In residential real estate, some buyers always need to buy and some sellers always need to sell. Amid escalating concerns about the spread of COVID-19, the New York real estate business is pushing the pause button, but not the stop button.
According to a survey of all Warburg Realty agents, Sunday open houses were sparsely attended this past week, especially those which had not switched to a “by appointment only” format, ensuring that only one viewer group could tour the property at a time.
But people did show up, and they did make offers.
Our industry is recognizing the need for substantial preventive measures. Those agents who toured properties with buyers today reported numerous precautions in place: booties for shoes, alcohol wipes for door knobs (no one was touching them), hand sanitizer or hand washing at both the beginning and the end of the showing. Many listing agents conducted showings wearing disposable gloves.
There is substantial debate in our industry at this time about whether showings should be taking place at all.
Some industry groups are calling for a complete moratorium on showings for the next two weeks, describing it as “a moral imperative.” I deeply disagree. For one thing, why two weeks? Does anyone believe the situation will have ameliorated in two weeks?
Closing the New York City public schools was a moral imperative. Prohibiting gatherings of more than 20 or 25 people seems like a moral imperative (and as I write the CDC just recommended a moratorium on gatherings of 50 or more people). Organizing customs routines at our major national airports so thousands of people are not forced into cattle car wait lines to retrieve luggage clearly qualifies as a moral imperative.
But showing an apartment, with all due precautions including social distancing behavior? No. Agents can show responsibly under these conditions, and many continue to do so on behalf of buyers who believe they may have opportunity now, or sellers who cannot wait weeks or months to resume their sales plans.
Fortunately, the enormous advances in listing technology make it easier than ever to view and gain knowledge about properties online. With detailed descriptions, photos, video tours and floor plans, a buyer can learn a great deal about a property from the comfort of their own living room.
Spending more time at home creates the opportunity for recreational real estate shopping, already an addictive and entertaining pastime for millions of Americans. Most buyers, however, wish to actually see a property before they buy it. And who can blame them? A picture may be worth a thousand words, but for most buyers, only a live viewing is worth $1 million.
Like the buyers and sellers we serve, and like most Americans, real estate agents both want and need to work. Inevitably, that work may involve leaving home and going out into the world.
For today, with the proper precautions and the appropriate amount of care and distancing, not to mention a decision to remain at home if ill in any way, brokers should continue to do what they do best. We sell homes, a particularly profound concept now that we are all spending more time in the ones we have.
In doing this job, our work can bring joy, relief, and a commitment to the future to our clients and customers. No epidemic lasts forever, and everyone will still need a place to live when this one passes.