The Inman community will gather virtually for Connect, June 15-17. It’s a powerhouse lineup of speakers, and our focus is on the New Normal: what business looks like on the other side of the pandemic. Let this conversation with one of our June Connect speakers serve as an appetizer, and don’t forget to grab your ticket to June’s Inman Connect before prices go up.
The coronavirus pandemic, the “crazy” hot housing market and more options than ever for consumers have given agents the opportunity to offer world-class service that keeps their clients coming back, according to Veronica Figueroa, team leader of the Figueroa Team at eXp Realty in Orlando, Florida.
Figueroa spoke to Inman about “The New Normal,” how her team has changed during the pandemic and why the Zillows of the world will continue to be ever-present.
Figueroa’s team has about 75 members, including staff and about 50 agents, and adds five to seven members a month. Her team sold 792 homes in 2020 and is on track to sell about 1,200 homes this year. What follows is a version of Inman’s conversation with Figueroa that has been edited for length and clarity.
Inman: So you definitely haven’t been sleeping during this pandemic.
VF: You know, I think I sleep very well because I have an amazing team. I have an amazing leadership group. I focus on giving them the vision, guiding them and creating space for them to grow, and they just run it as if it’s their own. They give me a lot of peace of mind. I do worry about some stuff, but not a lot of stuff I used to worry about before.
You mentioned you guide them. How has that changed during the pandemic?
We went through a lot of changes during the pandemic. I think one of the biggest things that happened in my business was I did an audit, and I said, ‘What is the type of leadership that we’re going to need to get us through this?’ To not only get us through the pandemic, but to start looking at the business as a whole and what the future looks like.
I made some really big strategic hires. I brought on a data scientist. I brought on some really great operators from other industries and other teams. I made some deep investments to ensure that we were set up to not only get through the pandemic but to really give us the momentum that we need to set ourselves apart from the competition and really do things that would challenge the industry.
We built out an entire evaluation department for our acquisitions team. I felt like I needed a data manager because I’m a natural salesperson. I love people. I love to talk to people, but most real estate agents, we don’t measure. So I hire for my weaknesses.
We took our team from 417 transactions [in 2019]. We’ve always been trending around that 400 to 500 number, and it completely transformed our business in the last two quarters of the year. It really took us to the next level and systems just started falling into place, really holding our team accountable, measuring.
Also [I brought] in outsiders from outside of the industry into our business with a completely different perspective. We tried to make the best out of the situation and started giving people with talent from other industries an opportunity to bring their talent into the real estate world.
You mentioned bringing in talent from other industries. Can you give me a couple of examples?
The hospitality industry — people from the Ritz Carlton, people from Westgate, which is kind of like the timeshare capital of the world, bringing in world-class sales training and customer experience training.
We can teach them real estate, but those professional skills are things that we felt were more important than skills in real estate. We felt that we had enough of a foundation of training to help them there.
We trained brand-new college students who had a finance degree on how to be really good CMA analysts. All they do is analyze the value of properties for our acquisitions team.
I’m proud to say that we were able to bring people from outside the industry, create employment during the pandemic, and then create leaders that would help build this team into what it is.
When you say acquisitions team, what do you mean exactly?
We represent institutional buyers, like, say, Zillow. They give us a buy box and say ‘Hey, we would like to purchase properties no older than 1960s and it has to have an HOA, can’t be a duplex.’ Then when they do identify a property and someone says ‘Hey, why not sell my house to Zillow [or] see what the offer might look like,’ we’re the ones who come in and value the property and say, ‘This is the value of the local market.’
We work with those investors and let them know this is a good buy or this may not be a great buy or this should be a discard or this could go on the traditional market. So my evaluations team, they only focus on value. Their job is to analyze the valuation of the market and properties.
As you know, the theme for the next Connect is going to be ‘The New Normal.’ What do you think of when I say that? What does that mean to you?
I think the new normal is going to be a world where we are working with a conglomerate player, like the Zillows of the world, like the referral companies that know how to master the data and lead generation. They will be a part of our future.
Back in 2017, I tested out iBuyers and agents were saying, ‘That’ll never work.’ Now it’s a tool to get more listings. It’s a tool to say, ‘Hey you have this option Mr. Seller: You can sell your home for cash, top dollar, not worry about repairs. You don’t have to worry about being inconvenienced, open houses. You can pick your closing date. You have control. You have transparency, etc.’
And then there is the traditional market. Obviously there’s still going to be a space for the real estate agent who is still boots-on-the-ground in the community — the one that everybody knows and loves.
But I think consumers are going to want more options. They’re going to want to start the process with a click of a button. They’re still going to want relationships in the community, however, convenience seems to be something that’s really important to sellers and transparency. It is proven that it works and that’s why we are very open.
We give sellers a worry-free option. What option do you want: Would you like to go with convenience? Do you want to go the traditional route? Do you want to go with speed? We do believe tech is going to be behind a lot of that.
Do you think that’s changed because of technology advances or because of the pandemic or because of the inventory shortage? What’s behind that?
I think it’s been brewing for a while. I think the pandemic accelerated it and created more of a need for it. A lot of these institutional iBuyers kind of paused during the pandemic because they weren’t sure, but then gained the confidence of saying, ‘Wait, people are going to want this more than ever. They want safety, convenience, they don’t want 100 people coming to their houses.’
But now obviously in the market that we’re in post-pandemic, we’ve got people lined up where there are 30 to 40 people waiting to get into a house.
We’re in an interesting phase. I don’t think this is gonna be the new normal forever, as far as 30 to 40 people lined up for a house, but I think there are still sellers and buyers who would rather trust technology and trust the transparency that you can get outside of just the agent who is solo, and doesn’t have the resources to provide additional options.
Is there anything you think will not change?
I think the relationship aspect of this industry is always going to be the center of this amazing opportunity. But I think that the way this is gonna work [is] — there’s a lot of agents who disagree with me — just because they didn’t know you or you weren’t the neighborhood Realtor doesn’t mean you can’t earn the relationship at the intersection of the introduction and when you’re getting to know them.
I think the agent who is skilled, the agent who has great conversations, can be as successful, even if that person didn’t come from their farm.
It used to be where that person was the agent that gets all the listings in the neighborhood. I think [with] technology [and] social media, people are going to be able to pick their agents based on different ways, and start relationships with those agents in a way that works for the buyer or the seller.
So at the center of all of this is relationship building will never change, it’s just going to be built differently.
Anything else you’d like to say about the new normal?
I think ultimately world-class service is going to trump in this industry. For too long we have believed that our value is at 2 percent, 3 percent and some agents couldn’t even articulate that.
I think they definitely need to be very, very clear and precise on what they offer, the services they offer, whether it’s staging, whether it’s cleaning services for every listing and post-closing experiences that will create an experience beyond the closing that makes people want to use that agent.
They’re really going to have to have more than the experience of just closing the deal, [but rather] be someone that’s going to dominate marketshare.