UPDATED, March 15, 6:55 p.m.: Leonard Steinberg, Compass’ chief evangelist, called for a two-week moratorium on open houses and in-person property showings as U.S. officials attempt to slow the spread of a deadly strain of coronavirus.
In an Instagram post on Sunday morning, Steinberg didn’t mince words. “We should all view it as a moral obligation to not expose this virus to the most vulnerable,” he wrote.
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Many have reached out to me to ask for my opinion on the current situation real estate-wise, so here goes: I always like to focus on what we DO know. We don’t know enough yet to know what comes next, but what we DO know for sure is that mass testing, restricting human contact combined with patience work. We also know that you may be asymptomatic – yet infected and contagious – and for this reason alone we need to be unselfish and be certain not to expose this virus to the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. With this in mind, I firmly believe we should cease all physical property showings and open houses – mostly in the hardest hit areas – for at least the next two weeks and re-assess periodically. Economically, there is no way to know the full impact of this virus until we have an end in sight. The sooner the better. The longer this ensues, the greater the chance of a recession. The quicker it is contained the better. What we DO know is that real estate markets love low interest rates and massive global government stimulus. Banks and corporations are in a very different, healthier situation compared to the Great Recession. Corporations have stock-piled tons of cash awaiting tough times….and buying opportunities. Real estate markets also benefit from wait-and-see buyer build-up. Sometimes they bounce back passionately after these waiting periods. Right now our #1 focus should be health and safety. We should all view it as a moral obligation to not expose this virus to the most vulnerable. Wash hands. Disciplined human distancing. Life will go on after this passes. It always does. Real estate markets and economies will bounce back with time….they always do. So while we all do our part to prevent the spread of this virus, working remotely from home in virtual life will expand and grow dramatically. We have been practicing for this for years now. We are prepared! We can do TONS virtually, much, much more than a decade ago. Technology will be our best friend. I’m choosing to take on a fact-based positive attitude, and while I ‘ve never yearned for this moment, I choose to make it…… VIRTUALICIOUS! 🙏🙏🙏
He noted that mass testing and restricting human contact — aka “social distancing” — are known to slow the spread of COVID-19, since people can be infected and contagious even if they don’t have symptoms. “With this in mind, I firmly believe we should cease all physical property showings and open houses — mostly in the hardest hit areas — for at least the next two weeks and re-assess periodically,” he wrote.
As the number of reported cases in the U.S. has increased, schools and universities have closed; businesses have told employees to work from home; and even Apple said it would close most of its stores to slow the spread of the disease.
New York’s top residential brokerages have also taken swift action.
Compass’ regional employees are working from home for two weeks and meetings are being held virtually. R New York also closed its office, while firms including Douglas Elliman, Brown Harris Stevens, Halstead, and Leslie J. Garfield advised agents to work from home.
Triplemint also “strongly encouraged” agents and staff to work from home last week after an agent attended a conference where an individual later tested positive for COVID-19. (The firm’s office remains available as needed but visitors aren’t allowed.) Elliman temporarily closed all of its offices on Friday for a deep cleaning.
Meanwhile, a slew of companies are embracing video tours, including Compass, which is promoting virtual open houses via Instagram stories. Keyo, a venture capital-backed startup focused on rentals, said demand for virtual showings is up 200 percent over the past three weeks; Urbane Brokerage said the volume of video tours it is doing is up nearly 70 percent.
In his social media post, Steinberg said thanks to tech advancements over the past several years, the real estate industry is well-prepared for remote work. “We can do TONS virtually, much much more than a decade ago,” he said.
He also weighed in on the economic impact of the pandemic. “The longer this ensues, the greater the chance of a recession,” he said. But he said banks are in a better position than they were in 2008. “Corporations have stock-piled tons of cash awaiting tough times… and buying opportunities. Real estate markets also benefit from wait-and-see buyer build-up.”
CORRECTION: This article erroneously stated that a Triplemint agent tested positive for COVID-19. The agent, who later tested negative, attended the same conference as another individual who tested positive.