As more states gradually begin to open up for business, agents in some states are preparing for increased face-to-face interactions both at their brokerages and at showings by stocking up on hard-to-find personal protective equipment (PPE).
Will those brokerages that become well-equipped with PPE for the times ahead distinguishing themselves above the rest by projecting an image of safety and cleanliness? Is a well-stocked supply of personal protective equipment the latest status symbol for the real estate industry and beyond?
“We’ve kept functioning and we have masks and gloves for our agents, and obviously we don’t want to put anyone at risk or anything,” Chelsea Phillips, a Realtor for the Chelsea Phillips Real Estate Group at Six Bricks Realty in Savannah, Georgia, told Inman. “Since it’s been considered essential in Georgia we don’t want to do a disservice to our clients at this time.”
PPE, worn to minimize exposure to hazards in the workplace that can cause injury or illness, can include items like face masks, gowns, protective eye wear, protective booties, gloves and other equipment, depending on the work environment.
With shortages in crucial items like face masks abounding during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been no easy task finding PPE these days. Many agents right now have been simply stocking up on items like face masks and gloves wherever they can get them at this point. Often, that includes from colleagues, neighbors and even clients.
“I have a client that is a doctor and he got us some masks, and then we have some other clients who have been sewing masks, so we’ve been pretty well-stocked,” Phillips said.
“We wouldn’t want to take those away from doctors because of the shortage,” Phillips added. “But, we had someone give them to us at the beginning of all this.”
Phillips said she has another client who has been using a 3D printer to make masks, and from whom she’s been able to acquire more masks.
“The masks are reusable, so it’s not like we need a ton,” Phillips noted. “Almost everything we’ve gotten, we had those from before [the peak of the pandemic].”
Amidst shortages, Phillips’ husband has been making hand sanitizer.
“I guess we are the boy scouts of real estate right now,” Phillips said.
Robin Harrison, an owner/broker of Carolina Homes and Land Realty in Walterboro, South Carolina, told Inman she has been gathering supplies where she can, seeking out face masks from medical supply stores and crafty friends who are sewing them, and asking clients to bring their own masks to any in-person meetings.
“It is very hard to find [PPE],” Harrison said. “Medical supply places, they are very limited as to what they’ll give you … we are even trying to make hand sanitizer.”
Fortunately, John Hatcher, broker of The Hatcher Group at Keller Williams Realty in Portland, Maine, said he had an ample supply of protective booties in stock before the COVID-19 outbreak went into full-swing. In terms of other protective equipment, his group has been making hand sanitizer, acquiring gloves from a restaurant supply store and getting cotton face masks with built-in filters from individuals who have been making them locally.
“If [clients] have [face masks], we ask them to bring them,” Hatcher told Inman. “And if not, we’ll supply them with one. Rubber gloves as well.”
“The hand sanitizer is one of the easiest things to make,” Hatcher said. “So there’s no excuse for people not to use it.”
In Montana, one of the states that’s been least hard-hit by the pandemic, Parker Heller, broker/owner of Century 21 Heritage Realty in Helena, said he’s been stocking up on masks, booties, Clorox wipes and Purell, but that many sellers are not making hard requirements about potential buyers using this equipment.
“We don’t have too many houses where we have to wear masks, gloves, booties,” Heller told Inman. “There are a few that recommend it. But as an office, we have told the agents to get their own. We do have two agents who make their own masks, so some of us have been using those.”
Heller also recently found a local supplier that is still selling masks, although he said it will be two to three weeks before they arrive.
“The nice part about Montana is that we’re relatively quiet,” Heller said. “It’s not the hustle and bustle that’s going on all the time, so it is really easy to do social distancing … We read about what’s been going on in the rest of the world, and it just seems so far away for us.”
Although PPE has become a near-necessity for most during this time, agents seem hesitant to say that it will become a requirement for brokerages and agents who want to succeed in the future because of the way it impedes upon the human connection between agent and client.
“One thing that we do find … is that when people wear booties, gloves and face masks that they’re not used to, it does not give that whole ‘hominess’ of a home,” Hatcher said. “People just aren’t used to it.”
Phillips said, at the end of the day, she thought buyers were more concerned with getting the home they want than with doing extensive research on the PPE practices of the agent or brokerage they’re working with.
“I wish people did that much research on agents, but they’ll just call up [the phone number] on a [for-sale] sign,” Phillips said. “I think they’re going to care more about the agent that calls and checks up on them during this time. But, that’s not a question we’re getting when they want to meet.”
“In our business we read people’s psyche when they’re walking through a house to get a reaction,” Hatcher said. “That whole newness of wearing masks and gloves … that whole feeling is just not normal for us.”
“Again, we’ll do it as long as it’s recommended,” Hatcher added. “And we’re planning on keeping all our supplies available as long as we need to.”
Where to find face masks and gloves
- The NAR team store is selling Realtor branded face masks that may arrive to buyers by early to mid June, depending on the order size.
- USA Medical and Surgical supplies expects a new supply of face masks in 30-45 days.
- Amazon still seems to have various face masks available for sale, though anticipated delivery dates will vary widely and may not be prompt.
- Henry Schein Medical Supplies has limited stock available of some types of face masks.
- MD Supplies has some latex gloves available.
- Discount Medical Supplies also has a limited amount of PPE available.
- Image Source has ramped up their PPE production amidst the pandemic, and can provide products blank or branded as requested.
- Continue to check in with your local pharmacy and grocery store for face masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, which are being restocked, but often sell out quickly. Grocery stores often still have rubber kitchen gloves available, at least.
- If you’re not afraid to go the DIY route with a face mask, the New York Times has created various guides on how to make masks and the pros and cons of using different materials in your home.