NY real estate agent asked not to see clients after coronavirus exposure

Triplemint CEO says circumstances did not call for agent to undergo a test for COVID-19; firm closed offices Monday for "deep clean"

Triplemint's David Walker and Philip Lang (Credit: Triplemint, iStock)
Triplemint's David Walker and Philip Lang (Credit: Triplemint, iStock)

UPDATED, March 9, 2020, 3:40 p.m.: One of Triplemint’s agents has been asked to not see clients after exposure to someone who later tested positive for coronavirus.

The brokerage’s executives learned about the incident on Sunday and informed the firm in an email that its New York City office would be closed on Monday for sanitizing and a “deep clean,” according to Philip Lang, Triplemint’s COO and co-founder.

“We recently became aware that last week someone in the office was very briefly in the vicinity of another person who has tested positive for the virus (they have no symptoms and the risk is extremely low),” Lang wrote in his email to agents.

CEO David Walker said the agent was not required to undergo a test for COVID-19. But Walker said Triplemint requested the agent refrain from interacting with clients out of an “abundance of caution.”

In an email to the company, Lang called Triplemint’s closure of the office on Monday a decision made out of “extreme abundance of caution.”

Brookfield Asset Management is taking similar steps at its New York City headquarters after one of its employees tested positive for COVID-19, Bloomberg reported on Monday. Brookfield has asked some employees to work from home, conducting a deep clean of the floor where the employee sat. It has also begun sanitizing common spaces every two hours.

The executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Rick Cotton, also tested positive for the virus, Gov. Andrew announced on Monday. He is self-quarantined and working remotely. Over the weekend, the governor declared a state of emergency as the number of COVID-19 cases in New York reached more than 100.

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Triplemint’s 170-plus agents were given an hour window Monday morning to pick up any materials they need to work remotely from the Times Square office, and meetings scheduled for Tuesday will now be held virtually.

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When reached for comment, Lang said that Triplemint had been planning to go remote, but the incident with one of its agents prompted the firm to take action sooner.

“This was someone who was exposed to someone else when they were asymptomatic,” he said. He declined to elaborate on the incident beyond saying that the Triplemint agent and the person with coronavirus “briefly” were in the same room. Walker later elaborated that the contact occurred at a real estate conference. He declined to say which one.

“Frankly, I think this is going to be the norm in the next week,” he said. “Everybody is going to have a second degree connection to this.”

Lang maintained that the firm is not concerned about this particular case. His overarching priority is to limit the contact any one agent could have with others. This would limit the risk of the firm’s workforce getting sick or an agent being put in quarantine, without the ability to work.

“In this specific scenario we’re really not concerned about exposure,” he said. “I think it’s just really important to set a standard for how this is going to work in the real estate industry.”

Lang said Triplemint is ironing out its protocols based on interim guidance released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for businesses and “state authorities.” He said Triplemint expects to be sending its new procedures out to its agents later Monday.

The firm also advised agents to take precautions when meeting with clients, such as not shaking hands, avoiding touching objects within apartments and not standing close while talking.

“I think it’s important that every firm takes these precautions now,” said Lang. “This is the first of many times we expect this to happen over the next couple weeks.”

Write to Erin Hudson at ekh@therealdeal.com

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly described Triplemint’s directive to its agent as a quarantine. This also updates CEO David Walker’s comments.