Email Post to a Friend: [AUDIO] Managing Through A Crisis

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June
2

Aaron Geh (Head of Digital Marketing) with Delta Media Group interviewed Rod Messick (CEO) BHHS Homesale Realty on his organization is managing through the recent Covid crisis.

Video Transcription

Aaron Geh:

Good afternoon. I'm here with Rod Messick, CEO of BHH Homesale Realty. They're a 1300 agent brokerage in Lancaster, PA. And before I jump into what I want to talk to you about, I know PA just lifted some of the restrictions for sales associates to be able to get back to work last week. How's the activity in the market since that?

Rod Messick:

So as soon as the order got amended on last Wednesday, pretty much immediately a spike in activity. We are experiencing a tremendous amount of pent up demand around folks who were on the sidelines, waiting to get back in and be able to do traditional showings. We had a lot of transactions that were done site unseen, with a contingency to show before going to closing. We had a lot of pent up need for appraisals and inspections that weren't able to get done. So just a massive amount of new activity. In fact, Bright MLS has been doing a great job with some statistics every week, and they showed the Pennsylvania showing requests, which had been nearly non-existent during the shutdown, spiked up and were even with just three days, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, before the week closed, were almost at the same level as the prior year for a full week of activity. So it's been pretty rapid, pretty immediate.

Rod Messick:

And we're starting to look at seeing what the pending numbers on the contracts and what the volume's going to look like, but not surprising. Based on what had happened in some other states as they opened up, it's exactly what we had expected. We also service Maryland, and our Maryland market, interestingly enough, even though real estate was able to be conducted the entire time, as the governor loosened up other restrictions, I think it created consumer confidence to get back out and do real estate. So from April 27th on, showing activity for Maryland, for the state of Maryland, has been above prior year showing activity after dipping late March and early April. Now April and May is ahead of last year, which is catching up on that pent up demand, as well.

Aaron Geh:

That's good. I bet your sales associates are thrilled.

Rod Messick:

Yeah, they've been struggling through, with a lot of frustration around man, I go to Lowe's and there's a thousand people in line two feet apart from each other, and I can't take a husband and wife and go show them a house and stand six, eight, 10, 12 feet apart. There wasn't a lot of rhyme or reason to the restrictions we had in place in the state. And I'm sure people are very happy to get back out there. We still are operating under a lot of safety protocols, which is understandable, but I think we can run at a pretty close to normal pace at what we have in place now.

Aaron Geh:

That's great. That's great to hear. The reason why I wanted to jump on this interview with you, and I started doing these interviews because as I talk to people or hear stories of some of our clients, I kind of find golden nuggets and want to share them, because there's a lot of other companies that could possibly take advantage of this. And what really stood out to me is I was looking at our recent edition of the magazine that we publish, and you were in there and quoted something along the lines of you're moving through this crisis, managing this crisis, through resiliency and optimism, where you understand the hardships of the company, your sales associates, but you're strategically positioning the company to come out of this a lot better.

Aaron Geh:

I think that starts at the top. And I heard that a lot with a lot of our other successful brokerages, same type of mindset. So my belief is, like I said, it starts at the top. I just want to get a better understanding of from a personal standpoint, where do you get that from, as you lead the company?

Rod Messick:

Yeah, I think a lot of that is just where you stand today is a compound of everything that has come before you in life. So for me personally, a lot of training, a lot of experiences, a lot of challenges, and overcoming those challenges just builds confidence that you can continue to do it, whether it's taking the company and rebranding it in 2008 with a major franchise change, or doing it again in 2014, with the switch from Prudential to Berkshire Hathaway, whether it's doing a transition with an acquisition, large acquisition and bringing a new group of sales associates into our family. Whatever those challenges are, we as an organization, we kind of have this just can do spirit about the way we approach the business, staying focused on our agents and their outcomes and then our consumers. Being guided by our core values, all those things layer upon themselves.

