NYC Brokers Discuss COVID, Market Activity, ‘Black Lives Matter’

John Jordan | June 2020

WHITE PLAINS—The Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors and co-sponsor TitleVest recently assembled a panel of powerhouse New York City residential brokerage executives who offered candid assessments of the area’s real estate markets now and going forward and what the real estate industry must do in this time of civil unrest.

Richard Haggerty, CEO HGAR

The online panel discussion held on June 25 entitled “Getting the Deal Done: Real Estate Transaction Best Practices as NYC Re-Opens” featured panelists: Scott Durkin, president and CEO of Douglas Elliman; Bess Freedman, CEO of Brown Harris Stevens; and Gary Malin, COO of The Corcoran Group. The moderator for the program was Brian Tormey, president of TitleVest, and the host was HGAR CEO Richard Haggerty.

Haggerty began the program with the latest home sales data from OneKey MLS on residential transactions in its market area that covers Long Island, Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and the Hudson Valley counties of Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Putnam and Sullivan counties.

In the previous 24 hours, 728 new listings were entered into the OneKey MLS system and 156 closings (title transfers) occurred, Haggerty reported. In the previous week, 3,829 new listings were entered and 993 transactions closed (title transfers) took place.

In response, TitleVest’s Tormey noted, “That is really encouraging and heartwarming to know that there is that much activity.”

The broker panel for the most part agreed that activity is brisk in New York City on the rental apartment market, but are unsure how healthy the sales market will be, noting that New York City just recently entered phase two to allow agents to conduct personal showings.

Brian Tormey, President TitleVest

In terms of the rental market, Malin said, “There is an avalanche of inventory hitting the market. More inventory than I have ever seen hit the market at one time.”

He noted that a manager of his firm’s Brooklyn office told him listings in that office had risen from 3,000 in March to 7,500.

“Every (building) owner is dealing with tremendous amounts of inventory and they are going to need to understand that the market is in a moment of change and they are going to need to moderate pricing and they are also going to need to moderate concessions,” Malin said.

He added that landlords in this environment who stand firm on prices “will be holding onto vacancies far longer than they anticipated.” Malin said tenants will be shopping around looking for the best prices and concession packages.

Freedman said that because of the plethora of options for tenants, landlords will have to be reasonable in terms of pricing.

She said the same holds true in the sales market. “There is going to be a sort of a day of reckoning and a correction, but we are here to help them do that.”

Scott Durkin, President and CEO Douglas Elliman

Freedman described the current climate as an “opportunity environment across the board” for renters and buyers in New York City.

She said that while agents are reporting to her they are showing listings non-stop and starting to put deals together, she noted it is too early to tell how vibrant the sales market in New York City will be a few months from now.

“I think it is going to take a little bit of time, I expect, in New York because we are also super-sensitive to what is going on in the country regarding COVID. We are seeing an uptick in all these states that may not been as responsible in certain areas,” Freedman said.

She expects the sales market to be “decent” going forward, due to pent-up demand. “I don’t think it is going to be crazy, Freedman predicted. “I think we’ll be O.K., and I have said before, I am O.K. with O.K. I will take O.K.”

Among the hot markets at the moment are: the Hamptons on Long Island, Fairfield County, CT; Palm Beach, FL and Rhinebeck in Dutchess County.

She added that a spike in COVID hospitalizations and deaths in New York that would prompt Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reinstate the “New York on Pause” restrictions “would be a nightmare and would be a worst-case scenario” for the New York City real estate market, Freedman related.

Bess Freedman, CEO Brown Harris Stevens

Freedman, who noted that Brown Harris Stevens lost an agent to the coronavirus, said “Wearing a mask is not about politics, it’s just about safety. It’s about protecting yourself. It’s not right versus left, it is right versus wrong and taking care of each other.”

Durkin said in discussions with brokers and agents from other real estate brokerage firms, they say some are very active while others are reporting little business.

“There is no middle ground here,” he said. “People are very decisive now in terms of what they need and I think the access being limited as it is, even now in phase two, in many ways the agents know how to work around it now and the buyers are also willing to not obsess over things they cannot control right now,” Durkin shared.

He said that real estate professionals in New York have, since COVID restrictions were put in place, “learned how to deal with this and I think we are able to move faster and smarter right now than we ever have been.”

In terms of COVID’s impact on Douglas Elliman’s national footprint, Durkin related that about an hour before the program began, he ordered his Houston office shut down due to the significant spike in COVID-19 new cases there. He added that South Florida and California, where the firm also has operations, are also seeing new outbreaks of the coronavirus.

“Luckily, people have not been coming into the office, Durkin related. “So, they are staying away.”

‘Black Lives Matter’

Freedman, Malin and Durkin agreed that while the real estate industry embraces diversity, more needs to be done, especially in terms of key leadership positions.

Freedman noted that while there is work to done to help foster more diversity in the real estate industry, the “Black Lives Matter” movement has raised awareness of the issue.

Gary Malin, COO The Corcoran Group

“I think when it comes to ‘Black Lives Matter’ and what is going on in the real estate space, I know that we all believe in equality, but I think we have not done a great job in having a good representation of enough diversity in the leadership arena.”

She added, “It is one thing to believe in equality, but to create opportunities is another thing and I know for myself at Brown Harris Stevens, we need to do a lot more…”

Malin agreed with Freedman and said it is important that real estate executives “listen and learn and really take stock of where we are and more importantly where we need to go. There are going to be some difficult and uncomfortable conversations, but those conversations are important to have. That is how you move things forward.”

He added that diversity needs to be a concerted effort to foster real change in the industry.

Durkin related that “Black Lives Matter” “is not a moment, this is a movement and I think it is important for us to embrace that and we are certainly looking within the company at being much more diverse.”

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth