In this monthly column, Anthony Askowitz explores a hypothetical real estate situation from both sides of the broker/agent dynamic.
A busy and successful agent is making every effort to respect social distancing, but would like occasional direct access to her office and its staff. Her broker respects her work ethic, but has closed the office until further notice out of an abundance of caution. About half of the agents in the office agree with the broker, and the other half with this agent. Who’s making the right call in this situation?
In this new COVID-19 reality where retail stores and restaurant dining rooms are closed until further notice, we are very fortunate to live where real estate is still deemed an “essential business.” While practicing social distancing and going beyond the guidelines set by the National Association of Realtors, I am still doing everything I can to represent my clients during this time.
In fact, while some of my competitors are completely shutting things down to hibernate and work on their Zooming skills, I see this as a unique opportunity to distinguish myself as the agent who will go the extra mile, especially when times get tough or unusual.
Which is why I am especially frustrated with my broker’s decision to shut down our office until further notice. What kind of message does this send, especially when our state government has given us the green light to stay open?
There is definitely a way to keep things running and still follow public health guidelines, just like supermarkets, restaurants and other essential businesses during this time. If agents like me are still able to “stay open,” why can’t my office?
There is simply no playbook for this pandemic. Like everyone else, we are figuring it out as we go, making tough decisions every day and trying to prioritize health and safety over commerce and profitability.
With respect to closing our office while agents continue to work, it is a classic “apples and oranges” situation. While it may not be easy for individual agents to pivot their work practices and environments, they are able to make those decisions and changes according to what works for them (and only them) as independent contractors.
It is, however, an entirely different matter for an entire real estate office. While independent contractors have the freedom to make decisions based solely on their own needs and priorities, brokers are responsible for the well-being of everyone under their supervision, as well as the well-being of the office itself.
At the office level, we have major, complex issues to wrestle with, including financial responsibilities, adhering to insurance guidelines, government rules and recommendations for COVID-19 and avoiding potential legal entanglements. Most importantly, the health of our employees and their families, as well as the health of agents, customers and the general public.
As a result, every decision made for the company has a wide-reaching effect. Employees required to work at the office have the potential to bring any contagion contracted from home and vice versa. They don’t have the freedom to choose, as an independent contractor does.
How to resolve
We can always find solutions through compromise and creativity. Just as agents have adjusted the way they operate, so have many real estate offices. Numerous staffers have figured out how to work at home. Those who must physically be at the office (to perform essential activities such as processing checks) are only staying for very short periods of time and remaining isolated for their own safety as well as the safety of others.
Brokers should extend efforts to stay in touch with agents and staffers and ensure that everyone has what they need. Virtual meetings and social “gatherings” can keep everyone updated and informed, and provide a sense of normalcy and community. (In fact, many brokers find themselves more accessible and communicating more frequently with agents and staffers than they were than prior to the pandemic.)
Anthony is the broker-owner of RE/MAX Advance Realty in South Miami and Kendall, where he leads the activities of more than 165 agents. He is also a working agent who consistently sells more than 100 homes a year. For two consecutive years (2018 and 2019), Anthony has been honored as the “Managing Broker of the Year” by Miami Agent Magazine’s Agents’ Choice Awards. NOTE: Anthony is not an attorney and does not give legal advice. Please consult a licensed attorney regarding matters discussed in this column.