Real Estate & Construction Industry Looking to Increase Safety for Reopening


By Hellen Zaboulani

The world as we know it has changed post coronavirus.  Luxury skyscrapers now seem to have lost some of their luster to fear over increased potential for contagion.  Experts in the real estate and construction sectors are keen on these changes and are getting innovative to step up safety in response to the pandemic.

As reported by Crain’s NY, industry experts are now looking into building with virus-resistant materials, using facial-recognition software to minimize the need for touch in public buildings, and other novel ways to fight contamination in response to the novel coronavirus.

Crain’s conducted a webcast on Thursday, in which industry leaders spoke about changes that are inevitably in store for their sectors.  Kenneth Fisher, founder and chairman of Fisher Investments, said flexible open office spaces seem to be on their way out.  He said the addition of plexiglass and other dividers will likely be added to offices as they reopen, in order to adhere to social distancing.  “Everybody is going to be very, very attentive to social distancing,” he said.

For construction companies, the only projects that have been allowed to continue are those deemed to be essential, including health care and affordable housing. Jeffrey Levine, who founded Douglaston Development in 1979, said that at his work sites there is now always a medical professional on-site taking workers’ temperatures. He said the company is also providing ample personal protective equipment for its employees, and that back-office operations have been adapted, with alternating shifts and older employees staying home.

Levine and Fisher both said that companies are rethinking what materials to use based on how long a virus lives on the surface.  The novel coronavirus does not live long on bronze, brass or copper, which has led developers to consider using more of those metals, as opposed to stainless steel on which the virus lives longer. “You want to be able to use materials that are easy to clean,” Fisher said. “Right now, we’re re-evaluating some of the materials we use.”

In both commercial and residential buildings elevator, as well as all common areas, have become a cause for concern.  Contactless elevator operation could become more common, Levine said, noting that facial-recognition technology may be introduced in residential buildings to recognize tenants and get them where they need to go without the need to push a button.  For now, public spaces owned by commercial landlords remain closed.  At Park Avenue Plaza, which Fisher owns, all public seating has been taken away, and anyone who does enter must wear a mask and follow social distancing guidelines.  Fisher also said his tenants have requested that his buildings implement testing. “If the tenant base wants it, you’ll do it,” he said.

Fisher added that moving forward even airflow will be looked at differently.  He recently installed new HVAC units that improve air filtering. “HVAC now is going to be paramount to doing a deal in a commercial building,” he said.  He is also planning other changes for his buildings, including the installation of ultraviolet lights for more fresh airflow, and removing revolving doors to allow for touch-free entry.  Above all, Fisher said,  “clean, clean, clean.”

As per Crain’s, the pandemic’s outbreak has also halted in-person showings of listings, which has slowed the residential real estate market, said Pamela Leibman, Corcoran Group president and CEO.  Some transactions are still being made via online showing and videos.  “People generally want to stay away from each other,” Leibman said, adding that most agents are now working from home.  Corcoran limits the number of people in its offices at any time, with fluctuating schedules.  “There’s no rule book; we’re making it up as we go along,” she added. “The good thing is everyone is putting health and safety first.”



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