Rebuilding From the Storm

When a derecho packing 140 mph winds slammed into Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in August 2020, toppling power lines and battering homes, REALTOR® Raymond Siddell was ready to act. The derecho—a violent, high-velocity windstorm often referred to as a hurricane on land—killed four people and damaged thousands of homes in the city. Nearly all of Cedar Rapids, a town of more than 133,000 people, lost power. Within 24 hours of the disaster, Siddell, a sales associate with Keller Williams Legacy Group, created a Facebook page where people could request or donate basic items like food, water, and medicine. In its first three days, the Facebook group swelled to 21,200 members. Ultimately, that figure rose to 70,000.

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Is That Condo Building Structurally Sound?

Questions linger and answers remain elusive in Surfside, Fla., more than a month after the deadly collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo building. The local real estate community is still healing from the June 24 tragedy, which killed 98, including agent Maria Notkin, who was affiliated with Rotbart & Associates in Miami Beach, and her husband, Arnie. While grieving with victims’ families, real estate professionals in South Florida and across the country also are grappling with fresh concerns about the structural soundness of aging multifamily buildings. “Any agent showing high-rises going forward is going to look twice at what’s really going on with the integrity of the condo buildings that they’re selling in,” says Jorge Guerra, CRS, C2EX, broker-owner of RESF Real Estate in Coral Gables, Fla.

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If You Build It…

In a normal year, Grant Johnson, a real estate agent at RE/MAX Results in Minneapolis–St. Paul, Minn., divides his time equally between selling existing homes and developing land for new- home construction. But the pandemic has flipped Johnson’s business on its head.

“Listings have been very difficult to come by,” says Johnson. As a result, he decided to scale up his land development work. “Typically, the builder that I work with and I put together 20 to 30 lots a year,” he says. “This year we’re going to be developing 70 lots.” In addition to procuring the land, Johnson will represent the builder as a listing agent. “Creating our own inventory has helped us survive the pandemic,” he says.

Diversifying business streams amid a period of record-low inventory has been a productive move for Johnson and many real estate agents and brokers this year. National Association of REALTORS® Chief Economist Lawrence Yun says, “2021 is likely to have the most acute shortage of homes for sale in history.”

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A Leap of Faith: How Real Estate Rookies Make it Work

Wendy Wright of Washington, D.C., was ready to take her real estate license exam last March—just as the term “novel coronavirus” was becoming part of the national conversation. After a 20-year career in IT project management, she had recently lost her job at a nonprofit because of funding cuts. Real estate offered an enticing new career path.

But the onset of the pandemic one year ago forced real estate testing centers in her area to close temporarily, requiring Wright to wait two months before she could sit for the test. Instead of just biding her time, Wright joined Katie Wethman’s real estate team at Keller Williams in Washington and began shadowing agents on socially distanced appointments with buyers and sellers. When Wright passed the exam and received her real estate license in June, she was able to hit the ground running at a time when the pandemic was turning many business practices upside down. The result: She closed 10 sales in six months.

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Lumber Takes a Fall

Last spring, the coronavirus pandemic ground several large lumber mills in the U.S. to a halt—and homebuilders suffered the consequences.

Take Jesse Fowler, for example. Fowler, the president of Tellus Design + Build, a full-service general contractor based in Southern California, said in an interview with REALTOR® Magazine in November that lumber prices for his company had “gone through the roof.” “It’s tough on our business because we have to play the middleman and negotiate lumber prices for our clients,” Fowler said. In one instance, he said, a framer charged one of his clients who was building a new home $90,000 over what was originally estimated to compensate for rising lumber costs.

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A House of Giving

Grant House died at the age of 25, but his legacy lives on through a foundation in Lafayette, Ind., for children and young adults with special needs that would not exist without his mother, Tamara.

Losing Grant, who was born with mental and physical disabilities from a brain tumor in utero, motivated House to turn her son’s vision of helping children with special needs into a reality.

When Grant died in December 2015, his friends and family donated nearly $40,000 in his memory. The House family—Tamara, her husband Jay, and Grant’s four siblings gave the money to Wabash Center, a local nonprofit that provides supportive services for individuals with special needs.

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Spring Clean Your Real Estate Business

Unless you’ve been living under a rock—or a pile of clothes from the eighties—you’ve noticed decluttering gospel is everywhere. You can thank (or blame) home organizing superstar and best-selling author Marie Kondo, whose Netflix reality show, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” preaches that people can improve their lives by getting rid of all the things they own that don’t “spark joy.”

Naturally, some folks find the decluttering craze annoying, but real estate practitioners know the value of reducing clutter, especially when selling a house. “A lot of home buyers simply can’t see through a cluttered home,” says Nancy Newquist-Nolan, SRES, with Coldwell Banker in Santa Barbara, Calif., who specializes in helping people downsize. “They just can’t visualize themselves living in a seller’s house if it’s a total mess.”

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Presale Renovations Take Off

A couple in Cambridge, Mass., were looking to sell a two-bedroom condo. The property had been rented out to three college students and needed work if the sellers were going to get top dollar for it, says Carol Kelly, a Compass real estate agent based in Cambridge.

“[The couple] didn’t want to reach into their own pocket to pay for the renovations,” Kelly says. “They didn’t want the stress of investing their own money into the property.”

So Kelly recommended Compass Concierge, a service the brokerage rolled out in 2018 to pay for presale renovations. Sellers pay back the money using the proceeds of their sale. Compass put $17,000 worth of improvements into the Cambridge condo, installing new flooring, painting the kitchen cabinets, and power-washing the house. It paid off: The condo, which was listed at $589,000, sold for $640,000, enabling the sellers to repay Compass and eke out bigger gains from their investment.

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