Maybe it was March 12 when the NCAA canceled its March Madness college basketball tournaments. Or maybe it was when your children’s school announced that it would shut down for “two weeks.” Or maybe you realized just how much of an impact COVID-19 would have on your life when your den, kitchen or guest bedroom became your office.
It’s been about a year now since COVID-19 upended life, and the commercial real estate business, in the United States. But this March looks brighter. Vaccines are rolling out, with U.S. states now dispensing an average of more than 2 million shots each day. At the same time, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all falling.
The hope is that the worst days of the pandemic are behind us. But on the one-year anniversary of the first stay-at-home orders, we asked several commercial real estate professionals what they’ve missed most during this long year, and what they looked forward to in the second half of 2021.
Here’s what they had to say.
Marcus & Millichap
The biggest thing missing as a result of the restrictions is the way we naturally connect with colleagues, clients and friends. Even though we’ve returned to the office at a reduced capacity, I miss those small moments where you run into someone around the office or see someone you know at a restaurant and have the opportunity to catch up or share a story.
In a virtual world everything is more forced, and I think sometimes that can hurt or leave out some genuine connections in life. I really look forward to that spontaneity returning soon.
Avison Young Industrial Services
One of the main things I miss from the pre-pandemic world is the personal interaction with clients and the ability to network and meet new people. Our clients span a wide geographic area throughout the Chicago market and I miss touring buildings and new development sites in person and the connections we make with clients. While we have become proficient at using technology during the pandemic, I’m looking forward to those in-person visits when you can really get to know people again. Talking in person really helps expand relationships and is rewarding on many levels.
I also miss going to business events and networking, where you meet new people and learn about other businesses that are having an impact on the local economy. We often find new clients or vendors through the many seminars, award programs and building tours hosted by the brokerage community. I think that once we see a wider part of the population vaccinated, there will be a surge in events and in-person networking.
On a personal note, I can’t wait until we can see extended family again and not have to worry so much about distancing and masks. The pandemic has been very difficult for families overall and particularly for kids trying to see their grandparents and navigate school and build their social networks.
The people, of course. A building is just steel and concrete. It is the human element that gives it life. If the pandemic has reminded us of anything it is how much we miss those relationships, whether it be the tenant employees or building staff and contractors.
Despite the bad, the additional focus on building systems, and vernacular like airflow and exchange rates, subjects that as property managers we think about daily, are topics I’ve enjoyed sharing with tenants.
Area vice president
The Laramar Group
What I miss most about the pre-pandemic life is seeing the smiles on employees’ faces when touring properties and being onsite to interact with people firsthand. While you can see people’s smiles with a mask, you don’t get the depth of facial expressions. When visiting communities onsite before the pandemic, it was so natural to get a hug from a team member and now we bump elbows and it’s just not the same.
Before the pandemic, we celebrated big moments, such as strong leasing activity or completion of a property renovation, differently and I miss that, as well. It’s just not the same without high-fives and big team lunches or team outings to celebrate.
The daily work routine and strategy has also changed significantly and is much less personal. Because we work with multifamily properties, we are accustomed to interacting on a personal level with our residents and we’ve had to adjust our approach to support them while also adhering to safety guidelines. We are finding ways to connect with our residents and teams more through video conferences, regular emails and phone calls and are all learning how to be more innovative in changing day-to-day operations to adapt to current times.
Being aware and empathetic to everyone’s personal comfort zones has always been common, however it is heightened now and we are adjusting and focusing on this more. Whether it be about the pandemic or presenting on video and or hosting live virtual tours, we have had to pivot the way we manage and operate in every way and support our teams every step of the way.
Senior vice president
From a work perspective, I truly miss meeting with clients and prospects in person. Face-to-face meetings provide an unmatched opportunity to make a connection, convey passion and establish trust, key components to keeping and winning business.
Managing principal, president
Brown Commercial Group
Elk Grove Village, Illinois
Before the pandemic, the workday was always hectic but there was a more even flow of activity. I could get to the office early and plan my day before heading out to appointments. Now it seems that everyone’s schedule is shifting, with varying work and home schedules — and the ever-changing school schedules. It’s harder to juggle everything and find that time to get ahead of the day.
There is also a tremendous need for flexibility right now and that can be positive but it also impacts the work flow. Many people are working different hours due to their kids’ school schedules, so that affects our schedules and how we interact in the office.
We have a large open meeting space in our office that allows us to congregate and still keep a safe distance from each other. Our ability to still meet in person and talk about transactions, client needs and the overall flow of business has been a big help. The pandemic has created so much social isolation that can really put a strain on our lives.
I’m excited for the post-pandemic world so that we can connect with people in person, do more traveling and see our kids get back to a normal social life.
Director of business development
McCarthy Building Companies, Inc.
Last year, McCarthy built a brand-new office in Omaha and we are also celebrating a major milestone of 20 years in Nebraska. Traditionally, we would have celebrated with a large gathering of our partners and clients. Unfortunately, this year we had to forego these types of activities. But along with disappointments came opportunities.
Company-wide, McCarthy responded to ever-changing circumstances by developing and expanding many innovative programs and advanced technologies that are expected to have long-lasting positive implications not only for McCarthy’s employees and clients, but also for the nation’s construction industry.
Whitney T. Carlisle
O’Keefe Lyons & Hynes, LLC
Our law practice is focused largely on commercial property taxation, an important issue for property owners and their tenants and one requiring advance planning, even during a pandemic. Shifting from in-person meetings and court appearances to practicing law remotely was almost seamless for our firm because we have long utilized technology to enhance our legal services. Long before the pandemic, we had developed a sophisticated database, implemented electronic document management and begun filing complaints online. Being prepared not only helped our firm but our clients as well.
Immediately, we began to advise our clients about the ways in which the property tax system was adapting to the pandemic, whether local assessors would consider the impact of the pandemic in valuing property as of January 1, 2020, and whether local governments would defer the collection of property taxes.
Further, we worked with every client (not just those whose properties were undergoing triennial reassessment) to identify and document the impact of the government orders restricting the use of properties on their market values. This effort has given us a leg up on the upcoming 2021 Triennial Reassessment of all property in the City of Chicago.
As I look back over the last year, of course I miss working in person with clients, colleagues, hearing officers and judges. But the experience of working remotely has tightened up some of our practices and made us more productive. It has also enhanced our collaboration and communication both within the firm and with our clients.
While many businesses slowed in the early days of the pandemic, the need for our services became more urgent. Assessments were still being issued, hearings were still being held remotely, and taxes were still being levied. This meant relying all the more on our technological resources and on our relationships with clients.
Lee & Associates
Professionally, I miss face-to-face interactions with clients and co-workers. It has been an adjustment to work with others without seeing their facial expressions and smiling faces.
Personally, I miss gathering with friends, attending concerts and sporting events, and going out for the quintessential Wisconsin fish fry and old fashioneds on Friday nights.