By Shelly Place
All of us are spending a lot more time at home lately, giving us more reason to love and appreciate how incredibly important our homes are to us. It’s no wonder that in-person apartment showings have been the activity that the rest of the home-buying process has typically revolved around. A home has to “feel right” for the buyer, after all.
The process of buying or selling a home has traditionally been a physical, tactile one. You meet a lot of people, shake a lot of hands, touch a lot of doorknobs. On March 22nd, Governor Cuomo put a ban on non-essential work in NY that included in-person real estate showings and open houses. Although this was unsurprising (most agents were already working from home), this ban was a blow to the real estate community and anyone who had plans to move in the foreseeable future. In some ways though, the ban brought me a huge sense of relief. The message to all of NYC’s 30,000+ agents and their clients was clear: We were all in this together. We were all to stay home. No grey area.
There’s a culture of action and toughness amongst NYC real estate agents that makes sitting on our couches counter-intuitive. We’re out on weekends and holidays. We’re out in 105-degree weather and in negative 10-degree weather. We’re out in blizzards, thunderstorms, and hailstorms. I personally have shed real blood (usually from blisters), sweat and tears for this job. The same morning I found out my grandfather had passed away, I rode the 2 train for an hour each way to show a buyer an apartment uptown. I was OK with doing this because my client needed a place, and I loved the job and needed to be able to continue to justify (both financially and emotionally) doing it. I ended up getting stood up. She forgot about our appointment. It happens sometimes.
The famous line for performers is “the show must go on!” The saying for agents could be “the deal must get done.” Before COVID, that might have meant taking a packed subway ten times a day or traveling great distances to show a place or meet with someone. COVID changes all of that though. Now, the most important thing I can do for my community is to stay home and continue to find creative, innovative ways to help and support my buyers, renters and sellers.
Sometimes that’s as simple as providing information and reassurance. For the first few weeks of this, I spent a lot of time simply assuring clients with pending deals that their moving plans wouldn’t be dead in the water. Eventually the city’s brokerages, attorneys, bankers, and moving companies collectively figured out new processes for getting work done with as little face-to-face contact as possible. It took a couple weeks, but we’ve been chugging along (albeit, more slowly) since, with virtual home showings and closings.
I’ve actually been impressed with how much we’ve still been able to do. Some New Yorkers have had to put plans on hold, of course. But for others, this has been an opportunity and they’ve found silver linings in a scary, uncertain time.
Home buying is bound to look different after this pandemic though. I expect buyers will do a lot more vetting of properties online, and I expect sellers to spend a lot more time vetting buyers before they open their homes to strangers. I expect technology to get better through all of this and for virtual showings to be embraced more. But in the words of Marvin Gaye, “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.” No matter what shape the search process takes from here, people need to feel like they’re at home when they walk through those doors.
Shelly Place is residential real estate agent working in Manhattan and Brooklyn.