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Real estate now ‘essential’ — with restrictions

Local agencies adapt to changing environment

Nicholas Politi, co-owner and associate real estate broker at Merril L. Thomas, poses with a Matterport camera the agency uses to scan homes for virtual tours on its website, adirondackestates.com. (Provided photo — Nicholas Politi)

LAKE PLACID — Real estate has now been deemed an essential business by the state — with some restrictions.

Real estate agencies are being asked to conduct all listing presentations and property showings either virtually, or with the prospective buyer alone in the home.

On March 20, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s New York on PAUSE executive order deemed real estate a non-essential industry and agencies were asked to cease operations. The state changed its guidance just over two weeks later, and on April 1, real estate agents were allowed to resume showings. Two days later, that guidance was changed again.

The new guidance from the Empire State Development Corporation, released April 3, has prompted local brokers to take different approaches to how they do business.

“I think at this point we just have to follow the directives and be as careful as we can,” said Margie Philo, owner of Berkshire Hathaway Adirondack Properties, based in Lake Placid.

After 9/11, agencies in the Adirondack Park received some interest from residents of New York City looking to relocate to an area they believed was safer. There’s a sense among many longtime residents that after the novel coronavirus pandemic dies down, this area could see a new wave of people looking to move away from cities and into a more rural area.

Even now, real estate agencies around the region are still getting phone calls from interested buyers.

“I’m getting calls from people who are making appointments to see specific listings, which is interesting,” Philo said. “People just feel like maybe they need to have a different location they can live in full-time while they’re working remotely, or a second home in the area where they feel they would be safe.”

Jim LaValley, owner of LaValley Real Estate in Tupper Lake, said people don’t typically want to buy a home without seeing it in person first. But providing virtual tours is something agencies are trying out.

Berkshire Hathaway’s properties are “heavily photographed,” with drone footage and videos available online to people looking to buy, according to Philo. Agents are also available to do virtual tours.

Merrill L. Thomas, a Lake Placid-based real estate agency, is offering buyers virtual tours with an agent over FaceTime, according to co-owner and associate real estate broker Nicholas Politi. The business is also using a piece of equipment called a Matterport, a special camera that scans properties for virtual tours available on the Merrill L. Thomas website.

“We’re using tools that we have, that we’re lucky to have, and will try to help people to continue their home-buying search,” Politi said. “I think everyone is on pause given the governor’s direction. All of us at Merrill Thomas are abiding by that direction, which I think is the right thing to do right now.”

LaValley Real Estate is moving toward having a more virtual presence, but is doing in-person showings with the agent arriving ahead of time to prepare the property before leaving and allowing the buyer to browse on their own.

“It obviously creates challenges, but given the atmosphere we’re currently in, I guess this is better than not being able to do anything,” LaValley said.

Engel & Volkers, based in Lake Placid, is working remotely and telling buyers that properties will be available to see as soon as it’s safe to do a showing, according to owner Collen M. Holmes.

“Our team is working remotely with a number of buying clients via email and phone, but our clients are sheltering in place and understand that we are not able to view properties at this time,” she said. “We are still working remotely on all of our transactions that were underway before the virus changed our process and some new transactions, one in particular that is sight unseen with a contingency that the buyer will be able to view the property as soon as it is safe to do so.”

The coronavirus pandemic has altered the way most people live their everyday lives, and almost no industry is untouched by guidance from the state designed to encourage people to stay home and social distance.

Politi, Philo and LaValley each expressed confidence that this area would endure and bounce back after the current public health concerns are mitigated. There may even be a new wave of residents headed to the North County.

“I feel that there will be two thoughts on it: People will want to find a safe place to escape to, and also people will be re-evaluating their lives and taking more time for themselves,” LaValley said. “And what better place to do that than the Adirondacks.”

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