UPDATED, March 17, 9:07 a.m.: Douglas Elliman’s new-development marketing division has closed all its on-site sales offices and galleries nationwide for the next two weeks, citing mounting health concerns over the coronavirus.
The decision came Friday in an email sent by the firm’s head of new development, Susan de França. The closure extends through March 31.
In her email, França emphasized that the firm is “open to discussing with our clients the impromptu situations that will inevitably arise.” An Elliman spokesperson confirmed the closure and noted that it would apply to all of the sales galleries nationwide.
“In consultation with each of our respected developer clients, we have decided to promote social distancing by physically closing,” the spokesperson said in a statement. The firm will continue to operate remotely using “digital resources and virtual meeting platforms,” according to the statement.
On Friday, the brokerage also closed all its offices for cleaning as a precaution amid growing concern of the coronavirus pandemic. Those included offices in New York, New Jersey, Florida and California.
Less than two weeks ago, Elliman Development Marketing launched condo sales at the Waldorf Astoria. The storied Park Avenue hotel’s condo conversion includes 375 units, priced between $1.7 million to $18.5 million. Developer Dajia US is leading the project.
According to a separate email sent by Elliman’s Dan Tubb, the senior director of sales at the Waldorf, the property’s sales gallery will be closed for at least two weeks, adhering with New York state’s recommendation to practice social distancing.
In a statement provided to The Real Deal after this story published, Tubb noted that the sales team is working remotely with “video touring capabilities in place.” He added that “our operations have transitioned seamlessly.”
Elliman’s not alone in closing its sales galleries. One of its rivals in new development sales, Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group, is now conducting all showings via virtual tour.
“All of our developments are open for business and taking virtual appointments with digital tools,” said Kelly Mack, president of Corcoran Sunshine. The firm is representing projects, including 15 and 35 Hudson Yards, Waterline Square and 30 Park Place, among others.
As the coronavirus pandemic has intensified in recent weeks, demand for video tours of properties, particularly in the rental market, has spiked, according to agents and providers.
Many residential brokerages began implementing work from home policies late last week. Some brokers, including Compass’ Leonard Steinberg, and the agent group he co-chairs — the New York Residential Agent Continuum — have encouraged agents to suspend showings altogether out of “moral obligation.”
Michael Romer, managing partner and co-founder of Romer Debbas, LLP which represents both sponsors, buyers and sellers of condominium and cooperatives, said the brokerage office closures and suspension of showings was cause for concern.
“I think it’s going to be difficult to get new deals done in this new world,” he said. Though he said deals are still closing, there’s an added emphasis for clients not to appear personally and sign over powers of attorney and close in escrow, but the “lack of new deals has many concerned.”
“We’re seeing more and more developers starting to close their sales offices and this is troubling because developers were previously concerned about lack of market activity and this is just going to add to that,” he said.
There’s $5.7 billion in existing new development condo inventory on the market, $2.2 billion in contract and $33 billion of shadow inventory that hasn’t yet been listed, according to Halstead Development Marketing.
Romer also expressed doubt over whether virtual showings will be able to sustain sales.
“At the end of the day, the best way to sell a property is in-person, but times are changing. We all have to adapt,” he said. “We’re in uncharted territories. I think it’s going to take some time for all this to play out, to say the least.”
Write to Erin Hudson at [email protected]
Editor’s note: A statement provided post-publication from Douglas Elliman Development Marketing’s Dan Tubb has been added.