After months of virtual everything, an agent feels ready for much more direct interaction. Can her broker convince her otherwise? Anthony Askowitz explores this hypothetical real estate situation from both sides of the broker/agent dynamic. 

In this monthly column, Anthony Askowitz explores a hypothetical real estate situation from both sides of the broker/agent dynamic. 

A veteran agent is feeling increasingly confident and optimistic about the impact of COVID on real estate, with demand surging and prices rising in her market. 

After months of virtual meetings and showings, she feels ready for much more direct interaction with colleagues, clients, friends and family. 

How can her broker remind her that the pandemic still rages and that she should expect social distancing guidelines to remain in place for the foreseeable future?

Agent perspective

The first two months of the pandemic were an absolute nightmare. As a busy residential real estate agent, I was still able to practice in theory, but there was no way to operate realistically. When my office temporarily closed its doors, we knew little about COVID or how it spread. Even the sellers who didn’t completely shut down refused to have strangers in their homes for showings. 

It was impossible to predict what might happen to our market and health care systems, and a heavy layer of fear hung over our industry and society in general. I must admit that I wasn’t immune.

But things have certainly changed eight months down the road, and many serious unknowns have been resolved. 

First and foremost, while the virus is still with us, we know it is not deadly in every case, and it can be avoided to a degree with some common-sense distancing and sanitizing. 

Our industry pivoted to virtual meetings and showings quickly, forever changing the inefficient model of chauffeuring buyers from house to house and inconveniencing sellers with multiple showings. 

Best of all, our market experienced a surge of buyers from major, crowded U.S. cities searching for spacious single-family homes, which are now selling at a premium. As guidelines slowly relaxed in our area, months of pent-up demand for socializing, shopping and relocating is unleashed across the board.

I am feeling more confident and optimistic about real estate in general and about engaging the world again. Over the past week, I have met with colleagues at the office, lunched with clients at outside cafes and conducted some in-person showings. I know the virus is still “out there,” but I believe we have learned to live with it — and that the end of this crazy period is within sight.

Broker perspective

Although I am pleased to see this agent confident and living without fear, this is absolutely no time to become complacent and let our guards down concerning the virus. 

COVID cases are surging in the heartland and Midwest, and experts predict a very challenging “second wave” (as if the first “wave” ever ended!) of infections, hospitalizations and deaths over the virus-friendly winter months. 

In the harder-hit areas, many of us have known a friend, co-worker, client or family member with a severe case of COVID or have had it ourselves. 

We know what it is to spend days or weeks waiting, unable to visit — let alone help — terrified of a bad turn. If we have not personally lost someone close, most of us know someone who has.

With such a dangerous and invisible enemy, it’s easy to take an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to practicing real estate. We live in a time and place where instant gratification is the norm and expected. With quick access to online information, social media and multiple communication lines, it becomes challenging to maintain restrictive standards for extended periods. 

While the election keeps the pandemic front and center in the news media, what happens afterward when it is not in the news every day? It’s only natural to feel safe and let our guards down, and we risk talking ourselves into believing what we wish to be true — that we are safe. That’s precisely when a single error in judgment can put one in quarantine for two weeks — if not worse. Then there is the additional risk of infecting loved ones before we even know we are infected.

As this agent points out, there is a single-family home sales boom underway. Families are desperately searching for large square footage, pools and ample outdoor space, as well as the opportunity to cash in on 3 percent interest rates on home loans.

A successful agent can’t sit on the sidelines in such an environment. Still, I must urge her to continue following all social distancing guidelines and avoiding crowds unless and until a reliable vaccine is distributed — no matter how long that process takes. We must remember what’s creating this demand: people fleeing confined living spaces searching for safety, comfort and relatively normal lives.

How to resolve

It’s true that the pandemic has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans (and the number keeps climbing) and that a winter surge could be incredibly challenging. It’s also true that doctors continue to enhance the treatment of COVID cases. Hospitals have not been overwhelmed to the degree once feared (as they were in New York City), and society has generally improved its distancing practices under the pandemic.

But we aren’t out of the woods yet. Experts are uncertain when a vaccine will be available (as indicated by the pausing of two recent major vaccine trials, which are set to resume). We will not know the actual effectiveness of a vaccine for months after it has become available, nor will we know if reinfection is possible, if long-term immunity comes after recovery, or if an “immune” person can still be a carrier. 

Surges in their respective markets might energize real estate agents, but they must continue to be vigilant about mask-wearing, sanitizing and following social distancing guidelines.

We have come a long way and are stronger for it. Our business has smoothly transitioned and will continue to perfect techniques that will keep us as safe as possible while reaching higher professional service levels along the way. With patience and persistence, we will get there!

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 three consecutive years (2018, 2019, and 2020), 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.

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