How to Deal with Stress in the COVID Climate

Mary Prenon | May 2020

Irene Guanill, of Meet the Sellers, took to the Bronx streets as the Easter Bunny to bring joy to local families during the Easter season.

While most Realtors are still dealing with the frustration that the COVID-19 has placed on their industry, some are starting to discover different ways to conduct business and deal with their daily stress.

Virtual cocktail parties and drive-by visits to relatives are now part of the new norm, but Irene Guanill has taken that to a new level. The Broker-Owner of Meet the Sellers in the Bronx recently donned an Easter Bunny costume to pay “socially distanced” visits to families in Pelham Bay, Throggs Neck, City Island and Morris Park. “It actually took me two days, but I visited a lot of neighborhoods, waved to kids and did a little dance in the streets,” she said. “The feedback was amazing and I was so glad to be able to do something to bring smiles to other people and to myself.”

As president of the Pelham Bay Merchants Association, Guanill offered her “Easter Bunny” visits to anyone who was interested. For Guanill, the biggest frustration now is trying to keep busy, as live listings and showings are still prohibited. “I do a lot of volunteering,” she added, describing her work with New York Cares, delivering food to those who are homebound.

Guanill admits she is fortunate in that she also operates a property management business, which is bringing in income. “I haven’t filed for unemployment yet, but I do plan on applying for a small business loan,” she said.

In the meantime, people are still looking for homes. “I get calls every day from people who want to see virtual tours, but they’re not going to take any action until they can actually see the property,” she said. “Videos just don’t do the property justice—people not only need to see the home, but they also need to have a feeling for it. Most people buy a house because they fall in love with it or have some type of emotional connection to it.”

Dr. Alec Miller and Dr. Lata McGinn of Cognitive Behavioral Consultants in White Plains.

Ron Garfalo, sales manager for John J. Lease Realtors in Middletown, finds himself on the other side, trying to keep more than 50 agents motivated during the pandemic. “All we can do right now is offer virtual tours and keep in contact with clients and potential clients,” he said. “It’s definitely frustrating because no one’s making any money, and for those who are the sole household provider, it’s very difficult.”

Garafalo continues to hold weekly sales meetings via Zoom teleconference, in addition to scheduling one-on-one phone calls with agents. “The good thing is that when things change and live showings are permitted again, potential buyers will already have their list of homes ready, and sellers will be able to once again open their doors.”

His main concern now is making sure all of the agents are healthy and doing the right thing to stay healthy. “I think we all have to stay positive and hope that when this is finally over, there’s going to be a demand for both buying and selling,” he added. “Overall, communication is crucial. People want to know that other people are here for them.”

In light of the pandemic, he has had to cancel all of the planned live fundraising events for the Realtors Political Action Committee (RPAC). Garafalo, along with Carol Christiansen, broker-owner of Café Realty in Mount Kisco, are co-chairing HGAR’s RPAC Committee this year. “It’s very disappointing, but what choice do we have,” he said.

Dr. Lata McGinn and Dr. Alec Miller of Cognitive Behavioral Consultants in White Plains explain that it’s normal for people to be upset and uneasy during a stressful time like this. “It does feel unpleasant but that can actually be like an alarm to help us move toward helpful action,” said Dr. Mc Ginn. “We can call a friend, set up a video conference chat, watch a comedy or even clean out a closet to help distract us and experience some pleasure. Problems occur when we sit in a pool of emotions and don’t take any action.”

Dr. Miller added that continued sadness can eventually lead to depression. “There is a lot of grief out there—so many people are dying, others are getting sick, businesses are shut down and in many cases there’s a significant loss of income,” he said. “People can feel like there’s nothing they can do, but the fact of the matter is that there are still things you can do to feel empowered—even if it’s something simple like helping friends and family, donating food, or planning your next trip to the grocery store.”

Helping others, they both agreed, is a very powerful anti-depressant. The doctors also suggested balancing your life with healthy eating, exercise and limiting the 24/7 drumbeat of negative stories on television and social media.

Practicing mindfulness for just a few minutes a day is another important step in helping to improve your mood. “Just sit quietly and when your mind starts to wander, bring it back gently,” said Dr. Miller. “We also recommend a ‘gratitude check’—being mindful about things you are grateful for, even in the face of this pandemic.”

For Bonnie Koff, the “New York on Pause” situation has hit home very hard—not just for her business, but for the Hudson Gateway Realtor Foundation Fundraising Committee, which she chairs. An agent with William Raveis Legends Realty Group in Tarrytown, Koff worries that the cancellation of Foundation “Pub Nights” will mean significant financial losses for the charities that it supports. “I’m an optimist though, and I’m just praying that we can bring back our ‘Pub Nights’ in the near future,” she said.

Referring to herself as a “completely social animal,” Koff struggles with being homebound. “I do a lot of e-mail campaigns with clients and potential clients and I’m always on the phone, video chats and social media,” she explained.

Bonnie Koff of William Raveis Legends Realty Group works on creative fundraising plans for the Hudson Gateway Realtor Foundation.

Koff has already filed for unemployment, and these days she’s getting more calls from would-be sellers than buyers. “I’m advising people who want to sell their homes to wait until the ‘stay at home’ order is lifted,” she said. “However, I do give them the option of listing it virtually, using their own photos or having me offer a virtual open house. The bottom line is that buyers will still want to see the home in person.” She also had two clients step back from purchasing homes after spouses were furloughed from their jobs.

Meanwhile, she has been busy helping to set up a “Meal Train” of food donations to White Plains Hospital, where her granddaughter works as an Emergency Room nurse. “Rachael calls me every morning after her shift, just to let me know she’s OK,” said Koff, who always worries about her.

Cognitive Behavioral Consultants offers a quick checklist that people can use to avoid negative thoughts during this pandemic. “First recognize how you feel in a given moment when your emotion is high and then recognize that what you say is having a powerful impact on how you feel, “said Dr. McGinn. “Your mind is believing everything you are saying to yourself and triggering powerful emotions. Then come up with helpful thoughts and do the mental exercise of saying them to yourself even if you don’t believe it.”

Remaining positive that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel, Koff admits she does feel good about the future of her real estate business and the Realtor Foundation. “I’m confident we will get back to normal,” she said. “You know, just like Arnold Schwarzenegger always says, ‘I’ll be back!’”

Mary Prenon
HGAR, Director of Communications