It's vital for agents to have disaster plans

October 23, 2017

The massive hurricanes that rocked the U.S. and Caribbean in recent months brought with them a slew of difficulties. Real estate professionals can take a lesson from the fallout: If agents don't have disaster plans in place - regardless of whether they're going to face flooding, tornadoes, snow storms, earthquakes, or any other type of disaster - they could find themselves in difficult circumstances after such an incident. It's also important to talk to clients about these issues.

The reason it's so important for real estate agents to craft business continuity plans or processes is the way they earn their livings is dependent upon commissions - if they can't help buyers or sellers through the real estate sales process, they can't earn money. With this in mind, it's vital to understand the risks of operating without a BCP, as well as what goes into crafting an effective one.

The best defense
The Boy Scouts' motto is a good one for real estate agents to follow in any aspect of their business: Be prepared.

But when it comes to having a continuity plan in place in case of a major weather event, natural disaster or even a more common problem like flooding or a fire, this is doubly true, according to Inman. The fact is, many agents simply don't have these kinds of plans in place, so when disaster strikes, they end up in a lot of difficulty.

"Many of our agents have no idea what to do with their business now that the storm has passed," one Houston-based real estate agent told Inman in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. "We don't know how to advise our clients, and we're not sure where life is going to take us."

Putting a plan in place and examining it at least somewhat regularly even when major issues don't arise can help agents stay on top of their game in this regard, and that can help both them and their clients in short order.

What does a good BCP need?
When trying to put together a plan for how to keep a business going, the most important place for agents to start is ensuring they have accommodations for themselves, whether it's for a place to stay in their area (if possible) or out of which they can operate their businesses, according to The Balance. To that end, it's also vital to consider what they'll need to do their work, such as a computer, office equipment, and the like.

The sooner agents can get back to operating like they would on any other day, the better off they will be. That, in turn, requires agents to regularly test their recovery plans when things are going well, imagining scenarios in which they will have to get themselves and their businesses up and running quickly in the wake of a catastrophe.

However, because real estate agents are in the people business as much as they are when it comes to helping clients buy and sell homes, also having a plan for communications with those clients is vital.

Talking to clients
One of the biggest issues in the wake of a weather event or natural disaster is that  people can have their lives turned upside down literally overnight, and agents have to be extremely sensitive to that, according to Inman. It's not just that plans to buy or sell can be derailed by such an event, but that people could lose their homes - or worse - and agents need to be able to communicate with them carefully.

Building plans for how to talk to people into a broader BCP is a good idea, of course, but so too is ensuring there's a plan in place to help clients if disaster befalls them. Agents should be focused on maintaining strong relationships at times like this, because that's what their clients need, whether it's someone to lend a hand with some basic repairs, deliver a home-cooked meal, or simply talk them through the concerns they may have about the buying or selling process.

Some agents may also need to help would-be sellers whose homes were damaged in these cases assess that damage for insurance purposes. While this isn't directly related to the sales process, it can certainly be a major issue for homeowners.

In short, the more agents can do to lend a hand in these scenarios, the stronger their relationships with their clients are likely to be.

Educating selling clients
Along similar lines, it's also important for agents to make sure their selling clients know how to prepare their homes for disasters, especially if storms or other events might be foreseeable, according to Real Estate in Savannah. For instance, if people are looking to sell during hurricane or tornado season, or when there's a higher chance of flooding or snow storms, agents can talk to clients about what they should do to get themselves and their properties ready for a just-in-case situation.

That could include having their own disaster plans in place for what they will need to do with their properties to make sure their homes remain safe during a storm, learning more about their potential insurance needs, doing a home inventory so they know what they may need to claim in the event of damage, and so on. They might also be wise to make sure they have emergency kits on hand, which include things like non-perishable food and water, flashlights, safety equipment, first-aid supplies, and so on. Simply put, it's better to err on the side of caution when risk is heightened.

Generally speaking, if agents can do more to prepare themselves and their clients for any circumstances, all involved are likely to be much better off when issues do arise. Whether it's recent hurricanes, the wildfires in California, or any other unfortunate circumstance, it's important to think of the human cost of these issues, and agents may need to do more to ensure they're properly protecting both their livelihoods and the interests of their clients on an ongoing basis.