Business veteran David Hicks is CEO of Dallas-based HomeVestors, the original We Buy Ugly Houses company. It has more than 1,100 franchises in 170 markets across the country. Hicks joined the company in 2005 as director of franchise systems and developed a process for coaching franchisees.
How is your company coping amid the COVID-19 crisis?
“Along with most other Dallas companies, our corporate offices have been closed since the first stay-at-home order was issued and our staff have been officing from home. The transition has gone surprisingly smoothly.
“In fact, we had a head start because our building lost power for several days over a year ago and we had to scramble to set up a way to support our franchises without actually being in the office. At that point, we started with a continuity plan in case it happened again and sent half of our staff to work from home for a couple of weeks before the stay-at-home order to test the processes. This ultimately made the actual transition very smooth.
“Our franchises in the 47 states that we serve had a mixture of situations. Many could function under almost normal circumstances in their cities because real estate was deemed an essential service. In these locations, the focus was about keeping our franchises, our buyers, and the sellers we serve safe, so the focus was on training and safety.
“In other states, visiting houses was not even possible, so we had to establish a process for buying a house virtually. Many other home buyers stopped buying altogether, but we felt obligated to maintain activity since so many homeowners were looking for a way to sell.”
What are the short-term ramifications for your specific industry?
“Since HomeVestors has 1,100 franchises in 170 markets across the country, the impact has been varied. Even in markets where real estate was deemed essential, the impact has been felt, since the fear factor of having someone in your house still impacted business.
“Other markets, especially those in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington, have been more severely impacted. Real estate in these markets was not considered essential, so face-to-face meetings were restricted. But, we still had sellers call us needing to sell their ugly houses.
“Our franchises had to adapt quickly, so they developed a process to do virtual appointments. While results were impacted, the fact is we continued to buy houses across the country even during these challenging times.”
Have you found silver linings in these challenging times?
“A mentor of mine, Paul J. Meyer, has a saying, “In every adversity is the seed of equal or greater opportunity.” This has proven to be the case for HomeVestors in several ways. For example, we are learning to use technologies that will benefit us in the future.
“With franchises across the country, communication has always been a challenge. Even within a city, Ad Councils meeting in person can be tough. Now, we have discovered that we can effectively meet virtually more often using technology—it would be tough for our team to travel to two or three cities a week to meet franchises, but we can now easily meet that many in a day with Teams or Zoom.
“Even our traditional meetings, like our annual mid-year summit in June would normally have 300 to 400 franchises attend physically. This year, we will impact twice that many with our first virtual summit.
Also, historically, our franchises have only occasionally bought houses from sellers in other cities, but since this began, they have probably bought more virtually in the last month than over the last few years.