Every now and again, an event so dominates our times that little else gets any attention. And so it is with the coronavirus or, more accurately, COVID-19, writes Dan Argent.
The first case worldwide was reported in Wuhan province in December last year, while the first Australian case was in February. That was just weeks ago.
As at the time of writing, it is approximately mid-March and half of every nightly news bulletin is taken up with COVID-19 stories — current infection numbers, mortality, potential breakthroughs, political wranglings, school closures, toilet-paper fights in aisle three… the list goes on.
But one of the biggest stories is yet to play out, and it’s a tale I’ve bet my professional future on.
It’s the way COVID-19 has accelerated the evolution of our working lives to a point where the way we do business — particularly in real estate — will never be the same.
Two years ago, I experienced a watershed moment. I realised that as an agent and business owner, I was working too hard on the mundane stuff and not concentrating enough on my high-skill work.
It was a significant point of self-realisation brought on by a divorce and recognition that I was slowly killing myself physically and mentally by working harder but not smarter.
Through this, I came to understand the way we work as selling agents had evolved much faster than many of us realised. We were entrenched in the old-school approach of having an employer (head agency) with an office and a desk where we turned up each day and put in the hours.
For me, this realisation that we must break the cycle was built upon other revelations from back in 2010, when I was prompted to start my own agency. It was apparent then that I was gaining all my listings because I’d built my name into a personal brand that defined me as a specialist in my chosen location, property type and price point.
I’d worked hard to become the “go to” guy. Owners rang me because they wanted Dan Argent to list and sell their home. It had nothing to do with the name of the head agency that adorned the front of the building I walked into each day.
Next came the epiphany that office space is dead space. I don’t know about other agents, but I can’t remember the last time I had a buyer or seller attend my office. I’d happily travel to wherever I was needed in order to get the job done.
Finally, it’s been obvious to me how the tools we use to do business have changed, mostly through technological innovation. Mobile phones that are, for all intents and purposes, pocket-sized computers. Then there are lightweight laptops with hotspot access and cloud servers which allow you to carry out the bigger stuff from anywhere — coffee shops, beachside restaurants, inside the car or at home office. You can even conduct interstate and overseas meeting via the wonders of video conferencing platforms.
In addition, online listing portals have removed the need for storefront display cards showing off the houses we have on the books. They serve little to no purpose other than a bit of window dressing to help identify the office space (filled mostly with admin) as a real estate business.
So, I started my current business, UrbanX, on the premise that agents no longer need an office and shopfront to be a success.
In fact, successful agents can work from anywhere… and it’s a message I’ve been hammering home to anyone who’ll listen for more than two years.
My current crop of workmates doesn’t mind a bit of dark-humoured ribbing at my expense. They’ve taken to suggesting I must have had a part to play in this current crisis, because it’s focused the world’s workforce on the opportunity to do a job without needing a brick-and-mortar office address.
Real estate agents can thrive from the flexibility of their own home base.
While I’ve been certain this workplace rebellion would eventually come, it’s the big story being missed among the current COVID-19 coverage: the revolution has been thrust upon us. It’s here and it’s now.
So, we continue to head through the surrealism of 2020’s first quarter. Many of us feel a bit punch-drunk with uncertainty after being slammed by fast-moving, tough news on an hourly basis. But I think you can grasp onto two rock-solid predictions over the coming months:
1. We will eventually get through COVID-19 and the world won’t end.
2. The real estate revolution is here.
Like everyone else, I’m looking forward to the outbreak’s end where, hopefully, there will have been minimal impact to as many people as possible.
But I’m also looking forward to some of the changes becoming permanent, where agents will take charge of their destiny and forge ahead well away from the big-agency franchise model.
Dan Argent is the principal of UrbanX.