So here I am, starting to have Covid anniversary thoughts. I bet you are, too. ANNIVERSARY?? A whole year? Yes, it seems so. And I’m having Covid Real Estate anniversary thoughts as well.
Here’s what came to mind today. Just about a year ago, in mid-February, something strange happened. At that point Covid was still a very abstract idea to us here, something on very-distant shores. I have two friends, one an epidemiologist and one a biologist, who both focus on the spread of infectious disease. They’d been posting some interesting info on this new far-away virus, and I had been learning interesting things from the carefully curated articles they shared. But all of sudden…on the very same day(!)…their tone changed. They both sounded WAY more alarmed. (And these were people who were not alrmists by nature.) It was hard to ignore that they both were studying the data, and both ratcheted up their concern on the same day. Hmm, I started to wonder if this virus was going to come calling in the United States in a more significant way.
One of my clients was planning to get his house on the market in the beginning of April, and here we were in the middle of February with my scientist pals suddenly sounding lots more concerned. At the risk of sounding a bit crazy (since we were still living a completely NORMAL life here in Cinci), I called my client. I told him I knew I might sound nuts (especially since he was a physician working in a hospital full of folks who apparently were not losing ANY sleep over Covid yet). I told him about my biologist and epidemiologist friends, I told him I didn’t know if this was going to have ANY impact on us, and said that I figured as long as I was thinking about it, I should toss it to him to ponder as well.
Here’s what I said: Maybe Covid-19 would have no discernible impact here, but maybe it would. Maybe the illness itself stayed abroad, but would have an economic impact here, because of how significant a player China was in the global economy. Maybe there would be job loss here because of issues over there (impacting number of available buyers?), or some weirdness in mortgage lending if the wider economy took a hit. And, though it seemed even less likely, I said that if we saw the illness take hold here, we had no way of knowing what that would mean for us in real estate. He laughed (he DID think I was crazy), and said, “like people running around here wearing masks??” The image of masked Cincinnatians was indeed quite laughable at that point! I said I had no clue, but that if it were my own house I was planning to put on the market in several weeks, I’d hedge my bets, and get it on the market sooner. He asked a few more questions (possibly still trying to assess my level of sanity), and told me he’d get back to me. Soon he and his wife circled back to say, yes, they were going to move back their market date a few weeks earlier, and could be ready to get it on the market in mid-March. They were painting and packing more quickly.
So we got their home on the market in the middle of March. After a full day of showings we held a “First Day Open House” in the late afternoon, and we had scores of buyers through their home that day. They had a lovely set of multiple offers, and selected a buyer that evening. Within a day (gasp) the governor announced all schools in Ohio would need to shut down. And then we heard restaurants were closing, too. Everything Covid got very real very fast here, with new vocabulary like “stay at home orders,” and “social distancing.”
As an agent who really enjoys Open Houses, it is odd to say that theirs was the last Open House I held…more than 11 months ago!
I’m grateful that we got them under contract when we did. I have a graph seared into my mind showing the number of showings on homes last year. March showings were trotting along, and then we hit shutdown, and the number of showings dropped off. At the beginning of April showing activity basically dropped like a boulder, a line going nearly straight down. Had those sellers waited to go on the market in April, it would have been a much quieter moment in which to be selling a house. Potentially doable of course, but very different.
In those early confusing/alarming days of Covid, there was lots of “stay at home” time, when we proceeded with contracts that were already in progress, but mostly held off on new searches or sales. Buyers who were able to wait, stayed at home as we sought to “flatten the curve” of the virus.
Deemed Essential Workers, real estate transactions were still able to proceed when needed, but it also took the industry a moment to re-imagine the whole enterprise and develop new protocols to handle things as safely as possible. There were virtual showings, or showings via FaceTime. Showings became a universe of masks/hand sanitizer/gloves/booties. (Truth: I have many 2020 clients that I’ve only ever seen in masks; I have NEVER seen their whole faces! So odd!) No overlapping buyers in showing appointments, just one buyer group and their agent in the house at one time. Requests to touch as little as possible when visiting a home, with sellers leaving pantry and closet doors flung open in advance for prospective buyers. A period with closings held outside in parking lots, with the closing agent standing at a distance.
It was a giant, giant pivot! It was a matter of thinking of everything we’d done as an industry, and trying to re-think it all into practices that were safer in a pandemic. Just as everyone else was also doing in their work lives and “regular life.”
As we look back now, we see that real estate had a very blessed “V-shaped recovery;” a dramatic fall off in April, and then the dramatic spike straight back up in the months that followed. And, to the surprise of many, 2020 then turned out to be a crazy, super-heated, record-breaking year for real estate sales!
So here we are coming up on all these Covid anniversary musings, about all parts of our lives. We’ll all be thinking of things like the last day we worked in our offices, or the first Zoom meetings with co-workers and clients…or our first (thank goodness!) Zoom “family chats.” We’ll think of the moment we realized the toilet paper shortage was actually a real thing. We’ll think of the last social gatherings we had in our homes, or the last restaurant meal we enjoyed with friends. Worst of all, we’ll think of the friends/family among the half million Americans who died when we had to (so painfully!) keep our distance. With gratitude we’ll think of those who were so terribly ill, and recovered. And we’ll think about how the things that change our lives the most are often the things we never could have imagined.
It has been a long year with Covid. I like imagining the pieces that we’ll continue to reclaim little by little as we return to something approaching “normal.” But as we wait for full “normalcy” to return, I’m glad that in real estate we’ve adjusted and reconfigured and found ways that people could still take the next steps in their lives, buying and selling homes, moving into the next chapters of their lives.
What is on the horizon and when? We still don’t know the end of the Covid story of course. In the meantime we are in the midst of craziest/busiest time for home buying and selling that anyone recalls, while still amidst appropriate Covid precautions. I do get very excited dreaming about a future of NO-MASK meetings with clients, and of getting to see their whole faces light up when they receive the keys to their new homes! I look forward to those landmark days when we’ll get to peel off our masks for good, get to know each other’s smiles again and catch up on many, many joyful hugs.
On Facebook: Laurie Simon Goldman, Sibcy Cline Realtors