National Pandemic

The coronavirus made us realize that faster change had always been possible

Outdoor dining, video tours, and widespread work-from-home could have been here years ago.
By Constantine Valhouli  |  August 13, 2020 12:53 AM

Real estate has traditionally been a sector slow to change, and slow to adopt new technologies and approaches. Indeed, the sector's approach to both could be compared to Lord Hartington's (1833-1908) views on change. His famously dismissive reply to most proposals and plans was "Far better not."

In real estate, the "far better not" approach to doing things differently has been upended by the pandemic. And this may be a good thing in several ways, long term.

Outdoor dining. In Europe, outdoor dining has been a standard part of city life for decades if not longer. In the United States, it was tightly controlled and subject to strict fees and regulations – until the pandemic made indoor dining unfeasible. Suddenly, street parking in front of restaurants was able to be eliminated without delay, and we have a glimpse of the city life we could have been enjoying for years.

Video tours of properties were not as popular until recently. The pandemic has brought – quite reasonable – limits on foot traffic into listed apartments, and limits on the number of groups that can visit at one time. Interestingly, this has actually benefited brokers, as there tend to be fewer idly curious visitors now. Those who actually attend the in-person open houses tend to be more interested in a property if they have already seen an online video or live FaceTime tour.

Working from home had, until recently, been seen as a perk to be enjoyed from time to time rather than as something which could be viable long-term. We spent the last few decades in cubicle farms or open-plan offices, and bracketing the workday with long commutes – until the coronavirus forced us to realize that we could be just as productive without being in the same room as Your Officemate That Uses Too Much Cologne, That Guy Who Chews Really Loudly, or the Woman Who Takes All Her Calls on Speakerphone.

Each of these changes would have, in ordinary times, taken years to be debated and gradually adopted. If there is one upside to the pandemic, it is that it is forcing us to realize that faster change has always been possible. It's just that we've chosen not to do it.