HOW TO HANDLE RECESSION TALK
To be an estate agent is to be an optimist. It’s a great quality. It wins clients, it generates enthusiasm, it makes the day better. Nobody wants a negative estate agent – or a negative team member – at the best of times, and when the market is tough, having positive people around is what gets us through and what gets results.
Where things get confused is when optimism is treated as knowledge.
As the UK comes out of lockdown, the hit to the economy while everyone was closed is becoming clear. Will it have long term knock-on effects? Nobody knows, but everybody wants answers.
This is where it can become tricky for estate agents when talk of recession starts to appear. Your optimism and positivity will have you believe that a recession isn’t coming, or that it’s just a blip, while your concerns for your business will have you hoping the economy will be ok, so you don’t need to let people go.
And here is where the balancing act comes in: your hopes and concerns for your business are completely separate to what is the right thing to do for any or all of your clients.
If the events of the last 5 years have taught us anything, it’s that we know nothing about the future. Jeremy Corbyn, Donald Trump, Theresa May, Brexit, Hong Kong, Covid-19, Harry & Meghan…
Events have an annoying way of simply happening, without consultation with estate agents and without consultation with anyone else. They are extremely inconvenient.
If you spend any amount of time on LinkedIn, or in social media groups for property people, you’ll have seen plenty of estate agents during lockdown claiming a recession was either unlikely or definitely not going to happen, with the argument centring around interest rates being at their lowest level ever. You might even have joined the discussion and agreed or disagreed.
Now, estate agents are upset that April’s actual economic figures have been quoted in the press, with the argument being that we all knew what was coming so it shouldn’t be in the news.
(It seems as though it’s perfectly responsible to say we won’t be having a recession based on a guess about the future, but not to say we will have a recession based on actual figures from now.)
With the UK economy shrinking by 20% in a single month during lockdown, there’s no way a figure like that wouldn’t make the news. In fact, every month’s economic figures make the news; it’s how we know what’s going on with the economy. Whatever April 2020’s figures actually mean for the future nobody really truly knows, but it’s certainly a conversation that estate agents won’t be able to avoid.
Wherever you stand, it’s unlikely that your view will have any effect on the UK economy, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be asked for your thoughts. So it’s wise to have an answer that you and your team can speak in truth without sounding like shady fortune tellers, or like the worst kind of stereotype.
As an estate agent, your role is to help people move for whom moving is either possible or essential. You might even be able to find a way to help someone move when they thought they couldn’t, and that is great stuff. But what you’re not there to do is sway people into moving for your own benefit by making claims about the future that would lead them to make a decision that suits you most.
Even if you studied geopolitics, economics or global fiscal policy, the future still isn’t written. So unless you’ve just returned from the future, with what authority can you speak?
It’s possible that we won’t have a long recession, and it’s possible that we will. Either way, we won’t be able to talk ourselves out of one if countless people lose their jobs, firms go bust, and GDP continues to drop. No amount of estate agents clubbing together with positive vibes will be enough to distract the public from those figures.
So what you CAN do right now is be straight with people. You can tell them whether the national picture reflects what’s going on in your office. You can tell them where it’s different. You can work with them over their sale price/purchase price and whether it works for them to move now, or to wait a while. Maybe they just want a new adventure as soon as possible, regardless of whether prices are up or down. You can also say “I really don’t know, but I hope…”
The key is to accept that people are asking about the economy because they are concerned about it, and to accept that it’s perfectly fine for them to have concerns about anything that will affect their life. You should absolutely engage with the conversation, talk about people’s concerns, find out what would work for them and then accept everyone’s decision about their move and life with grace.
If they’re ok, you’re ok. How else can you engender trust?
You can also structure your estate agency to cope with the ups and downs of the sales market: when people don’t buy, they rent; some long-term, some short-term. Do you have those sides to your estate agency? What about property management, holiday lets, serviced accommodation, house shares… I spoke to an estate agent the other day who also owns a storage facility.
There is so much more to estate agency than simply sales and lettings, and there’s so much more to recession talk than negativity or denial. The space in between is where the magic happens: we are designed to converse, to speculate, even to worry, and many great relationships are formed through open conversation.
And what about your estate agency? Well, given the upheavals of the last five years alone, having a multi-faceted business that can weather the storms seems more essential than ever.
What could you do to give your estate agency flexibility and resilience?