Coronavirus Forces Brokers to Go Remote

Here's how the biggest real estate agencies are adapting to their challenges of working from home.

Marcus & Millichap headquarters office in Calabasas, Calif. Image via Google Street View

Spurred by the coronavirus crisis, the U.S. has embarked on a vast work-from-home experiment that has swept up millions of employees. The transition is proving challenging for some, but property brokerages, whose businesses rely heavily on phone and email communication, have been quick to adapt.

Calabasas, Calif.-based Marcus & Millichap saw the writing on the wall around two weeks ago and began testing and ramping up its remote work capabilities. Now all the firm’s nationwide offices have gone remote, with many employees grabbing one or two monitors from the office to enhance their home workstations.

READ ALSO: What You Should Know About Coronavirus and Leasing

John Krueger, who oversees 150 agents as vice president and regional manager for the firm’s offices in Manhattan, Westchester County, N.Y. and New Haven, Conn., told Commercial Property Executive he holds video meetings with his teams every day. “I can see where everybody is,” he said. “It adds another layer of connectivity.”

The visual aspect also helps combat the feelings of isolation and loneliness that Krueger feels will become more of an issue in the next week or two, depending on how long the situation lasts, while upholding a level of professionalism and consistency.

“If I’m going to be talking to a client or somebody in our team, they’re probably not going to be sitting in their pajamas,” he added. “Hopefully they’re going to have gotten up, taken a shower, prepared their day.”

Weathering the storm in China

Brett White, Global Chairman & CEO, Cushman Wakefield. Image courtesy of Cushman & Wakefield

Rival brokerages including Avison Young, CBRE, Cushman & Wakefield and Savills have adopted telework policies of their own. As of last Friday, London-based Savills has implemented an “encouraged remote-work policy” for all of the firm’s more than 35 offices in North America, according to an email sent out by Savills North America Chairman & CEO Mitchell Steir.

Chicago-headquartered Cushman & Wakefield has advised its 53,000 global employees to work remotely for the time being, if their jobs permit. Chairman & CEO Brett White said in an open letter to clients that the company has already been tested in China, where it is one of the largest commercial property managers, wielding 20,000 people on the ground.

The coronavirus outbreak swept China beginning in January but has since appeared to taper off, with the country now reporting no new local cases of the virus for two days in a row. A representative of Cushman & Wakefield declined to comment about best practices from China that are being adopted in the U.S.

No more dinners

Residential brokers are adapting to the challenges too. Most employees of New York-based Compass are now working at home, while client dinners have been replaced by video calls and brokers are conducting showings by appointment only.

“Showings are generally face to face,” noted Maria Avellaneda, one of the firm’s top-producing brokers. “The latter has been totally disrupted. We are using more technology (and) leveraging proprietary tools like ‘Collections’, where we curate a portfolio of properties for each buyer and interact with them.”

She added: “I have instructed all my assistants to work from home. The only thing they need to do at the office is to leave the checks at Compass. Hopefully, we will be able to do all these through transfers.”

Eighty-eight percent of organizations have required or encouraged their employees to work from home, according to a Gartner, Inc. survey of 800 global human resources executives this week. Microsoft said on Thursday its Teams chat and conferencing app added more than 12 million daily users in one week amid the telework wave.

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