Diane Ramirez Gives Insight on How COVID-19 Is Affecting the Real Estate Industry
While people are social distancing and staying at home, questions about how COVID-19 is impacting industries may come into their minds or even feel overwhelming. To help shed some light on how the New York metropolitan area real estate industry is navigating this time, and what to expect when the pandemic is over, we spoke with Diane M. Ramirez—the Chairman, CEO, and co-founder of Halstead.
Halstead is a top residential real estate brokerage firm in the New York metro area, working in locations like Fairfield County, Manhattan, the Hamptons, and beyond. Ramirez has her finger on the pulse of this large area and is sharing her expert knowledge and advice.
What are you seeing in the New York metro area market right now?
Our first-quarter data showed signs of recovery in the real estate market after a period of sluggishness. We saw resale apartment prices climb and the number of overall sales rise, too. Buyers were starting to respond to increased purchasing power with low mortgage rates, a great selection of inventory, and sellers who were willing to negotiate. However, like so many other industries across the New York metro area, the COVID-19 pandemic has effectively put real estate activity “on-pause” for the time being.
How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the real estate industry?
We are all abiding by social distancing measures in an effort to stop the spread of the virus, promote public health and protect our communities. Real estate is an industry based on personal relationships and interactions and this has made “business as usual” very challenging. However, I’ve been inspired to see our agents, and so many others in the industry, harnessing the power of virtual technology to get deals done, stay engaged with their clients and otherwise enable a level of business continuity that will set them up for success whenever we are able to get back to normal.
We are seeing deals of all sizes closing “virtually” right now. Just a few weeks ago, as New York City went under a stay-at-home order, Halstead agent Marina Bernshtein represented a buyer in a $19.5 million deal at 252 East 57th Street that closed entirely virtually. Since then, we’ve seen multiple deals close — all with no in-person interaction — on properties across the city and in our suburban markets leaning heavily on technology and lots of creativity. We’ve been forced to adapt quickly and we are rising to the occasion.
Since Halstead works in a wide variety of areas, are you noticing a difference in how places like the Hamptons and Connecticut are affected versus how Manhattan is?
Different states are treating real estate activities differently in terms of whether they are considered essential or non-essential services. But across the board, we are seeing important social distancing restrictions put into place in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. As a firm, Halstead has closed all of our physical offices in all regions but have staff working remotely to support our agents, who we are also strongly encouraging to work remotely and conduct all business virtually. The most important thing to us is the health and safety of our agents, staff, clients and the communities we serve.
What have you seen are buyers’ and sellers’ mindsets during this time?
It varies based on their personal circumstances and locations, but by and large, we are seeing potential buyers showing some understandable hesitancy and sellers wanting to wait this all out before moving on with their lives. One added complication we are seeing primarily in New York City is that many individual buildings have restricted move-ins and move-outs, so many buyers and sellers could not even move if they wanted to during this time.
What should agents and realtors be doing now to help their clients most?
More than anything, agents should be a helpful and informative resource and for their clients during this time, however long it may last. Agents should not be hard selling — there is a time and place for that and this is certainly not it. We are all working together to get through this pandemic with health and safety at absolute top of mind. An agent should engage with their clients by sharing valuable information on economic changes, market trends, ways to support local business and charities, helpful and healthy social distancing activities, and other topics along these lines.
Do you have any tips for sellers who have homes on the market or people who want to list this spring?
If your home is currently on the market, meet buyers where they are — online shopping. Try working with your agent to help facilitate virtual tours of your home using simple technology like FaceTime or Zoom, since in many cases the agents won’t be able to physically enter your property with buyers for period of time. Another positive thing to keep in mind is that aggregator sites like StreetEasy and Zillow have removed “Days on Market” so listings are not appearing stale.
What are your predictions for the market after the pandemic ends?
We are going to see a pent-up demand for real estate once the pandemic ends. People are going to be ready to move on with their lives and make the life changes they’ve had to put on hold over the last few months.
After being in their homes more than ever, do you think buyers will emerge with new must-haves or seek more space?
Without a doubt. People have been spending more time in their homes than they ever have before, and many are thinking about their spaces differently and wondering, “Is this what I want? Is this what I need?” While we are all hoping nothing like this pandemic ever happens again, I think we are going to see people looking for spaces and configurations that work for spending time at home — whether those needs are home offices, flex workspaces, more natural light, or dedicated in-home workout or wellness spaces.
What are the key things to keep in mind as the real estate industry navigates this unprecedented time?
I have been in the business a long time and as an industry, we have weathered many ups and downs. We shall overcome this together as well. Circumstances are pushing us to stretch our muscles in ways we haven’t before — in real estate, this may even make our business more efficient as we look toward the future. One thing is for sure, we will all be stronger for this on the other side.