By Kim Kash, of Compass
The real estate business slowed way down for several weeks during the pandemic shutdown, and as a Realtor I had a lot more free time on my hands. I’m using the past tense because just within the last few days the pace of business has noticeably picked up again. I hope that’s because people are adjusting to social distancing and getting more confident about doing business in this strange new way. I know I am.
The slowdown has been distressing, of course, because helping people buy and sell their homes is my livelihood. Real estate has been labeled a necessary industry. So right from the start of the shutdown I have been “allowed” to show houses and negotiate transactions—but initially it was terrifying. I was really uncomfortable wearing the mask. It felt awkward not to touch anything in the houses I showed—countertops, kitchen drawers, handrails. It was nerve-wracking trying to remember the protocols of when and how to sanitize my hands and keep my mask clean.
I can’t even imagine the low, constant fear that frontline retail workers must feel. For those of us without medical training, all these sanitary protocols are clumsy and complicated. But I’m learning. My mask and hand sanitizing practices are getting more automatic and routine, and my fear is becoming more manageable.
Throughout this time, I have been helping people who need to move, right now, even in the middle of a pandemic. That’s stressful. I’ve also had to be unusually aggressive in making deals happen for my clients, pushing for action after multiple administrative processes had ground to a halt.
The shutdown put a few of my clients in absolutely impossible positions. One would have had to move into a hotel if their settlement had been delayed (makes my skin crawl to think of that right now!) Another would have been saddled with double mortgage payments—and he’d just been laid off.
Several other clients are now in the process of qualifying—or re-qualifying—to purchase in a now much stricter lending environment. One of my pre-approved buyers went from qualifying for a loan to not qualifying, pretty much overnight.
Then there’s my client who thought he’d gotten the coronavirus. Presenting with several Covid-19-like symptoms, he repeatedly tested negative for the virus and then thought to get his apartment checked for allergens. Tests returned an outrageously high level of mold, so now he’s sleeping on a friend’s sofa. Clearly, this guy needs to buy a house; he needs a safe shelter.
Real estate transactions already are high-stakes for most people, so it can get a little tense just on a regular day. In a pandemic, when rules have changed overnight, when loan officers are trying to do their jobs at their dining room tables with their kids at home, when settlements are happening on folding tables in people’s driveways—well, things can get fraught.
That’s why I am grateful for the beautiful spring we’ve been having, and for my wildly overgrown back yard. Gardening this spring has been my workout, my refuge, my solitude, my sanity check.
My husband and I have owned our home for about seven years. A wooded portion of our back yard runs into untended city property behind it, and until now I just ignored it. The woods are choked with ivy and sticker bushes: a dense, foreboding mosquito and tick factory.
Last year we hired a local landscaper/gardener to come in and hack back the worst of the ivy and brambles. He used an old lawnmower to mow down the vines, and he cut them off at the bases of the trees. The difference was incredible! Over the winter I noticed how much more open and usable that part of the yard felt, with all the sticker bushes and ivy beaten back.
So, when the pandemic hit, the tension ratcheted up with my work—and I was drawn to the back yard as a place of quiet and calm. This space that wasn’t even on my mental map before was suddenly a blank canvas for shade-loving plants, and an area to sit in seclusion and breathe.
As a way to watch our budget and also connect with neighbors, I started responding to online notices for free plants and garden stuff. Melissa Ehrenreich had recently started the Greenbelt Buy Nothing Project on Facebook, which inspired me to look for giveaways and even ask for them.
And I was off to the races! Neighbors offered extra plants, pavers, river stones, and even a long, very heavy bench. I’ve been rolling up and down the street with a wheelbarrow, collecting unwanted stuff from nearby yards and making a new garden.
We will have a garden party and invite all our contributing neighbors as soon as it’s safe to socialize in person again! Meanwhile, every time I’m in the new garden I am grateful for my sweet community. It makes me happy, and gives me fresh inspiration to help more people find and safely settle into their own homes.
NOTE: By contributing these pandemic stories, photos, et cetera, Greenbelters are making an unconditional donation of the material to the nonprofit Greenbelt Online.org and the Greenbelt Museum/City of Greenbelt, which reserve the right to keep, lend, or otherwise dispose of the donated material, and may use the material on our website, for social media or other postings, in promotional materials or in future exhibits.