Inman Diaries is a weekly feature tracking the day-to-day activities of America’s leading real estate agents in their own words. This week, Drew Nelson of The Nelson Brothers Team at Willis Allen Real Estate in San Diego, California, navigates the new normal as the realities of the coronavirus pandemic slowly became clear in the days leading up to March 19, when California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide order to stay at home.
Tuesday, March 10
6:00 p.m. I arrive at the closing party for the Luxury Portfolio International conference in Las Vegas. I’ve been here for a few days, and I’m reflecting on all of the great content and people I’ve met.
6:45 p.m. I’m enjoying the live music and hors d’oeuvres with my fellow Willis Allen Real Estate agents and our affiliates from around the country (most international affiliates had to stay home due to the COVID-19 concerns). We’re standing around a table that includes agents from Beverly Hills, Lake Tahoe, and New York City. While everyone has been told to refrain from physical contact, the festive environment seems to have made many people here throw some caution to the wind.
6:55 p.m. Everyone who is due to fly back to San Diego the next evening, myself included, gets an audible notification on their phone. Our flights have been canceled.
7:30 p.m. We all step away, quickly rebooking and selecting the earliest direct flights out for fear of being stranded. What would probably have been a later night than usual has now turned into an early bedtime, by Vegas standards.
10 p.m. I’m in my hotel room. The news is on as I finish the last of my packing. More cases of COVID-19 are being reported across the country. I pay attention to the terms “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” while I flatten my suits into my luggage.
Wednesday, March 11
5 a.m. I press a clean shirt and hop in the shower. If my flight is on time, I’ll be able to make Broker Caravan in La Jolla.
7:30 a.m. I’m on my flight back to San Diego; the plane is almost completely full since multiple flights were consolidated onto this one. I’m calm, but I’m also wondering if the sense of urgency that appeared to have washed over everyone in Las Vegas is being felt back home. Looking around, I can see that some of my fellow passengers elected to go straight from the tables to the airport. There was a time not that long ago when I would have been right there with them.
10 a.m. I make it to Broker Caravan! It felt a little slower than usual, and I was consciously aware that many people weren’t worried about social distancing. After having spent a few days in Las Vegas, I greet people with elbow bumps and nods. I didn’t know it at the time, but this could be the last Caravan for the foreseeable future and could really change the way people treat physical access to homes for sale.
1:15 p.m. I meet a buyer for the first of a few scheduled showings today. I’m slightly relieved that none of them have canceled, and I take this as a sign that things could continue to proceed as normal.
2 p.m. I squeeze in a late lunch at the Coffee Cup. It’s been a few days — I exchange the usual pleasantries with my usual waitress who asks if I’ll be having my usual. I order my usual, per usual. My dad, brother and I catch up on things ranging from life, to the market, to what is happening with the company and our 150 agents.
5 p.m. Attend my son’s golf clinic.
6 p.m. Time for family dinner.
7:30 p.m. The kids are asleep and I’m EXHAUSTED.
Thursday, March 12
5 a.m. I wake up and feed the dog, then try to go back to sleep.
6:30 a.m. My 5-year-old son comes bounding in and wants me to help him color.
8:15 a.m. I fit a workout in at Orange Theory.
10 a.m. The first of more scheduled showings today. I think to myself, “Maybe we’ll get lucky and this thing will blow right past San Diego.”
12 p.m. Lunch at the Coffee Cup. I order my usual.
1:15 p.m. Second showing at the house I showed at 3 p.m. yesterday, and now they have an offer so our client is even more interested, of course.
3 p.m. Another scheduled showing for a buyer who informs me, upon arrival, that her husband is coming too and that we should wait to enter until then. As we wait, we both seem to be making a conscious effort to stay a healthy distance from one another.
4 p.m. The husband finally arrives.
5:30 p.m. Arrive home, help kids with homework.
7 p.m. We put the kids to sleep and look forward to relaxing while catching up on the news. And finishing Narcos – Mexico…just watch it.
7:30 p.m. The kids are still awake. My wife Cindy and I try, again, to get them to sleep.
