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Dec.December 23, 2020 10:05 AM

A Year In Gratitude: Looking Back at 2020

by Bess Freedman | CEO of Brown Harris Stevens

December often signals a time of celebration and reflection. It’s an annual review  of all you accomplished,  the goals you have yet to meet and the chance to create resolutions for the New Year. 2020 has been incredibly challenging, but for me the past year can be summed up in one word: gratitude.

Gratitude is an action. It’s the willingness to seek out silver linings even when things seem bleak and insurmountable. Some days are harder than others, but it’s important to acknowledge the people and moments that get you through dark times.

First, I am so grateful for my Brown Harris Stevens family. When the pandemic shut down our offices, and showings were unable to take place, we were all there for each other in a way I have never seen. Inside and out of the real estate industry, many of us lost loved ones to Covid. However, we remained connected through countless zooms, daily check-ins and FaceTime calls. While virtual meetings can’t  replace the human experience, we became closer than ever before. 2020 tested our spirits, and we persisted.

It was hard not to succumb to fear. At the height of the covid restrictions in NYC, as illness and hospitalizations increased daily,  deals were down by some 84% across the board, and long overdue calls for social justice gripped the nation. Unemployment rates also surged, and  there were reports that as many as one-third of all New York’s small businesses would not recover.

I am grateful that during this challenging time Brown Harris Stevens not only survived the downturn, we got stronger. Through our joining forces with Halstead, we created an unstoppable force in real estate with 2,500 agents across 55 offices in four states. This growth ensures more resources and greater reach for our agents at a time when many other firms and businesses were forced to scale back. As the largest privately held real estate company on the East Coast, we are emerging from this a bigger, better company with the ability to support our communities we serve like never before.

Real estate is a crowded field, but 2020 turned many competitors into allies. It was amazing to watch the real estate industry come together in support of a common goal – to take care of each other, our agents and our clients, regardless of firm affiliation. When our industry was given the green light to reopen, agents made safety a priority. Because challenge begets innovation,  we adapted virtual showing techniques and technologies to ensure that all covid protocols were met while making deals happen. The luxury market has bounced back and we are starting to see contracts at pre-pandemic levels which is incredibly promising and a testament to all of your hard work.

Evidence shows that New York City is not dead, as Jerry Seinfeld decried, but it was bruised. Although we are seeing strong signs of buyers returning to NYC,  markets outside of the five boroughs were booming. The new work from home culture coupled with the desire for more open space resulted in an uptick in activity in outer markets. Fairfield County experienced an 80% uptick in home sales while the Hamptons saw nearly $1 billion in closed sales in Q3. During that same time, Palm Beach single-family home sales exploded nearly 245% year-over-year. This only reinforces the idea that the need to buy and sell real estate is a constant, which is a positive sign not only for BHS, but for the industry at large.

Last but certainly not least, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the first responders – the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, EMTs and other essential workers who continue to risk their lives to keep us safe. I very much believe that we must all try to leave this world better than we found it, and the essential workers have sacrificed so much for the greater good.

The dark days of 2020 taught me powerful lessons, and for that I am thankful. And while I recognize we are not yet out of the woods, we at least have a path forward.  With Covid vaccines now a reality, I am hopeful that all of us will see a return to brighter days in the new year.


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