Brokers are back, but what about buyers?

Return of in-person showings has many agents excited, others anxious

TRD New York /
Jun.June 22, 2020 08:55 AM
“Phase two is going to start bringing back the energy:” Residential brokers are coming back in full force, despite some reservations (iStock)

“Phase two is going to start bringing back the energy:” Residential brokers are coming back in full force, despite some reservations (iStock)

For three months, McKenzie Ryan has had a war room to prepare for showings to restart in New York City.

The Compass broker has written a Post-it Note with the name of every potential buyer who’s reached out to her.

“That’s how I have to keep track of it,” she said. “I literally need a map.”

Now, it’s go time.

McKenzie Ryan, Compass

McKenzie Ryan, Compass

Agents are excited, anxious or, in some cases, ambivalent as the ban on showing New York City properties lifts today.

Some are binge-watching webinars on reopening protocols. Others are studying legislation, guidance and reems of documents prepared by their firms and the Real Estate Board of New York.

“I’m reading, reading, reading,” said Sheila Trichter, a broker at Warburg Realty. “What are recommendations, what are rules, what are laws.”

Preparations kicked into high gear last week as the residential real estate industry waited with bated breath for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to confirm the city was moving into phase two of reopening, which allows for showings in the flesh.

Agents, developers and brokerages blame the ban for a dramatic drop-off in sales and rentals. So hopes — and balance sheets — are depending on consumers to start showing up to see homes across the city again.

But some things will be different. Masks, gloves, booties and hand sanitizer will be mainstays, as will health-screening questionnaires and even liability forms.

But adrenaline is so high, said Bess Freedman, CEO of Brown Harris Stevens, that she has even had trouble sleeping. “The lead-up has been really intense,” she said.

In addition to preparing for offices to reopen, Pam Liebman, CEO and president of the Corcoran Group, has been fielding client calls to refer to agents.

“There is a lot of pent-up demand,” she said. “[Agents] are anxious to get back out there.”

Jordan Sachs, CEO of Bold New York, said he anticipates a surge in listings and more activity on the streets as agents start pounding the pavement again.

“Phase two is going to start bringing back the energy,” he said. “The brokerage community is going to come out swinging on Monday and they’re going to create that energy for consumers.”

Not all agents are as gung ho, however.

Trichter said she landed three new sellers as phase two approached but none wanted to list immediately, given lingering questions about so-called pandemic pricing.

“We’re all raring to go,” she said. “But I think for the most part, most people are just going to wait and see what happens.”

Matthew Lesser, Leslie J. Garfield

Matthew Lesser, Leslie J. Garfield

Matthew Lesser of Leslie J. Garfield agreed, pointing to the start of summer and end of the school year as a time when people check out. He said he has eight properties that he expects to list gradually over the next few weeks.

“Things haven’t really changed for me,” he professed. “Buyers are out there, no question, and I think people are waiting to see what inventory hits the market and where they’re priced.”

Deanna Kory, Corcoran

Deanna Kory, Corcoran

Corcoran’s Deanna Kory is bringing six listings online Monday, but she echoed the sentiment, noting that with the July 4 holiday coming up, things will likely be slow. She also noted that there could be buildings that maintain their lockdowns and refuse to allow showings.

“We don’t know what we’re walking into,” she said, pointing to one well-heeled building on the Upper West Side that’s only allowing showings between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays.

Roughly 15 percent to 20 percent of the hundreds of luxury buildings that property manager Orsid Realty oversees in Manhattan have no plans to relax their lockdown rules, which often includes barring guests from entering the building, according to executive vice president Dennis DePaolo.

Most agents say that inaccessibility to a property now will be a dealbreaker.

Noel Roberts, Nest Seekers

Noel Roberts, Nest Seekers

Hamptons-based Noel Roberts of Nest Seekers International recalled buyers requesting to walk the perimeter of a 1.5-acre property and peer in the windows. “We immediately crossed it off the list,” he said, “because they’re not going to make a $3 million decision on a house that they can’t see.” Showings have since resumed on Long Island.

Lesser also said most of his clients would not close a deal without touring it.

But given uncertainty about the economy, showings might not be enough to unfreeze the residential market. Ken Horn of Alchemy Properties, the developer behind the Woolworth Buliding’s condos, is expecting to complete construction on the sales gallery for his 378 West End Avenue condo in July.

But he said he was “undecided, frankly” about when it might actually open, citing the typically slow summer months.

Despite questions over whether showings will translate into buying, many, like Compass’ Ryan, feel deals are inevitable. Pricing, though, is another matter.

“Just by the sheer nature of increasing showings, there will be an increase in offers and contract signs,” said Ryan. “It will be extremely interesting to see what those offers look like.”

Write to Erin Hudson at [email protected]


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