Diane Ramirez, Halstead CEO

In the Manhattan of 1984, you would have had a very good reason for market skepticism. After all, the country and our city were still lurching out of a deep recession. Sure, there were some signs of life in former industrial areas like SoHo, but after the carnage of a recession, optimism was in short supply.

While some tread cautiously, Diane Ramirez, an agent at the time, decided that boldness would be rewarded, and that the industry was in desperate need of change. So she started her own brokerage, Halstead. The rest of the story, of course, reads like a New York real estate fairy tale. Diane managed to grow her small storefront firm into one of the most successful and respected luxury brokerages in New York City.

Since so many agents are in the same boat Diane was in 1984—unsure whether to be bold or cautious—we decided to sit down with Diane and get her take on the state of the market and how agents can thrive during and after a recession.

You co-founded Halstead in 1984. Could you share how you came to launch the agency & how you have grown it into one of the leading real estate firms in the New York metropolitan area since then?

“I was working as an agent and had made the decision to start my own firm—the kind of forward-thinking place I would want to work. When I met Clark Halstead, who at the time was looking to start a similar company, our visions aligned and Halstead was born.

“We wanted to bring New York City real estate out of the high floors of Midtown office buildings and into retail storefronts situated in the communities we served. We expanded organically until 2001, when we were acquired by Terra Holdings, further propelling our growth within New York City and into the Hamptons, New Jersey, the Hudson Valley, and Fairfield County, Connecticut.

“We founded Halstead in 1984 with a commitment to marketing, technology, and fostering a professional, collaborative culture that holds true today. We have always been at the forefront of the industry and I am proud to say that we continue to be to this day.”

The real estate market had a solid start to 2020—what were some things you saw early on this year?

“We saw a strong first quarter and the real estate market, especially in New York City and the surrounding areas, was starting to make a comeback after a sluggish 2019.”

Sellers had adjusted pricing to an attractive level & buyers were responding positively, having both inventory & low mortgage rates working in their favor.

“We were pleased to see the number of sales rise along with average prices. However, like so many other industries across the New York metro area, the COVID-19 pandemic effectively put real estate activity ‘on pause.’”

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How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted real estate? How are Halstead & the industry navigating the pandemic?

“First and foremost, we are abiding by social distancing measures in an effort to stop the spread of the virus, promote public health, and protect our communities. Halstead has more than 30 offices across New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey. While states are treating real estate activities a bit differently in terms of whether they are considered essential or non-essential services, we proactively closed all of our physical offices in mid-March and have had staff working remotely to support our agents, who we have also strongly encouraged to work remotely.”

“Our agents have been virtually closing deals they had in the pipeline prior to the pandemic & we are now even seeing buyers & renters sign contracts sight unseen based on virtual tools like video tours, 3D walk-throughs, Google Street Views & more.”

“It has been incredible to watch our agents leverage the power of technology to support their business continuity and set themselves up for success when we can return to business as usual.”

Diane Ramirez, Halstead CEO

Some of your agents have successfully signed contracts & deals since the quarantine began. What have been the keys to their success & what type of tools are they using?

“Our agents have leaned into technology and have shown great creativity in getting deals done virtually. For closings, they’ve used e-notarization services for signatures (thankfully authorized in March by New York State) and have brought necessary parties together using Zoom and similar virtual meeting services.

“For virtual showings, they are using video property tours (sometimes live with the assistance of their sellers and tenants), 3D walk-throughs, and more. Agents have also stayed engaged with their clients in meaningful ways through social media, emails, videos, and more.”

What is your outlook for the market for the rest of the year?

“I’m cautiously optimistic. Just in the last week, we have seen an uptick in new listings hitting the market. We anticipate that when in-person showings can resume, there will be pent-up demand from buyers who have been stuck at home and forced to put life changes on hold. We hear from many who have realized they want different configurations to live more comfortably should they need to spend more time at home again in the future.”

“We may also see a wave of buyers & renters who have decided to make a lifestyle change, leaving the city for a bit more square footage & their own outdoor space in the suburbs.”

“Where a commute might have deterred them in the past, it is likely that we will see a sustained rise in remote work and this opportunity may alleviate commuting concerns for some buyers.”

If you were still an agent today, how would you prepare yourself for the coming downturn?

“Have a healthy pipeline and maintain meaningful relationships with your clients—past, present, and potential. Make sure you are continuously positioning yourself as a resource and trusted adviser for them, whether that involves interpreting market data, sharing with them ways that they can live and work from home more comfortably, or supporting local businesses and nonprofit organizations in their communities.

“This will not only keep you top of mind for clients and connected to your community, but it will also best position you for future success when things get moving again. I have been in this business for many years and weathered many downturns—it is important to remember that things always turn around.”

Over to You

What’s your take on the post-pandemic market? Let us know in the comments or join the conversation on our Facebook Mastermind Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/theclosecommunity/