Rod Messick:

But as a leader, having seen our amazing team perform over and over and over and over again, regardless of the challenge, just gives you confidence that you know that if you give them the right guidance, direction, and spirit, that they will absolutely amaze and inspire you. And that happens daily here at Homesale, but especially when there is an existential threat like COVID-19 or the Great Recession, or having to overcome things like brand change, or all those kinds of opportunities create just this amazing spirit here. And I'm so incredibly proud of our team, and that gives us a lot of resilience.

Rod Messick:

We basically have spent a lot of time focused on some stuff from Darren Hardy, and a lot of his philosophy is you're a product of the things you do, the things you don't do, and how you react to the things that happen to you. So certainly COVID is something that happened to all of us, and the way you react to it will define your experience in it. We all have to experience it. It's just a matter of how you react to it. So we go to a lot of those guiding principles to lead the team.

Aaron Geh:

I mean, you have a big team, 1300 sales associates. How do you keep your executive team, obviously keeping them positive, and as it trickles down to all those folks on the front lines that perhaps are having some hardships because they can't work, how do you keep that positive mojo rolling through the organization? Now it seems to be becoming better, but let's say a month ago.

Rod Messick:

Yeah, so I think one of the things we focused on right away was leaning into the problem and not waiting to see what happened, just immediately responded with the best response you have to the information you have right now. One of my favorite quotes, and I'm going to paraphrase it because I don't know if the audience is appropriate for the full thing, is General Patton said, "A good plan today essentially is better than a great plan tomorrow." And that's definitely something that we try to live by here. We take the information we have. One of our core values is we think and act with a sense of urgency.

Rod Messick:

So for this particular crisis, we jumped right in. We immediately started having daily senior leadership calls. It's all of our department heads from all of our business units, mortgage title, insurance, or, sorry, business unit leaders from all of our business units, mortgage title, real estate, insurance, and then our department heads from our key support functions. And then Regina Coia is executive vice president. She leads our real estate company. Her executive vice president's team is also on the call. And those 12 to 15 leaders in the company, that group every day meeting, especially early on, you'd go right through weekends. The first couple of weekends, we were seven days a week. What do we know? What do we need to respond to? How do we help our people? What information do they, what crisis do we need to solve today? There wasn't a whole lot of hand ringing and waiting for, oh, what is NAR going to tell us? Or what is PAR going to tell us? Let's attack the problem we have right now, and figure out the best solution and give people as much information as possible.

Rod Messick:

We pretty quickly jumped into a communication cadence with the entire company, where we early on, daily I was doing a daily communication, and we coined the phrase early on, keep calm and Homesale on. So that was one of the early battle cries. And that kind of was well received, and we just built upon that as we went through it. We've used some video to communicate some messages. Crazy, trying to figure out how to, you know, normally I have this amazing team of our marketing department with Laurie [inaudible 00:10:49] and all her group, and they come into my office, and they'd have the green screen and they have the teleprompter and they've got the professional camera. And we can knock something out with a script in about two or three takes, and it looks great.

Rod Messick:

And I'm sitting here at my house, and we're using an iPhone, and we finally went out and got an, actually it's right here next to my desk, we went out and got a great little tripod. And so we can now set up the tripod right over the top of my computer. I found a little free plugin to Chrome, and it has a nice teleprompter. So we've just adapted and overcome. We find ways to meet the challenge where it is and keep moving. And I think that's both cultural, so it's not hard to lead the team there, because they wouldn't expect anything else. And that didn't come because of COVID-19. It came because it's in our DNA. It's just cultural to who the company is.

Aaron Geh:

Nice. Some good nuggets in there. So as we hopefully are out of this and turning in a new direction, what have you learned? Is there anything new that you learned about your organization, or something that you'd have done a little bit differently in the next time you have to manage a crisis?

Rod Messick:

Getting more on the tactical sense, we've learned that our team will be more responsive to videos, this type of interaction, than we possibly thought they would be. So attendance in our, and I'm hearing this around the country from brokerage leaders and other businesses as well, that attendance at some of our sales meetings have been more robust over a video conferencing capability. They're more disciplined. They're more concise. They're better prepared. Think that using video technology could be something that we continue to leverage much deeper in a post COVID world to try to drive the best source of content to the agent, to the managers, et cetera.