8:15 p.m. I flip to the news. Even more cases reported in the U.S. There are reports of bars and restaurants being ordered to close down in other parts of the country that have been hit harder. I exchange glances with my wife, who is sitting next to me, and we casually chat about what things would be like if this hit the San Diego area. Onto the grocery list goes: toilet paper and wine, not necessarily in that order.
9 p.m. My brother texts. He’s feeling a little under the weather and has decided to self-quarantine. We both agree to keep physical distance between us and our father, who falls into the category of those who are most at risk of severe complications from COVID-19. He also falls into a yet to be labeled category of people who think they are tougher than this virus.
9:15 p.m. I begin drafting emails to all of our buyers and sellers, letting them know that we will continue to serve in their best interests- as safely as possible — as the community appears to be bracing for what’s to come.
Friday, March 13
4:30 a.m. The dog wakes me up again, this time earlier than usual. I feed him and flip on the news. I don’t feel a sense of panic, but the rate of new developments seems to be rapid, and I want to make sure that I’m informed.
8:15 a.m. Workout at Orange Theory Fitness. The class was full, but we’re told to refrain from making any physical contact with anyone as opposed to the usual “high five your neighbor” between blocks. I find myself in a brief impromptu meeting afterwards with a client who happened to be in the workout class.
9 a.m. The office is a ghost town. It being Friday the 13th, it strikes me that this may be just superstition. My mind also comes up with several hilarious jokes about this particular Friday the 13th being the most normal day of what has been a crazy week. None of said jokes make it past draft form.
9:30 a.m. I receive notification from my son’s elementary school that they will be closing until at least April 6th. I call my wife and we start the beginnings of a plan and schedule.
9:45 a.m. One of our team members tells me that she isn’t feeling well. I send her home and tell her to rest up.
12 p.m. Lunch at the Coffee Cup. The waitress tells me that there’s a possibility they’ll be ordered to shut down all dine-in operations soon. When I find out the The Masters has been postponed (NOT cancelled!) is when it gets VERY real for me.
1 p.m. I print a list of my buyers and sellers. Starting from the top, my brother and business partner Tim and I divide them up to start dialing each one. As per the suggestion from our daily Ninja Selling email, I begin each conversation by asking them how they feel. I do what I can to provide reassurances and relay instances in which we’ve endured previous market shifts, making reference to the fact that our company, Willis Allen Real Estate, has been around for over 100 years and while they’re not identical, weathered storms of this sort before.
4 p.m. I’ve been on the phone for three straight hours, but only managed to speak to four of our clients. They all sounded calm, but there is an unmistakable sense of worry in their voices. One conversation went a whole hour with me talking for approximately 1 percent of the time. Thank GOD for ear buds.
5 p.m. I pull into my driveway to see my kids riding bikes in the cul de sac near our house. Business as usual!
6 p.m. Takeout arrives.
Saturday, March 14
8 a.m. I receive an email from Orange Theory saying that they’re cutting class sizes in half so that people can maintain their distance, while also cutting down on how long classes last to allow enough time to thoroughly wipe down each machine between classes.
11 a.m. I arrive at a second showing on one of our multi-million dollar listings that happens to have multiple offers. The buyers seem surprised that there is other interest in the property given everything going on, but there seems to be a segment of the market in which people see this market and the low interest rates as an opportunity.
1 p.m. I have two showings scheduled for one of our high-end listings. Before my brother Tim arrives at the home, the seller calls us and insists that anyone coming into the house wear a face mask. After a short conversation and several references to the CDC, the seller cancels all future showings and withdraws his home from the market.
2:15 p.m. I field a call from a seller who wants to withdraw their listing. This will be the second of several calls I receive today from sellers who want to withdraw. Each conversation has different angles and perspectives and some sellers elect to keep their homes active and on the market, while others take pause and want to withdraw their homes from the MLS.
4 p.m. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…
6 p.m. Dinner at the neighbors’ house has been canceled out of “an abundance of caution,” a phrase that is being used more and more often.
Sunday, March 15
8 a.m. I receive an email from Orange Theory informing me that they will be closed indefinitely.
