Has coronavirus killed real estate’s “handshake deal?”

Brokers and developers say they are following advice to replace handshakes with elbow or fist bumps

UPDATED, 11:46 a.m. March 11: The “handshake deal” has been a core component of real estate transactions for decades, but the rapidly spreading coronavirus could mean that the age-old term no longer applies.

“I’m a big handshaker,” said G&M Realty founder Jerry Wolkoff. “But now, I don’t even do the fist bump. I give them the elbow.”

Coronavirus cases have been surging in New York, and health officials have recommended replacing handshakes with fist or elbow bumps as a way to help contain them. Several brokers and developers said they are following this advice, but after spending their careers securing sales with handshakes, the abrupt shift has taken some getting used to.

“It’s always awkward. It’s incredibly awkward,” said Marcus & Millichap broker Eric Anton. “I mean, we’ve been shaking hands for 2,000 years.”

Meridian Capital broker David Schechtman echoed this sentiment.

“To walk in and not shake a new acquaintance’s or client’s hand, you feel weird,” he said.

Schechtman estimated that he still shakes hands about 35 percent of the time, but colleagues and clients are rejecting some of these attempts in favor of other gestures.

“You go in for the shake, and you get a fist bump. I feel like a 23-year-old again. It’s actually very funny,” he said. “Let me tell you what’s losing popularity: the bro hug.”

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Red Apple Group CEO John Catsimatidis said that “99 percent” of the real estate community is embracing the no handshake ethos as an important precaution, his company included.

“We’re using elbows. No handshakes, all elbows,” he said. “We just had a cocktail launch party for WABC radio last night, and we put up a sign: no handshakes, all elbows.”

But Anton said he has not fully embraced this mentality yet.

“I’m still doing deals on handshakes,” he said, “not elbow bumps.”

Commercial landlords have also been stepping up their cleaning efforts to help combat the coronavirus, and several real estate events have been postponed because of the outbreak, including the AD Design Show, MIPIM in Cannes and multiple Newmark Knight Frank conferences.

Although much of the real estate community is already anxious for events to get rescheduled and business to get back to normal, Wolkoff said he hopes the reluctance to shake hands is one practice that lasts beyond the coronavirus outbreak.

“This should go on forever. Forget about just the virus that we’re going through,” he said. “People shouldn’t shake hands. They should either give the fist or give the elbow. They should stop with the shaking and the hugging.”

This story has been updated with additional commentary.