Welcome to another edition of “Ask the MLS.” Here, we talk to people running innovative MLSs around the country and ask them questions about their markets, their members, and what keeps them up at night.
Today’s post features Laura Lafayette, Chief Executive Officer of the Central Virginia Regional Multiple Listing Service (CVR MLS) and the Richmond Association of REALTORS® — two organizations that serve the over 6,000 REALTORS® in Central Virginia since 1874. Their mission is to provide members with the resources, services and community engagement to conduct ethical, professional, and profitable businesses.
There has been a lot of talk about the market no longer having a busy season because we’re seeing intense buying activity year-round. How has that trend influenced Richmond?
That is absolutely the case in the Richmond region—strong buyer activity year-round. It once was the case that the market went dormant in the fourth quarter, especially the last two months of the year. But our market has experienced strong fourth quarters for several years running. While we often talk about the challenges of low inventory—and that is certainly true—it’s also about how quickly the available inventory is being absorbed. In 2019 there were 21,733 residential sales in our MLS; in 2020, that number climbed to 25,549. So there’s strong growth in the market. But buyer demand is so intense that listings cannot keep pace; so despite our members selling almost 4,000 more homes year over year, it feels like the activity is slowing and that’s not really the case.
What changes have you seen in your market since March of last year, in terms of agent productivity/behavior? Do you expect that any will be permanent?
Thankfully, our members were allowed to continue the practice of real estate throughout the pandemic. While there was a brief slowdown in late March and early April, the market roared back to life in May and never looked back. Many of our members shifted more of their work to a virtual environment—using a showing service to space appointments out, using an online transaction desk not just for forms but for all of the transaction. Our members held far fewer in-person open houses and shifted to virtual open houses. I think the utilization of technology is here to stay. While folks still want to walk through homes before they make a purchase decision, accomplishing as much of the transaction’s “paperwork” virtually is a fundamental shift that is here to stay.
How has the pandemic changed you as a leader?
I’m fairly old school. So at the beginning of the pandemic, I still wanted folks coming into the office. (We all have separate offices, so we could easily and safely socially distance.) But I gradually came to the understanding that people could be incredibly productive working remotely; and for many of our staff, they were far more comfortable and felt safer working remotely. We’ve always had a “family first” ethos, but we really doubled-down on that during the pandemic. I think the pandemic has demanded that we have a healthier work/life balance, and an understanding that it’s a good and healthy thing to have strong, contributing work to do, but it’s just one element of a person’s life and certainly not the most important one. What’s most important is having the time and space to take care of the people we love. If we do that, the work will get done and get done well.
How have/had you kept your staff connected and engaged while forced to work remotely?
Well, we’ve had no choice but to have lots of zoom calls. We’ve scheduled zoom meetings, even when a phone call would have sufficed, because I think those quick zoom calls are a needed substitute for being able to walk down the hall and engage with a colleague. Recently, we began having a weekly trivia contest (Water Cooler Trivia—check it out) and folks seem to enjoy a little friendly competition. Not being able to gather as a staff over the holiday was tough, but we know we did the right thing by honoring people’s health and safety above all else.
Have you picked up any new hobbies or activities over the last year?
No, not really, but I have increased the time I’m spending on what I like to do—exercise outdoors, reading, crossword puzzles. We have a weekend home on the Potomac River, so we were really fortunate to have a change of scenery each week during the spring, summer, and early fall. I’m a big sports fan, so I’ve definitely missed in-person college athletics. One change I have made is that if the sun is shining, I’ll take a break and go for a walk; I can answer emails at night and when it’s dark. Fresh air and sunshine have been my pandemic priorities.