18 May 2020
One of the sectors hit hardest by Covid-19 is the property industry. CEO of Just Property, Paul Stevens gives some insight into how his company’s early focus on technology has benefited Just Property during lockdown.
Just Property has a franchise network of almost 100 branches countrywide, with a business model underpinned by property rentals. As such, says CEO Paul Stevens, the group has been fortunate to maintain a level of cash flow that he is hopeful will be enough to weather the Covid storm. While he foresees difficult times ahead as more commercial and residential tenants feel the lockdown squeeze, Stevens is optimistic.
This should not be surprising, afterall optimism is one of Just Property’s nine stated values. But Stevens is not talking up a thin market. He is responding to the crisis with action, focusing on what can be done rather than what can’t, and projecting calm, logical leadership that inspires hope.
“We are managing our cashflow aggressively and using extremely conservative projections that take into account the inevitable slump in sales,” Stevens says. “We are also taking measures to support our franchisees in ways that will raise the game of real estate in South Africa.”
Using online communication technology has allowed Stevens and his head office team to draw together the network of Just Property franchisees, connecting them better and more often than ever before and allowing them to share best practices, to debate ways of working and to develop a collective approach to protecting their businesses through lockdown. “This collaboration and the (almost) business-as-usual result has been beyond what I had ever imagined possible,” says Stevens.
At the same time, the company is using its propensity for innovation in ways that will cement trust and gain market share now and in the future. Digital tools already in development are being fast-tracked to realise opportunities in the current market and to help tenants, landlords, sellers, and buyers.
Just Property’s clients and agents also have access to existing tools that the business developed long before the Covid-19 pandemic. These include an automated marketing proposal and comparative market analysis tool, as well as digital signing capabilities, digital documentation, and the market-leading interactive buyers’ journey tracking tool.
The decision five years ago to harness the power of technology and move onto a digital, cloud-based platform has ensured that Just Property’s non-contact operations have been relatively unaffected by the lockdown. All tools are deployed via a central staff dashboard – while agents may be unable to conduct on-site viewings, they are still able to conduct desktop valuations and maintain a significant presence in the market via the suite of world-class marketing tools at their disposal.
“The result of this foresight is that our brand is stronger than before, with a phenomenal online presence that will serve us well now and into the future,” says Stevens. “But as we look for and leverage opportunities, we must heed our shared humanity. We must seek to recover our businesses to their previous levels and take them to new heights with compassion and integrity.”
What opportunities does Stevens see for improving the South African property field? He eagerly anticipates the consolidation of what is currently a fragmented industry, where perhaps a number of independent real estate operators will find sanctuary in a franchise network geared to outperform the pressures being faced. He also hopes to raise the standard of real estate practice in South Africa and thereby improve the customer experience, building trust. Stevens believes this can be achieved through better use of technology, streamlined business processes, ethical communication, and greater collaboration between role players.
Stevens notes that businesses that may have been resistant to flexi-time and remote working in the past have all field-tested systems now and seen the benefits. He anticipates a rethink around how commercial property space is used and how much is needed to house staff and sees this positively impacting live-work-play developments. Stevens also foresees many opportunities for buyers and investors due to owners downscaling or, sadly, selling due to financial distress.
“Realistically, we are under no illusions: the next few months will be tough as our clients struggle with the economic fallout of lockdown. Open lines of communication will be critical in addressing potential problems early and finding remedies and solutions,” warns Stevens, but he is hopeful that we will see fiscal discipline and sustainable economic growth measures.
“It is going to be challenging but change is good and the industry will be better because of it,” he concludes.
For more information on Just Property please visit www.just.property or call (087) 550 2258.
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