe that’s just the cycle of life in business, but two that stand out. I think they apply to COVID as well as beyond COVID. I’d say the importance of clarity and accountability.

So the extreme importance of being very, very clear about what you’re trying to accomplish, and then holding yourself and your team or your partners to account for accomplishing that. Not for the effort that you put into it, but for the actual accomplishment of the goal.

I think oftentimes goals are developed and you develop a plan for how to achieve the goal and you end up rewarding yourself and others for the effort that goes against the goal, as opposed to the actual accomplishment itself. So I think that’s pretty important to have that clarity and the accountability.

Ryan Gorman:

And I think all of that rests on, I’d say, a foundation of communication. You know this. You’re in the communication business to a degree. Communication is extremely challenging because the goal of communication is understanding. We often settle for frequency or receipt of a message, as opposed to understanding of the content.

And I think whether it’s the clarity of mission or holding folks accountable, if you don’t have a really strong foundation of communication to the point of understanding, it’s very difficult to accomplish. So I keep relearning those lessons, but they also help us a lot as we’re trying to roll out a lot of new initiatives, drive a lot of change, drive a lot of growth. The communication, clarity and accountability are really crucial.


Tracey Velt:

Yeah, definitely. So with all you know about the real estate industry and the data you have on the brokerage firms in your network, what is your view of the next 12 months? Do you see any trends emerging?

Ryan Gorman:

Sure. I think some of them have been cited a fair bit, but we’ve done some surveying work to be able to gain some insights into them.

But the concept of, now that we’re living in our homes and spending much more of our waking hours in our homes than ever before, for people to refer to it as trying to set it up as a staycation almost and equipping their homes with all the amenities that they might otherwise find elsewhere, like a home office, like a home gym, and really perhaps needing something different from their home, which is part of why we see so much volume out in the market is, they’ve shifted to a different need.

Ryan Gorman:

During the initial days, especially during some state lockdowns, some people had to make some decisions, sight unseen. We had over 20% of our agents say at some point they did have an offer from a buyer that was sight unseen. So there were a lot of people who were trying to move forward with their lives and didn’t let the restriction stop them from making an offer.

I don’t think that’s the future trend necessarily, but I do think there are a lot of people who will take advantage of some of the virtual tools to make their search more efficient while they try to seek out those amenities.

Ryan Gorman:

We had 79% saying right now they’re working at home multiple days a week. Over 70% doing online training at some point during the week. Over 50% of our folks reporting that they’re doing regular video calls. So that suddenly brings a need for quiet, a need for certain kinds of backgrounds and lighting. The demand for natural light is up. So I think all of those things will continue as we think about the next 12 months, or certain multiple phases of those.

And one of them is what everyone’s wondering about, which is the school year starting. So in many areas, the school year starts in August, in other areas in September. And I think what we’re going to have, as some people choose to keep their kids virtual instead of sending them back physically, or even some districts make that decision, we may have an elongated selling season that goes into the school year more deeply than it has in the past. In part because our selling season was compressed in the first place and demand is so high.

Ryan Gorman:

And I think a lot of that is driven by people just accelerating life plans, which I think we’re going to see continue for the next 12 months, whether it’s the young family in Manhattan that was going to move out to Montclair, North Jersey in two years, but now decided, well, why wait? Why not just go now? Or it’s the North Jersey couple in the middle of their career that decides that they were going to move to North Carolina in 10 years and they already bought a vacation place there.

Why not make that change now that they can work remotely or more remotely? Why not make that change now as opposed to later? So that acceleration of life plans and that compressed selling season, I think is going to lead to an elongated selling season into the school year, that does focus more on those amenities, like the outdoor space and home office, room for home gym, all that stuff.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. Yeah. I’m in Florida, and right now, the school year was supposed to start the 12th of August, now it’s the 26th. But there’s all kinds of things going on with the teacher’s union trying to push that back even further. So we have no idea.

Ryan Gorman:

It’s an adventure, it’s an adventure. I mean, you’re in Florida, which now, is more of a hotspot, and of course the whole nation’s attention and hopes for you are focused on you as well so everyone stays safe. But it’s a bit of a microcosm, what everyone’s facing, which is a high degree of uncertainty and an inability to project very long and yet also, a continued reinforcing of the value of home.

So, I imagine if you’re in Florida and your neighbor has a pool with a lanai and you don’t, but you’re trapped at home with kids for months on end, I imagine the pool builders are probably doing a swift trade right now. So I think there’s a lot of that sort of renewed understanding of the value of the home.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah, definitely. So my last question really revolves around opportunities. So real estate leaders are a resilient group. They’ve been through a lot in the past with depressions, recessions.

This is very different obviously. But when there’s challenge, there’s opportunity. So knowing that, where do you see the most opportunity in the real estate industry in the next six months to a year?

Ryan Gorman:

It’s a good question. I do think opportunity abounds. And then a little bit different from essentially the pandemic focus that we’re in right now, but I think linked to another sort of overall society focus that we have, within Coldwell Banker anyway, we launched a diversity and ownership program back in February that came from 2019 efforts.

And that was really focused on, and is really focused on, creating opportunity for members of underrepresented groups, whether that’s based on gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, veteran status, there’s a lot of groups that certainly partake of the real estate market, and in some cases, are pretty prevalent in terms of members of the real estate community as agents, but are not represented in the broker ownership ranks or in the leadership ranks of the larger brokerages.

And we really wanted to focus very intently on that group and create an opportunity for that group to step into ownership with us and be surrounded with support, financial support, mentoring support, coaching tools, services, you name it, to really make the best effort possible at the greatest success possible.

Ryan Gorman:

So we were really excited about launching that program and we launched it back in February, and the pandemic did stop us from doing some of the in-person work that we were going to be doing with people who applied to those programs. But it didn’t stop the program. We just shifted to virtual. We’ve signed up a number of individuals who joined the program.

We’ve got a very robust pipeline. We had hundreds of people reach out to us when we launched it. And we’re extremely excited about that. And I can tell you, when we think about the broader industry, your question was really about the broader industry, just sharing for an anybody who’s out there, listening from other operations, the response to this has been so strong and so indicative of dramatically higher pent up demand than even I had anticipated.

But I think it’s a real opportunity for the industry to reach out, to create a different pathway. And I think it will ultimately lead to, hopefully, some increased pathways to home ownership in some of these underrepresented populations as well.

Ryan Gorman:

So we do have really dramatically depressed home ownership rates in some of the same groups that we’re focused on with diversity and ownership. Now, that’s a longer term. We should be focused on it today to benefit tomorrow. But I do think the industry as a whole could really do a lot of work to grow broker ownership and leadership ranks.

And I think ultimately, that will pretty fundamentally change the home ownership rate in this country for some of these groups. So I know that sounds like a big mission, and it is, but we got to start somewhere, and I can tell you the response to our start was phenomenal. So I’d recommend others to explore the same.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. I love that. And it’s definitely necessary. Well, Ryan, thank you so much for joining the REAL Trends podcast. We appreciate you taking some time out of your busy day to talk to us.

Ryan Gorman:

Absolutely. It’s my pleasure. Thank you so much. And I hope you stay safe and happy and sane in Florida as we all try and figure out our way. But thanks for making some time for me today.

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