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Agent/broker perspective: How can brokers support agents in the wake of natural disasters?

10/02/2017

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In this monthly column, Anthony Askowitz will explore a hypothetical Miami real estate situation from both sides of the broker/agent dynamic.

An experienced Miami real estate agent needs her broker’s support after a hurricane creates chaos for her customers.

Agent perspective

When you do real estate in this part of the world, the threat of hurricanes is just something you live with. We have been lucky to avoid a major one for some time and are extra-lucky that this monster storm only impacted us indirectly.

However, the damage and turmoil are widespread even with this minimized impact, leaving so many of my clients in chaos with respect to their homes.

Where to begin?

I’ve got sellers with roof, tree and fence damage wondering about the extent of their responsibility; buyers with pending contracts asking if they should back out; and many of both don’t even have their power restored.

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The good news is that I have been through this before, and I actually have the answers! (Trees do not need to be replaced by under-contract sellers, but fences and roofs do.)

The bad news is that I have to tell all these people that we basically have to start over, that all pending contracts need to be renegotiated and all the homes under contract need to be re-inspected. And of course, each situation is different and requires varying levels of attention and hand-holding.

So my dilemma is this: I know what to do, but I could use my broker’s help in organizing and prioritizing my response.

Broker perspective

This situation goes to the heart of the agent-broker dynamic. When disasters like this occur in real estate, agents should be supporting their clients, while brokers and companies should be supporting our agents. This is exactly when our clients and customers need us the most.

First, I would advise my agents to take a deep breath and mentally prepare for the challenging days and weeks ahead. Be realistic about the demands that will be placed on you from all sides, but have confidence in your ability to persevere.

Second, reach out to your clients as soon as possible, and ask them the basic questions you would ask any fellow human being:

How are you? How is your family? Is everyone OK? What do you need?

If you have any of the essential things they lack at the moment (food, shelter, clothing, electricity, running water, etc.) and have the means to provide it, don’t hesitate to do so or see if your company can.

Once the critical needs have been met and resolved, you can start discussing business. Make every effort to be the calm voice of reason, but also be straight — tell them bad news honestly and directly, but explain what you are going to do about it.

Be prepared to repeat yourself, particularly to the most-severely affected customers.

When it comes to all those contracts you need to renegotiate, be creative with incentives and credits that will address any disaster-related damage.

Finally, stay in touch with your colleagues and brokers to be sure you have the latest and most accurate information, as disaster-related policies can change by the day.

For example, we recently learned about selected home lenders who are allowing storm-impacted borrowers to place the first three months of a mortgage on the back end of their loans, creating significant financial freedom and peace of mind.

How to meet halfway

Our ability to predict and forecast natural disasters has improved dramatically over time, while innovation, technology and stricter building codes have allowed for infinitely safer construction.

But hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, extreme heat, forest fires, etc., will always pose serious and unpredictable threats to real estate that professionals will need to manage together.

In calmer times, the broker should take the lead in drafting a natural disaster plan (with input from agents) and hold annual seminars to prepare management, agents and professionals.

To support the National Association of Realtors Relief Foundation.

To support the American Red Cross disaster relief, or specifically for Hurricanes Harvey or Irma relief.

Anthony is the broker-owner of RE/MAX Advance Realty in South Miami and Kendall, leading the activities of more than 165 agents. He is also a working Realtor who sells more than 150 homes a year. Earlier this year, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce honored him with the R.E.A.L. award in the category of “Real Estate Broker – Residential.”

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