Coronavirus is Changing the Way Agents Hold Open Houses in New York City

In the face of the increasing spread of the coronavirus, the fast-spreading and contagious outbreak that has now infected upward of 100,000 people globally, brokers across New York City are upping precautions at their open houses.

Open houses are considered an efficient way for sellers to get more eyes on a home that’s for sale, and a bigger pool of potential buyers can help lead to a higher ultimate sale price, Mansion Global previously reported.

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“I've had several owners ask if there is a protocol we should be following as it relates to coronavirus to which I responded: We are staying in the know and monitoring the advice of the CDC,” Philip Scheinfeld, a New York City-based broker at Compass, said in a statement, referring to the Centers for Disease and Prevention

“Apart from washing our hands and keeping everything sanitized—asking people to remove shoes or wear booties is more crucial than ever—we are also keeping Clorox wipes on hand to sanitize door handles and iPads used for sign-in sheets. We may go so far as to have people speaking their names into the phone this weekend to avoid touching [the] iPads.”

Some owners have even allocated small cleaning budgets to cover a crew to come in before and after to ensure the spreading of germs is minimized, he said.

Last weekend, open houses in New York City had an average attendance of 4.77 visitor groups, down from 5.62 the prior weekend, according to Bloomberg.

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Agent Steven Gottlieb of Warburg Realty hasn't seen open house attendance drop drastically, he said, “but coronavirus was much more front-and-center in the news this week, as opposed to the week prior.”

“It will be interesting to see if attendance changes noticeably this coming Sunday,” he said. “We will keep a bottle of Purell out for people upon arrival to assuage any discomfort.”

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases globally stood at 101,781 on Friday afternoon, and 3,460 people have died as a result, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. In the U.S. there are 260 confirmed cases and 14 people have died.

Broker Lindsay Barton Barrett of Douglas Elliman has had one request by a seller to cancel an open house. “They said with all these virus concerns they don’t want all these people in their home,” she said in a statement.

“We went back and said obviously we can, but we frankly wouldn’t recommend canceling because we might lose interested buyers by doing so and a lot of people may see that the open house is canceled and think that the listing is gone already,” she said. “But everyone has their own comfort level so I think we’re going to see canceled open houses.”

Precautions are in place a little further afield too, not just in New York City, but in its prime commuter areas.

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Greenwich, Connecticut-based broker Robin Kencel of Compass is representing a home being sold by a family with young children with compromised immune systems and recommended measures including placing an oversized Purell pump on the front entry console alongside a box of tissues and a framed sign.

According to Ms. Kencel, the sign reads, “Dear Buyers, Welcome to our home, which we love and enjoy with our young children. We are being extra careful to stay healthy these days. If you do not feel well, please enjoy our yard but come back another day to tour the house. If you are touring, kindly remove your shoes or wear booties, and help yourself to tissues and Purell. Thank you for understanding.”

Ms. Kencel is also asking every agent who makes an appointment—and following up with them on the day before the showing—to ask their clients if there has been any illness recently in the family and if everyone is feeling well.

Despite the growing concerns over the virus, Manhattan’s luxury real estate market had its busiest week of the year from Feb. 24-March 1, with contracts signed on 27 homes priced at $4 million and up, according to the weekly Olshan report.

“This is New York City and life must go on,” Mr. Scheinfeld said. “People are trying to find homes and 'nesting' more than ever, so ironically it's a busy time to find a new residence. That said, we all need to stay vigilant and healthy. If you're sick, stay home. That should be protocol with or without the fear of [coronavirus]."

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