So another week of mostly bad news and admittedly, it's tough to process . . . I've been reaching out when and where I can, catching up on a few phone calls with friends and clients, continuing to bake and deliver cookies, taking meetings on Zoom, hopping onto Facebook chats when available (Thank you Kelly Corrigan) and hitting the Peloton in the mornings just to keep my sanity and my weight in check. One friend called it "the Covid-30. Ha Ha. (Too soon?) But when the BIG accomplishment for the day is getting out of your sweats, that can be rather discouraging, to say the least. "Social distancing" (a misnomer if there ever was one) is putting a cramp in all of our styles and a few pounds on our thighs. (Or is that just me?)
"What's happening with the market?" Is the inquiry from many friends, followed by, "So how are you doing?" I'm grateful, thank you. My family, so far, is safe, and Cliff and I are both relatively healthy. (And I mean it, we're better off than most and we have a lovely home in which to shelter. My garden has never looked better.)
Still, it's tricky navigating the emerging facts and increasing hysteria around Covid-19, both professionally and personally, when our immediate world has essentially come to a screeching halt, when everyone looks at each other as a potential vector, and when a sneeze or a cough gives way to irrational fear.
At the risk of sounding pious, could we avoid judging one another as to how to gracefully navigate this journey and assume that everyone is doing the best they can under extremely trying circumstances? Could we give each other the benefit of the doubt and reach for a kind word instead of recrimination? Could we avoid the temptation to comment on other people's actions and behavior online? (Seriously, don't engage in negativity.)
The "Shelter-in-Place" mandate is right of course; public safety trumps all, but it's tough to be housebound when we know our Sellers are highly anxious about a world that's suddenly spun out of control and when we have empty properties to care for, neighbor's complaints to address, and gardens that need watering, irrespective of the virus. Those "Coming Soon" signs might just as well read "Hopefully Coming Someday," and for Sellers, that's not exactly the response they'd like to hear.
"Our hands are tied," has been my unsatisfactory reply. "We're doing the best we can, but we cannot legally hold Sunday Opens, or host Brokers' Tours due to "SIP." (Investors may buy properties sight unseen, but not homeowners. Homeowners need to step inside and mentally move in the furniture.)
I'm afraid it's little consolation to be reminded by friends, managers, or colleagues, "Oh well, we're all in the same boat," when what I'm really feeling is deep frustration; this isn't a cruise after all (and with all due respect, your boat might not be my boat). How do we problem-solve when nearly every tool has been removed from the kit? But assuming we are all in the same boat, could someone please throw me an oar?!?
Happily, on Tuesday, we received a small paddle (I'll take it) when "essential services" were expanded by the folks in Washington DC to include Real Estate transactions, which meant Agents could potentially get back to work, (Not so fast.) This "win" was quickly doused by the sobering news that local and state laws would trump the amended federal mandates and the state of California had opted to stick with, and enforce, "Shelter-in-Place" for another 30 days . . . or longer; extending Social Distancing for the foreseeable future!!! (I get it, I it get it, but HELP!)
That being said, on Wednesday, Realtors were approved for 1-to-1 showings, with a multitude of stipulations, one being a VACANT house. Others include new "Coronavirus" Addenda, permission-to-enter slips, and lots of heavy-duty warnings about potential liability. (Message received. I'll bring gloves, hand-sanitizer and a homemade mask.)
Sadly, Stagers were not included on the list of "essential services," which means that in Alameda County at least, they still cannot perform their all-important role, which is to create the "emotional hook" Realtors have come to rely upon when selling a house. In fact, Buyers are so use to seeing homes staged, that Sarah and I are being told "My clients are having a hard time 'visualizing' the house with no furniture." Really? (You can't figure out where to place the couch?) Let's see if we can change that.
Enter the world of "virtual staging," which we are now employing on both 343 Magnolia Avenue in Piedmont and on 759 Santa Ray in Crocker Highlands. (I'll let you know how it goes.) It won't replace the real thing, but it's the boat we're in, so let's paddle in the hopes that we can get to the shore without bringing on too much water. When the order lifts, we'll quickly go back to beds, sofas, coffee tables, lamps, and real art!
As for showings, I'm meeting Buyers from SF on Sunday to take them into a few properties. I'll set appointments, make sure no one else overlaps during our scheduled visits, and do my best to keep everyone safe. As long as allowable, I'm going to row this boat with all my might because none of us knows where the market (or the world) is going to be three months down the road, but almost everyone believes it's going to take a good long while to right the ship.
In the meantime, we're going to do the best we can with what we have because people will still need homes (on land). Whether that's now, in the near future, or much further down the road, whether it's a job transfer or a lifestyle change, whether it's a consequence or an opportunity, homes will continue to be the center of our lives, maybe more so now, than ever. And when they do reach out, we'll be here to help them, no matter how hard we have to row.
How can we help you?
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 600 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.