Elliman shuts offices, Compass sends staff home as coronavirus cases mount in New York

Several firms are telling agents and staff to work from home

Compass' Rory Golod and Douglas Elliman's Howard Lorber (Credit: Getty Images; iStock)
Compass' Rory Golod and Douglas Elliman's Howard Lorber (Credit: Getty Images; iStock)

UPDATED, March 16, 10:05 a.m.: Residential brokerages are reacting to the growing concern about the coronavirus pandemic in New York with varying degrees of severity.

Starting Monday, Compass’ New York regional employees are going to be working from home for at least two weeks, according to memos emailed to staff and agents by regional president Rory Golod on Thursday. A Compass spokesperson noted that agents with key cards will still be able to enter the offices.

“Over the next few weeks, it’s going to be really important for all of us to #besolutionsdriven and #collaboratewithoutego,” wrote Golod in one memo. “It’s on all of us to ensure we’re holding ourselves accountable to support our customers.”

He noted that the rationale for the work from home policy was based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and “an abundance of caution.”

Since agents are independent contractors, Golod said “we can’t force them to stay home and work from home but we’re strongly encouraging it.” But speaking from the brokerage’s 110 Fifth Avenue office on Friday afternoon, he said that looking around “there’s really no one here.”

He said all of Compass’ meetings are being held virtually and office cleaning has increased and will continue to be in place, despite employees now working remotely.

R New York closed its office on Thursday, president Stefani Berkin confirmed. All staff and agents are now working remotely with all communications occurring over video chat and all phone systems forwarding calls to staff at home.

“The general consumer [would have] no idea that we are telecommuting at this time,” she wrote in an email.

Similar to Compass, Halstead employees began working from home until further notice on Monday. Its agents can still access the office but are being encouraged to work from home. Several other firms, including Brown Harris Stevens, Triplemint, Leslie J. Garfield and Douglas Elliman, have advised agents to work from home, as concern over contagion intensifies.

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Elliman closed all its offices — including New Jersey, Florida and California — Friday for cleaning. A spokesperson for the firm said the move was just a precaution and there had been no cases of the virus at its sites.

“Like the rest of the world, Douglas Elliman is exercising extreme caution in the wake of COVID-19; especially where our agents, staff, customers and clients are concerned,” the spokesperson said. “Hence we decided to close our offices for two days while we disinfect and continue to monitor the situation for further developments that may influence our plan of action.”

Its agents and staff will “work remotely in this time.”

Triplemint shifted to work from home on Monday after an agent attended a conference where someone later tested positive for COVID-19. The firm’s office is available on an “as-needed basis” in accordance with a set of protocols its leadership has developed, according to CEO David Walker.

According to its protocols, which Triplemint has released publicly, agents and employees are “strongly encouraged” to work remotely, but should they be in the office, they are limited to working on designated floors. No visitors will be allowed and only a handful of people will be allowed to enter designated areas of the office for limited tasks, such as printing. They will also be required to wipe down areas they occupy with disinfectant, Walker explained.

If an agent or employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, staffers that share a designated floor with that person will be required to work from home without exception.

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According to the protocols, Triplemint is operating just below its most extreme response: office closure, which will only happen if local and state health officials recommend it.

“I hope all the other brokerages follow suit in short order,” said Walker. “We should be more cautious, not less.”

Brown Harris Stevens brought in cleaners Wednesday to sanitize its 445 Park Avenue office. While agents are advised to stay home next week, the office is still accessible, a spokesperson said.

In an email sent to staff late Friday, the firm said remote “marketing, administrative and support staff” would also be on hand throughout the week and over the weekend.

On Thursday, Jed Garfield sent out a note to his team at brokerage firm Leslie J. Garfield, advising them to stay home — particularly those who commuted to the office every day.

At the end of the day, he said, it’s “just work,” and “certainly not worth getting sick or risking getting other people sick.”

He noted that many of the owners he dealt with have told him they’d rather not have people touring their homes right now, anyway.

“As much as I’d like to think of my actions as heroic, it’s a pretty easy decision to make,” he quipped.

Other firms are holding off on dramatic steps.

“We’ve already shifted meetings virtual and we are trying to see if other brokerages are closing,” Moiz Malik, president of Brooklyn-based brokerage Nooklyn, said in a text message. “If they all are, we will.”

On Monday, Mark Chin of Keller Williams NYC said the firm was communicating with agents about how to stay safe in terms of hygiene and “attempting to balance what appears to be full on panic.”

“We’re not telling people don’t come to the office yet,” he said at the time. By Wednesday, however Chin said people started “voting with their feet” and only about 20 agents are now routinely showing up in the office.

Starting on Monday all the firm’s training will take place over video conference and Chin said he’s looking into how to deposit checks virtually without requiring agents to come in.

“People’s general anxiety went up a lot,” he said. “I call it the Tom Hanks effect.”

Write to Erin Hudson at ekh@therealdeal.com and Sylvia Varnham O’Regan at so@therealdeal.com

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include that Halstead has asked agents to work from home until further notice. The firm made the announcement after publication time.