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Globe Magazine

Real estate professionals on how coronavirus has changed what they do

A real estate broker, a mortgage lender, a home inspector, and a mover explain how COVID-19 is affecting their work.

At left: Ezekiel Wheeler (front row, far right) and some of the crew from Intelligent Labor and Moving, before the need for social distancing. At right: Linda O’Koniewski of Leading Edge Real Estate (top); Sofia Travayiakis of  Mortgage Network (middle); and Doron Bracha of Accent Home Inspection.
At left: Ezekiel Wheeler (front row, far right) and some of the crew from Intelligent Labor and Moving, before the need for social distancing. At right: Linda O’Koniewski of Leading Edge Real Estate (top); Sofia Travayiakis of Mortgage Network (middle); and Doron Bracha of Accent Home Inspection.

THE REAL ESTATE BROKER

Linda O’Koniewski, CEO of Leading Edge Real Estate, headquartered in Winchester

"There are constants in the housing market: death, divorce, needing more space, needing to downsize. We have people relocating who need to move here. We’ve got doctors who are coming to our hospitals who need a house. And, boy, are we on a mission to help them.

We are trying to [social distance] more than is required. We’ve put in an entire buy-and-sell-virtually program with a goal of only three people in the home — a photographer, the home inspector, and an appraiser.

We provide [virtual reality] goggles so that you can take a 3-D tour. You can get a sense of how the light is, where the windows are, where the rooms connect.

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Has it been successful? We’ve had 37 homes under agreement in the last seven days — not a typical spring market, but there are transactions happening. We are getting wildly mixed messages: I’ve had two crazy bidding wars on $1.5 million houses because buyers are feeling more empowered. On the other side, I’ve heard any excuse to get out of a deal because uncertainty creates anxiety.

This pandemic has also created awareness of our spaces that we’ve never seen before. People in condos don’t want to share an elevator. And some are not happy with their home office space: All of a sudden they’ve realized they need more privacy because they’re doing Zoom calls in their pantry.

I don’t think when we’re done we’re just going to show property virtually, because people want to feel a house."

THE MOVER

Ezekiel Wheeler, CEO of Intelligent Labor and Moving in Arlington

"Right now things are slow and that’s not super unusual, but it doesn’t bode well for the summer. A moving company with an unprofitable summer is no moving company at all — it’s closed. Many moves from late March are postponed, and once the Massachusetts travel [restrictions] happened a lot of customers postponed indefinitely, because they couldn’t sell their house or buy the next one.

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We’re reducing crew sizes. On a larger job we’d have six; now we’re working to split into two days with three each. We’re staggering start times; normally, all crews start and depart at the same time. Now one leaves at 8, 9, 10, so fewer people are in the warehouse and on the loading dock at the same time. Management is working from home, and there’s only one person in the office. Since the phone rings less, the office has more time to clean. We wipe down steering wheels and truck controls, and there are cleaning products in all the trucks so the crews can clean as needed.

Part of moving is keeping things clean, so that’s sort of an inherent practice already. We have regular hand-washing breaks, and there are gloves available, but sometimes you can’t use them. In moving, so much depends on your hands and grip and ability to feel what you’re touching. So we have to go ungloved for some of that.

I have 6-year-old twins now in in-home kindergarten. Running a business with two children at home has been very taxing. But that’s where moving puts you in good stead. When you roll up to a customer’s house you don’t really know what it’s going to be like: You might get there and they’re not packed, but they need to go to bed in their next house."

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THE MORTGAGE LENDER

Sofia Travayiakis, branch manager of Mortgage Network in West Roxbury

I’ve been busy trying to answer questions, from past clients who’ve lost their jobs who want to know about possibly deferring payments, or just “What can we do in these uncertain times?” We’re reassuring people that we’re still closing loans; we are working remotely and not delaying anything.

Some clients have decided to hold off purchasing. But there are still people looking. They think this is going to be short-term, and they’re thinking, Regardless of what happens, we have to live somewhere. I think people in the higher-price bracket, who seek loans for $800,000 to $2 million houses, will hold off because they have a lot of money in stocks.

The spring market started in January. We had a mild winter and rates were good. It’s possible March might be the busiest month this year. My numbers for the year will probably be the same as last year; I expect about a 10 percent drop in purchases, but I think I’ll see a similar increase in refinancings.

Thank goodness I don’t really have to meet with people to do my work; [some is virtual] and about 80 percent is done by phone. But I work full time from home, and my kids are 13, 10, and 6. I tell my friends I’m a professional chef because I’m cooking five times a day, I’m a cleaner, I’m a teacher, and I do mortgages. It’s a difficult balance."

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THE HOME INSPECTOR

Doron Bracha, owner, Accent Home Inspection in Chestnut Hill

"Spring is supposed to be the busiest time of the year, so we were all looking forward to catching up and making a living. Last spring, I might do two inspections a day [if the properties were small], work on weekends, on holidays. But in the last few weeks, my work has practically come to a halt. Now the phone does not ring.

This is a period of uncertainty; the economy is declining and many people are losing their jobs and livelihood. This inevitably affects the real estate market as well. I can continue to work as long as I maintain the guidelines for social distancing and wear gloves and a mask.

Like many others, I’ve been staying at home with my wife and kids. We take the governor’s instructions seriously and do what we can to help flatten the curve. I’m trying to maintain a routine and do homeschooling, reading, and continuing education through online courses and webinars. When you think about professional things, you forget about the pandemic for a while and just breathe."

Explore the 2020 Top Spots to live by region: City Neighborhoods | North | West | South

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Melissa Karen Sances is a Globe correspondent. Send comments to magazine@globe.com. Interviews have been edited and condensed.