Flu season is throwing a wrench in NYC's real estate industry

Mimi headsht
By Mimi OConnor  |
January 22, 2018 - 1:00PM

The flu is taking out real estate brokers and their clients left and right, and fear of the virus is introducing a new level of germaphobia among those who are still up and at 'em.


As you may have heard, there's something going around. This year's flu season is being described by the experts as "moderately severe." Real estate is all about meeting, greeting, and checking out enclosed spaces with strangers—sounds like a perfect flu Petri dish to us. And indeed, real estate pros we talked to say the the illness is wreaking havoc on business. 

Corcoran's Marie Bromberg counts herself as recently recovered casualty of the flu. She says she has seen the sickness impact business in a variety of ways.

"People are canceling appointments, and in the office people are politely asking anyone who seems really sick to go home!" she says. 

For prevention, "I’ve definitely added tissue boxes as one of my open house items. But Purell wouldn't hurt," she says. "I’ve also noticed that a lot of people are doing a lot less handshaking because they’re sick and they don’t want to get other people sick. Between the freezing temperatures and the flu, there have also been less people at open houses than I’m used to seeing this time of the year."

For those that do show up to meetings and viewings, there have been some adaptations.

"I have several clients who refuse to shake hands (in the nicest way) for fear of getting sick or being sick and getting me sick," says broker Josh Sarnell of Citi Habitats. "Instead of shaking hands, we give elbows."

Fear of the flu seems to be just as powerful as the flu itself in terms of reshaping how apartment renters, buyers, sellers, and brokers interact.

"There is more fear about getting sick right now as there is about anything else," says Ian Slater, of the Slater Team at Compass. "Philip Scheinfeld and I are shopping with a client right now who wears gloves at all times and won't shake hands or touch anything or anyone in an apartment for fear of the flu,"

"I have another client who was looking seriously and actively at sales and then completely disappeared for three days, only to write me this morning: 'I’m so sorry I haven’t been in touch I’ve been down for the count with the flu. I’ll try and look at them later,'" Slater adds. "[Fear of the flu] certainly exacerbates the winter slowdown in the market, as there is a general fear of being in a new space for people, or interacting with strangers."

And as is likely the case in businesses all over the city, and country, the flu is taking out real estate industry workers, throwing a wrench in normal day-to-day business. Jessica Moody, public relations and marketing manager at Interior Marketing Group, estimates that about 10 people at the firm have come down with the flu."

"We actually have someone coming to our warehouse [in Jersey City] to administer flu shots because so many of us have gotten sick!" she says. "We have a large workforce that works really closely together, so we need it. It’s an operational challenge when so many of us can’t come in."

Freaked out? Maybe you should be. Still, lots of people are feeling well.

"Though I've interestingly enough been seeing and hearing more and more about the flu through my Facebook feed and friend's posts, and in conversations and such, I haven't seen any direct impact on my business or the industry in general," says broker Christopher Kromer of Halstead. "Certainly I've had canceled appointments and whatnot due to people being sick, but I wouldn't say I've been experiencing anything out of the ordinary."

Nevertheless, if you haven't fallen prey to the influenza virus this season, it's not too late for a flu shot. Also, a little hand washing goes a long way.



Mimi headsht

Mimi OConnor

Contributing Writer

Mimi O’Connor has written about New York City real estate for publications that include Brick Underground, Refinery29, and Thrillist. She is the recipient of two awards from the National Association of Real Estate Editors for interior design and service journalism. Her writing on New York City, parenting, events, and culture has also appeared in Parents, Red Tricycle, BizBash, and Time Out New York.

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