Working from upstate or my apartment in New York, in semi- isolation and driving into the city for the occasional appointment or showing, I manage a tiny piece of Manhattan’s real estate market almost entirely from my laptop. The market has shifted perceptibly in the thirty-five years I have been doing this, from one based on seeing and conversation to one more highly dependent on interpreting the internet and e-mail.
As a young broker, and then as an appraiser, first in San Francisco and after 1985 in New York, I drove or walked from place-to-place, not only to learn the market, but also to develop a taste or an eye for things. Listing information was on printed sheets, in weekly publications, or on cards, so market information was more locally based.
Now there is endless material on-line, much of it accessible to anyone.
There are dozens, even a hundred or more potential listings for each client, photographs, pricing information, old photographs, old pricing information, now videos, and endless commentary, including mine.
Residential real estate, like the retail market, is now increasingly consolidated on the web. Access to information is easier, and getting information requires much less physical movement. But the work is increasingly difficult, as there is now an excess of information, and images, and e-mails. The ease of sourcing and providing information now means that much more information is required, in order to form an opinion, or to make a decision. Superior knowledge is based almost entirely on the ability to sift, recognize, interpret and explain.
There is a disconnect. In the trading of physical things, there is now much less seeing and touching and talking. As a young appraiser, when cooperative prices were not yet recorded, I called and spoke with every broker. As a broker, I previewed property in person. Now in my 60’s, I handle much of this from afar. There are fewer appointments; with images on-line, fewer are needed. Residential real estate is still a local thing, yet I can manage much of it at a distance.
In my own house I also look around less, as I am tethered for hours to the screen or to the phone. I am much more free to move, but I am also more detached from where I am. Real estate work is now much more like that of a writer, with a typewriter or a pen, trading in words, images, and thoughts from my desk.
These are not new trends, but they have been reinforced by Covid 19. Showings are more complex, requiring advance signatures from everyone present. Brokers’ open houses are impossible. Weekend open houses are “by appointment”. For the first time, in July, I brokered the sale of an apartment I had not seen, although we knew the building, and the buyer saw it before bidding. It seemed easy, but only until we assembled the board package by hand, the old fashioned way. And the sale still hasn’t closed, as the seller’s lawyer struggles to get the stock certificate and pay-off information on his client’s loan.
Even with my lap-top, this is a time where getting anything done is more difficult.