Rod Messick:

We've got these amazing resources. Jen Jones, who you know from our team, just does this amazing job connecting with our agents and providing value for them. But we cover a lot of territory. So for Jen to jump in her car and drive an hour and a half and have an opportunity to impact two or three or five agents, and then have to drive two hours back, that's a lot of time spent for a very small portion of people. And sometimes that's necessary. We need that high touch at times. But at other times you're getting, and we had started down this road already, of trying to lever technology to have the best training resource in front of people as humanly possible, but I think with this experience, we've learned that we're much more ready for it than we might've given credit for without this experience.

Rod Messick:

Same thing on some of our meetings. Having our senior leaders drive in from all parts of the territory to get together for a couple hour meeting, and they end up having an all day event for a couple hour meeting, we've actually found that our efficiency's a lot higher by using this type of technology to conduct those meetings now, and much more disciplined. There's not two or three sidebars going on at one time, and just really, really focused effort.

Rod Messick:

As far as handling another crisis, I think probably we would leverage video communications earlier and deeper and be more prepared for that need right out of the gate. I think that's something we can definitely continue to do better. I think the one thing we definitely, we, right, wrong, or indifferent, I think this is something we did really strongly at the start was trying to have that single voice, that single person speaking for the company instead of having a business unit leader talking to the mortgage company and somebody else talking to the insurance company. Trying to have that single, you know, especially on the big issues, coming directly from me and leveraging that has been positive.

Rod Messick:

Some of our peers have done some pretty cool stuff with company-wide events, that in hindsight I think we could have done a better job on, where they pretty quickly when they still had everybody's attention and focus, and people weren't at their wit's end on having been on the 8,000th Zoom call, they levered pretty hard into some big picture broadcast messaging where they levered some nationally known speakers and things. And we did not do that. We did more of trying to push down knowledge and level through the local branch leadership instead. In hindsight, we could probably have done a little better job at mixing those two vehicles.

Rod Messick:

So in the future, if we have, God forbid, we ever face another stay at home for eight weeks, we'll have a better idea how to handle it. As I've said a few times during this, I think I missed the class during business school where they taught how to respond to a pandemic. I don't remember that class.

Aaron Geh:

Yeah. I mean, I think it was, just speaking to the video, I think a lot of companies, even outside of real estate, are reevaluating the whole remote workplace and just utilizing these tools that everybody was so hesitant to use. Last question. I know you've just got a few more minutes, and you can be brief. How do you see real estate in the next six to 12 months? What's your take?

Rod Messick:

Yeah, so I think very short term, interest rates are going to obviously be low for the foreseeable future. And in the next three, six months, I think we're going to make up a lot of the lost ground over the last two months. And that's assuming that sellers don't change their plans too much. I mean, I can certainly see sellers who maybe had intentions of moving to retirement communities, and I don't know about other parts of the country, but certainly that's been where some of the concentration of exposure has been in our local markets. So there might be some delays in that and delaying selling. So I think inventory shortage will continue to be tight. I think there will be a lot of demand. I think the folks that have job security are going to want to transact now and really look for fulfilling those needs.

Rod Messick:

Once we get further down the road, what's the longer term impact, you know, what businesses fail? How does people's opinions about living in high density environments change? All those kinds of issues. I could see some markets having a major influx of demand, and I can see some markets becoming less desirable, and seeing where that goes. I know I've heard anecdotally that Connecticut is just on fire right now with people looking to get into a less densely populated area than Manhattan. We certainly think central Pennsylvania could offer some opportunities for folks whose workplace is in Manhattan, but they only need to be there a couple of times a month physically, and they can remote in the rest of the time. This is a great place. We're a two and a half hour train ride away. You can literally be in a 9:00 AM meeting in the city and you can sleep in your bed the night before, and be back home that night.

Aaron Geh:

Sounds like a plug to me, Rod.

Rod Messick:

Yeah, so we're working on marketing around that idea. So, yeah, absolutely.

Aaron Geh:

Awesome. Awesome. Hey, thank you so much. 

Rod Messick:

All right. Sounds good. I appreciate the opportunity, Aaron.

Aaron Geh:

You've got it. Take care.

Rod Messick:

All right, bye-bye.

 

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