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Tales from the Field: Selling a Penthouse During a Pandemic

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By Manuel Davis | Sr. Vice President at Advisors Living | Inman | April 21, 2020


In early March, our clients were calling my business partner (Kristy Ganong) and I on a daily basis. The cadence of every conversation was consistent. It began with talking about fear for our collective health, followed by how the global pandemic was affecting the economy and shared concerns about the value of real estate as a result.

We’ve been at this for 25 years and know how to navigate the normal anticipatory fears of when the right time to list is. During pre-COVID-19 times, we would have been confident that our marketing introduction to our clients’ rare and stunning sun-filled duplex penthouse would be well-received. However, the pandemic unraveled the norm, leaving buyers, sellers and agents speculating what to do next.

We still don’t have all the answers, but we were confident that listing a home seemed impossible without the human touch and interaction necessary to experience and close. We spent hours discussing if and how we should list. There’s no formula for the unprecedented predicament, other than a value derived from a report produced weeks prior to our country sheltering in place.

Scared, uncertain and in full acceptance that there might not be a safe way to do this, Kristy and I relied on our longevity in the business and the technology we had at our disposal to prepare the listing. Our priority was to do this safely, while remaining vigilant — one step at a time.

We spent the next four weeks preparing the marketing material with the overtone that once complete, we would reassess it, with no expectation to actually list.

Our clients, Kristy and I were in uncharted waters. When the custom marketing materials were ready, we leveraged our personal database to test our virtual platform and sent a “coming soon” email. The creative pointed to a Matterport tour, floor plans and a comprehensive website. We coupled the creative and professional photography with descriptive copy:

“Coming soon … A tastefully designed and impeccably cared-for penthouse duplex. Located on Braddock Park in the South End and steps from the Back Bay — with an absolute emphasis on its superior location. Boasting a new rooftop deck with panoramic views of the Boston skyline and a large back deck off the dining room. Offering 1,662 square feet of opulent living space with a magnificent blend of transitional finishes, anchored by high-ceilings and over-sized windows. This urban top-floor sanctuary offers ample natural light, 2 levels of living, 3 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, deeded parking, a custom chef’s kitchen, custom finishes, gas fireplace, new bathrooms, new systems, in-unit washer and dryer and the luxury of living above it all while maintaining the irreplaceable tangibility of this exquisite neighborhood.”

Our soft launch email was well-received and gave us the confidence to consider the next step. After several weeks of advising our clients, we decided to list on Thursday, April 9th.

We realized that the news of the pandemic wasn’t so new anymore, and now, people are, for the most part, accepting the gravity of our times. In lieu of a better reality, we took all precautions to ensure everyone’s health and safety.

We listed our clients’ penthouse for $1,985,000, which resulted in an entire Saturday of back-to-back showings. We had 17 total showings in half-hour intervals — with masks, gloves and a requirement of “absolutely no touching” in place.

We left all closet doors closed and supplemented with a photo gallery on the property website, providing straight-on pictures of each closet and storage interior. This worked brilliantly.

I have been home with my family for 30 days until Saturday, April 11th. There was a sense of angst before the showings commenced. Kristy and I split the day, starting at 9 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m. Each buyer was calmed by the controlled environment.

The day concluded with our clients returning home at 6:30 p.m. to help ensure the unit aired out for 2.5 hours after receiving a disinfection on all “potential” touch points. By 8 p.m., we fielded our fifth and final offer. With the work of several dedicated agents and a protocol that made everyone feel safe, the day was a success.

We are now under agreement for well over asking, but we did not accept the highest offer. We advised our clients on accepting the offer with the largest down payment (in this case 65 percent down). With the uncertainty of our financial future, we could not afford to risk accepting the highest offer with only 20 percent down.

The entire turn of events on Saturday was an eye-opening experience. We were back in the field, engaging in a much different, socially distant way — but an effective one, nonetheless. Along with the successful turn of events, we realized that our industry will be faced with many new norms. We might not always know our next move, but our commitment to excellence and dedication remains invaluable and unchanged.

Manuel L. Davis is a senior vice president with Boston Realty Advisors in Boston, Massachusetts.

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