Reality check: How to make your NYC real estate listing not sound insensitive

By Jennifer White Karp  |
March 30, 2020 - 3:00PM

A co-op in Midtown, 340 West 55th St., #3E, has a new tag line to reflect reality in NYC: "Practice social distancing on your own huge terrace! Virtual appointments only 24 hour notice."


Right now, New York City is the epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic and the situation is terrifying. So, it’s off-putting (to put it mildly) to receive emails about NYC luxury listings that gush about penthouses with panoramic views and chef’s kitchens—as if nothing was going on.

The NYC real estate market is grinding slower and slower but has not completely halted, and it’s a good idea if you’re selling or renting a high-end apartment to consider how your broker’s marketing comes across in these very frightening times. Having some kind of acknowledgment—either in the subject line of an email if your broker is marketing your apartment to other brokers or media or adding some wording to the listing online—that indicates life in NYC is not business as usual is key to avoiding sounding tone-deaf and insensitive.

Editor's note: Click here for more of Brick Underground's coronavirus coverage.

You can do it with a light touch. One example came in an email from the Friedman Rosenthal Team at Halstead, which sent a real estate listing with a subject line that nodded to these surreal times: “Practice social distancing on your own terrace!”

Inside was a description and images of the apartment, including that large terrace. It was an otherwise typical email, the kind brokers send out when they market apartments all the time. But the subject line made it clear that these are not normal times. Similar language was added to the online listing as well.

“It’s not like we can hide what’s going on,” says Mark D. Friedman, the Halstead agent that came up with this twist on the usual listing email. (Another one from his team reads: “Tenants have left and easy to show—FaceTime Appt—renovated one bed rental $4,100.”)

“Buyers should feel comfortable and know we’re in it together,” Friedman says. “If brokers are sending out the same emails,” he says, “it seems like they’re ignoring what’s going on.”

Avoid seeming out of touch or grandstanding

Consider this listing email from an unnamed brokerage, which touts “A massive, idyllic suburban oasis in the heart of Brooklyn.” It’s one of several similarly out-of-sync emails that Brick Underground has received while New York is on "pause" and there are grim scenes everywhere.

Not many New Yorkers are looking to move, but some are, so if you’re trying to reach them, Friedman suggests tweaking your message. With the “idyllic suburban oasis,” he suggests, “it’s a house. Why not say you don’t have to share the elevator with anyone?”

Then there’s this type of listing email: “[High-profile broker name] just listed a dreamy penthouse.” Usually, Brick Underground gets a few dozen emails each week that call attention to a particular broker, but they have dropped off sharply in recent weeks as the pandemic has engulfed NYC. It’s a bit startling to see the few that are still being sent out because it feels like the wrong moment to grandstand.

Brian Lewis, a broker at Compass, also suggests sellers and brokers review their web copy and “see if the tone sounds weird.” He stresses that he isn’t trying to moralize or dictate proper etiquette. “I’m just one person trying to be mindful of the sensitivities of this collective moment while serving my clients,” Lewis says.

Brick Underground spoke to him as he was heading to a meeting to discuss how to “make the firm’s web presence line up with NYC’s changed reality without undermining our fiduciary responsibility to our clients.”

The solution? He's adding an introduction to the web copy on all of his listings that reads: “Please note: Showings will begin as soon as access in NYC is restored. Until then, please see the posted movie tour of this home, and know that I’m here to give you information by phone and email. I appreciate your considering this home, and I look forward to showing it to you soon. Stay well.”



Jennifer White Karp

Managing Editor

Jennifer steers Brick Underground’s editorial coverage of New York City residential real estate and writes articles on market trends and strategies for buyers, sellers, and renters. Jennifer’s 15-year career in New York City real estate journalism includes stints as a writer and editor at The Real Deal and its spinoff publication, Luxury Listings NYC.

Brick Underground articles occasionally include the expertise of, or information about, advertising partners when relevant to the story. We will never promote an advertiser's product without making the relationship clear to our readers.