GATEWAY PERSPECTIVES: A Year Like No Other

Richard Haggerty | March 15, 2021

HGAR Chief Executive Officer Richard Haggerty

I’ve been listening to a lot of reflections about our lives one year ago this March and what has transpired since. It was a year ago this very week that the HGAR staff went virtual and I left my office in White Plains thinking life would likely return to normal in a month or two. Well, that certainly didn’t happen! What happened instead was a year that seemed to alternately crawl by in slow motion and fly by at the speed of light. What follows are some personal thoughts, recollections and experiences from the last 12 months.

From the middle of March through April, 2020, the fear was palpable in New York City. New York was the epicenter of the pandemic and the city felt like a ghost town. Grocery store shelves were empty and, per Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “Pause” Executive Order, all non-essential businesses were closed down. HGAR President Gail Fattizzi and I were slowly learning how to shoot cell phone videos. We reworked hgar.com into a COVID-19 resource site and, with Real Estate In-Depth Editor John Jordan in the lead, we launched COVID-19 daily email updates, which to this day remain popular. With Gary Connolly’s help, we became more and more proficient with Zoom meetings both large and small. My partner David, a flight attendant, was off April and May, and would offer me daily critiques of my Zoom performances.

Come the middle of May, the panic seemed to ease and there was growing optimism that with warmer weather the number of COVID cases would retreat. However, at the end of May, when George Floyd was senselessly killed in Minneapolis, protests erupted around the country and the world again seemed to be coming apart at the seams. With the protests came tough conversations that should have happened a long time ago as well as reflection about the institutional racism that continues to plague this country. HGAR launched a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force, which is in the final stages of creating a “DEI” Standing Committee to ensure that HGAR aggressively and creatively promotes diversity, equity and inclusive initiatives on an ongoing basis.

By the middle of June, New York lifted the restrictions on in-person showing of homes and a suburban market, which had been non-existent for three months, came roaring back with a ferocity that few anticipated. Many thought the resurgence was due to NYC residents fleeing the city, and that may have certainly been part of it, but by the Fall of 2020 and into the early Spring of 2021, the NYC market has seen strong signs of improvement. Real estate activity in the first two months of this quarter point to a very strong first quarter of 2021.

In thinking about the last 12 months, I keep coming back to a year that was like a rollercoaster, with some of the greatest challenges in my 36 years in this industry, as well as some unexpected silver linings. COVID has surged and retreated like waves, but with the vaccine rollout gaining momentum, there is certainly reason for optimism.

My frustrations over the last 12 months lie in our seeming inability to have honest and meaningful conversations about the issues that continue to challenge us. The wearing of masks became and continues to be politicized in many parts of the county. Our political climate continues to be polarized and divisive. In politics and in the media more and more people bemoan “cancel culture” and assert the dangers posed by “wokeness” with different people having different definitions for each term. It makes me think back to a movie from the 1990s called “The American President” where Michael Douglas, playing the role of the President, says that we need serious people to engage in serious conversation. That certainly rings true for me right now, and I must say that I don’t see a lot of serious conversation happening in the news or on social media. Please remember that to have serious conversation we also have to listen—actively listen, as well as talk.

The silver lining for me during this difficult period was a renewed focus on the importance of family and friends, as well as a deeper understanding on the importance of home. We became more appreciative for those health care workers and first responders who gave so selflessly during the height of the pandemic and beyond, with many losing their lives in the process. We became more empathetic for those who lost family members and friends to COVID, and for those who were impacted in other ways by the pandemic. Please let’s not lose that empathy. Instead, let’s try to focus on actively listening and rooting all of our conversations in that empathy going forward.

Richard Haggerty
HGAR CEO