9:30 a.m. I call my brother and we decide to tell our team that, beginning tomorrow, everyone should begin working remotely. We set parameters for availability: we’ll all be at our computers when not on showings, our phones will be on us at all times, and everyone will be accessible via Google Hangouts.
10 a.m. My brother and I call to check up on our dad and reiterate, once again, that he shouldn’t head into the office tomorrow.
1 p.m. After much back and forth, we have an agreed upon price for a listing on which we have a client who has made an offer! I’m encouraged by the fact that we’re still conducting business. The seller has one stipulation: that he be allowed to stay in the property for 60 days, rent free, after closing. Hours later, using this stipulation as a reason to do so, our buyer backs-out.
4 p.m. We submit an offer on a house that was shown earlier in the week. The owner is elderly, and we work with the listing agent to do all of the paperwork digitally. I never thought I’d say that docusign and digi-sign could save lives!
6 p.m. My wife and I have a good talk with our kids, letting them know that they’ll be spending a lot of time at home in the coming weeks. We discuss screen time — which they’re delighted to learn they will be getting a bit more of. My wife comes up with a great plan to make our kids feel included in the day-to-day scheduling of what’s to come.
Monday, March 16
10 a.m. I hear that my dad was in the office to attend a meeting. I reflect on his work ethic, his decades of dedication to this company and industry, and his innate drive to grind. With that sense of understanding, my brother and I call him and ask him what the $%&* he was thinking. We have a good chat, and he agrees to play it safe like everyone else moving forward. Jane, our COO, is instrumental in helping do the things our dad thinks he should be doing, and seems to be better than Tim and me at convincing our dad of this.
11:30 a.m. A rental showing that was scheduled for a family in NYC is canceled due to their inability to travel out here. I send their agent a link to our Matterport interactive 3D digital floorplan and virtual tour, which he then forwards to them. Within a few hours, they feel comfortable enough with the property to submit an application! I think to myself: could this be the future?
12 p.m. I learn that the Coffee Cup has closed indefinitely. Takeout orders are able to be placed online and picked up through a window, but their doors are otherwise locked. I quietly wonder if I might starve.
1:30 p.m. An escrow on one of our listings falls apart. It was negotiated several weeks ago and still in due diligence, and it seems that the buyers are not comfortable moving forward, which is disappointing and unlike what is happening with deals that are coming together right now at which time buyers’ and sellers’ eyes seem more wide open to the current reality. The question is how much that will change over the coming weeks.
2:15 p.m. I’m on the phone with more clients. We make plans to supplement people’s wariness to enter homes/let people into their homes with Matterport and FaceTime tours and even more detailed descriptions.
5:15 p.m. I hang up from my last client call. There will be more tomorrow.
5:30 p.m. My dad, the President and Owner of Willis Allen Real Estate, sends an email to the company. Our offices will be closed and minimally staffed for the next two weeks. His message is filled with positivity and encouragement. All of the Willis Allen employees will continue to be paid throughout this period, as will our team members, and there will be a concerted effort by all employees to be as accessible as ever. His message to us all is that we will get through this as a Willis Allen family and as a San Diego community.
5:35 p.m. I, like everyone else, have an unsettling feeling of uncertainty. But I also have a feeling of optimism and confidence that we will pull through this. I remain positive about residential real estate as an asset class and for its primary intended use, as a home, which is particularly relevant right now, and I also cannot help but feel a pride for the strength and compassion with which my brokerage is approaching the situation. With tomorrow comes another day.
Drew Nelson and his brother Tim are the Nelson Brothers Team at Willis Allen Real Estate. Having closed on over $675 million of sales volume, and over $70 million in 2019, they are one of the top producing teams specializing in coastal luxury real estate and investment property in San Diego and La Jolla — where they were born, raised and currently reside with their families. Both went to the University of Southern California, where Drew earned a BA in Finance and Business Economics with an emphasis in Real Estate, and Tim completed the Marshall School of Business Entrepreneurship Program.
Inman Diaries is a weekly feature tracking the day-to-day activities of America’s leading real estate agents and brokers. More than ever, Inman wants to hear from agents directly to understand how they’re navigating the coronavirus pandemic while balancing work and family. To submit a diary, please send requests to Diary@Inman.com.