As one downtown Boston real estate broker summarized it:
We tell stories, we tell jokes, and it’s just a great time, But today, as you can see, the van is empty.
Boston residential real estate agents of the largest real estate firms lost a fundamental part of their routine when statewide orders issued in March shut down the weekly home caravan tours (social distancing) as well as Sunday open houses. (Although Sunday Open Houses have resumed).
Throughout this unprecedented disruption to the norms of residential real estate, brokers have tried to stay positive. They’ve discussed “pent-up demand” and how the COVID-induced recession has let them learn new skills and freed up time for phone and Zoom calls with clients.
When sales fell in April and May, such optimism seemed like public relations damage control. But now sales really are up — year-over-year in Massachusetts with sales records being set nationally, according to the National Association of Realtors figures. Brokers made adjustments big and small that were unthinkable in February.
There are layers we’ve been able to peel off to become more cost-effective.
What has stayed and what has changed may come as a surprise to many Boston condo brokers.
Here’s what’s in and what’s out for residential brokerages in Boson and elsewhere:
When many Boston real estate offices shut down in March, many agents, ironically, turned to their home office within their Boston condo
Brokerages are — slowly — reassessing their physical presence. I for one moved my office from a retail space on Charles Street to Putnam Ave, located at the rear of 137 Charles Street. I’ve noticed it’s not just me, many Boston real estate offices no longer see the need for high rent locations.
Meanwhile, Coldwell Banker’s national rival, Keller Williams, is openly rethinking their high rent office space.
“The market center of the future will almost certainly consist of smaller physical footprints,” said Matt Green, director of growth for Keller Williams. “Covid and other market shifts we have experienced continue to show us that office space isn’t core to our value proposition.”
“When agents need to cut costs,” Green added, “Office space is one of the first things to go.”
Realogy, the parent company of Coldwell Banker, Corcoran and Sotheby’s, listed $491 million in operating lease assets in its latest SEC quarterly report (down from $515 million at the end of 2019).
Other expenses associated with caravan tours and open houses were also jettisoned.
Virtual tours have replaced open houses as the entry point to a new house on the market for brokers and clients alike.
Immersive 3-D technology has become an adjective and verb in the brokerage world just as Zoom has for many other businesses.
Like other brokers, I’ve had to make adjustments — learning a whole new technology, and the structure by which a home comes onto market — as just another cost of doing business.
Boston Condos for Sale and the Bottom Line
Residential brokerages could be given a credit as a flexible and resourceful business — or one that used a global catastrophe to learn what was really essential to selling homes.
It’s a people business, but communicating virtually you can establish some of those same relationships.