Message From President Mike Theo: What I Learned From Covid-19

 Mike Theo  |    July 16, 2020

Wow. Nothing like a good pandemic to knock you off stride. We’ve never seen anything like this — in our nation, in our state or in our business — and I hope we never do again.

I would like to acknowledge that we are not done with COVID-19 by any means, but I’ve already learned a great deal. I don’t know about you, but in retrospect, this extended COVID-induced “alone time” provided a very rare opportunity for contemplation, observation and even revelation. As we ease our way back to what our business and personal lives were like in our pre-coronavirus life, I’ve been reflecting on not only what I witnessed but what I learned.  

I learned, or perhaps re-learned, a lot about REALTORS® during this period. At times in the past, our industry and our members have been slow to adequately assess and respond to major economic challenges, industry disruptors or new technologies. But not this time. As an industry and profession, we did a quick pivot in our thinking and our actions, quickly developing new procedures and taking new precautions to ease the safety concerns of our buyers and sellers. And our industry partners, from lenders to inspectors to title and home warranty companies, adopted quickly as well.  

I also learned a great deal about our national association as well. Like a huge battleship, it’s never easy for a massive organization like the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) to stop, turn and change, and do so fast and effectively, but that’s exactly what it did.  The degree of communication between NAR and state associations, for example, has never been better. Transforming major live events to virtual meetings is an enormous technological and logistical undertaking, yet NAR did just that. And in the process, it tripled the number of members who “attended” NAR’s legislative meetings in Washington, D.C. — from approximately 9,000 REALTORS® who usually made the trip to approximately 30,000 members who engaged this year virtually.  This included conducting an official governance meeting of the full 800-plus members of the NAR board of directors, including the election of a new treasurer! NAR is now in the process of doing the same thing for an even larger event in November, the NAR national convention in New Orleans.

Perhaps the most revealing thing I learned during this time involves the leadership and staff of the WRA. You would think after 35 years with the WRA, and the last 10 years as CEO, there’s not too many things that would surprise me about this organization. But while I knew very well the talent and dedication of our staff and elected leaders, I don’t think I fully appreciated their compassion, adaptability and commitment to doing their jobs regardless of their location.   

All members should know that our leaders — chairman Steve Beers, chairman-elect Mary Duff and treasurer Brad Lois — were in constant contact and always willing to commit their time, energy and creativity to the WRA, even as they faced the same exceptional personal and professional challenges everyone faced during this time.  

As for the staff members, they demonstrated a level of resiliency, innovation, resourcefulness and camaraderie that, in my mind, earns them the title of the best state association staff in America. They fought hard to ensure real estate was deemed “essential” and thus allowed to continue doing business at a time when government orders forced many industries to close. They continued throughout this time to advocate for our members while providing them with the legal tools necessary to continue doing business. Live courses turned virtual overnight, and the WRA Legal Hotline was busier than ever. While they were hastily separated, they were never alone, and they adeptly applied their talents and tenure to move from merely coping to extraordinary accomplishments in next to no time. I could not be prouder of each of them.   

And finally, I guess I learned a little about myself as well. Like all of you, I found it hard to measure the threat and manage to it. I found it even harder to muster the leadership necessary to inspire the changes we needed to deal with such an unknown threat. Each business decision had to be balanced with the personal health and safety impacts on our staff and their families. It was, and is, the hardest, yet most rewarding, time of my career with the WRA.  

Like all of you, I’m exhausted by this experience; but I’m also energized by what we’ve learned and am energized about our future. Things will never be the same, nor should they. Our goal should not be to return to the old normal but to embrace the new normal. We should celebrate what we’ve accomplished and build upon the new technologies, procedures, collaborations and communications we’ve discovered.

We are a stronger association and a stronger industry because of what we’ve lived through these past few months. Let’s take what we’ve learned from our COVID-19 experience to address other big issues facing our association, our industry, our state and our nation. It’s a new world. Let’s make the most of it.

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