Shining a Spotlight on Local Wantagh Businesses: SAS Real Estate

Jennifer Rosen, Reporter

In 2020, the United States was plagued with an unprecedented invisible enemy that turned the world upside down. The COVID-19 pandemic caused an enormous health and economic crisis that forced businesses around the country to shut down. The remaining businesses along with government operations had to plan, develop, and put in place extraordinary measures to protect employees, consumers, and operations. The pandemic has left millions of business owners across the country unsure about the future of their companies and how they would survive financially. According to a September 28, 2020 headline in Fortune magazine, 2020 saw nearly 100,000 businesses having to shut down due to the financial strain of the pandemic.

As a student employee in the Wantagh High School Work Study Program, I have seen the devastating impact this pandemic has had on local businesses. Prior to the shutdown, I was working as a secretary at SAS Real Estate, a local real estate company here in Wantagh. I started working at SAS Real Estate in November 2018 (my freshman year) and have been an employee there for over two years. During mid-March of 2020, when Wantagh High School had to shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak, my office closed in order to protect its employees. While following stay-at-home quarantine orders and worrying about keeping up with school assignments and exams, I felt a sense of uncertainty about the state of the company. I often thought, “How are my co-workers?” “When will we reopen?” “Will there be lay-offs?” “What will happen to our listings?” “How will we recover?” Along with millions of Americans across the country, I looked towards my state governor for direction and hope. Maybe, some form of normalcy would return, and we could go back to our regular lives. My thoughts were soon answered around the beginning of May when Governor Andrew Cuomo released his phased plan to reopen New York State. I felt a sense of relief amidst the possibility of being able to see my family, friends, and co-workers again. On June 8th, I was called back to my office and promoted to Office Administrator to help bring us back from the pandemic. It was overwhelming, and there were many ups and downs but together, as a team, we were able to get through the year.

About SAS Real Estate

In 1976, SAS Real Estate owner and broker Tony Smith opened his doors to the Wantagh community providing “Service And Satisfaction” for all local real estate needs. Throughout his over 40 years of real estate experience, Smith has received numerous awards and recognitions for his continuous efforts to strive for the betterment of the real estate industry. His dedication to community outreach has had a major impact on this town.

Before the Pandemic: Community Outreach in 2019 & Predictions of the Market in 2020:

Community Outreach

Within the first weeks of working at SAS Real Estate, I could see how much of an impact Smith’s company has had on the community.. Smith has assisted in participating in many community based events run by the Wantagh Chamber of Commerce including the 1st Grand Marshal Dinner, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and the annual 4th of July Parade. Smith also continued his work with the Cheryl Manne Fund which is involved in developing research to find a cure for Multiple Sclerosis disease by organizing the “10,000 Walk for Multiple Sclerosis” where he and his agents visited all 10,000 homes in Wantagh. He also sponsored the Second Annual Wantagh Chamber of Commerce Winter Wonderland event that provided community members with a fun day of holiday festivities with local businesses setting up outdoor vendors selling baked goods, holiday gifts, and decorations. All of us at SAS Real Estate were excited and proud of the work we achieved. We looked towards 2020 with anticipation for a fresh start and new opportunities that come with the beginning of a new year.

Predicted Strides for Real Estate Industry & Inventory in January 2020: A Seller’s Market

Going into 2020, real estate experts predicted in a January 3, 2020 Newsday article that “Long Island home prices are likely to keep making gradual gains this year, with low interest rates and high rents adding to the appeal of homeownership.” Despite rising housing prices, the high cost of living, and concerns of a trade war slowing local economic advancement, the Long Island economy was considered to be healthy with “unemployment having been at a record low and the number of people employed at an all-time high.” According to a February 18, 2020 Newsday article, however, the median sale housing price in Suffolk County increased by 5.7% (at $401,750) but with a 6.5% drop in the number of homes on the market. 

Likewise, in Nassau County, the median sale price was up by 1.4% (at $532,250) but with a 3.2% drop in the number of homes on the market. This rise in housing prices coupled with less houses being put on the market indicated a seller’s market was likely to take over the industry. With lower inventory levels, buyers demand was far exceeding housing supply. This meant that houses were selling much faster, leaning very advantageously for sellers as there was more competition amongst buyers who were willing to reach or surpass asking prices in order to find a home. 

Real estate is known for being very seasonal.  The spring months are typically considered the peak season when most homes are sold while the winter months are usually the slowest. This is attributed to the fact that schools let out for summer vacation in May and June which allows for a much easier transition for those with school-aged children to switch to new school districts. 

As March approached, we started preparing marketing materials to be sent out. With the Second Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade coming up, the agents were excited to start putting their names out to stimulate interest from the community. I, too, was excited for the ringing phones and bustling activity that the spring season always brought. At the time, there was not as much attention to the coronavirus story.

We had no idea what was coming our way.

During Quarantine:

Once the pandemic hit, everything changed. Around mid-March when Wantagh High School had to shut down due to a coronavirus outbreak, SAS also closed about a week later. At the beginning of the shutdown, everyone had thought that these stay-at-home orders would be a temporary thing and that by the end of the month, everything would be back to normal. As case numbers started rising within the community and more CDC health guidelines were released, however, there was an elevated sense of uncertainty as dates for re-opening were left up in the air.

As new questions arose regarding whether real estate should be deemed nonessential or essential under the New York State’s stay-at-home orders, agents started looking towards new, innovative ways to maintain their listings and deals. When reflecting on her experiences doing business following stay-at-home orders, SAS Real Estate Agent Claudia Massari noted, “We had to reimagine our normal ways of doing business. It was hard to adjust as we looked towards new means of technology to keep up.” 

New platforms like Zoom and Skype were often used to set up virtual meetings with sellers and buyers in attempts to make the best possible plan within the current climate. In order to find a middle ground in following health guidelines and allowing buyers to see homes, SAS agents had sellers take their own videos and pictures walking through their homes to present to potential buyers. However, these “virtual showings” did not give the full impact of what an in-person showing provided for customers. Massari says, “There was a small percentage of homes that were actually purchased through virtual showings, It does not have the same impact as going in person. You lose the ability to visualize your life and belongings within the walls of the home. You don’t get to see the outside environment and the actual size of the rooms. You lose the emotional aspect of being able to say ‘this is my home’ since you are seeing another person’s life through the direction of their camera angles upon a little pixelated screen.”

With unemployment rates exponentially rising across the country, families were put in very tough situations with their housing plans.

SAS Real Estate Agent Angela Testa describes, “Deals were frozen and fell through, people were furloughed from their jobs and no longer qualified for mortgages. With Nassau County government offices closed and foreclosure courts shut down, people who had lost their jobs were able to stay in their homes longer. Required permits and paperwork could not be obtained so easily.” 

Everything took a pause.

Coming Back:

On June 8, I received a call to come to the office for a meeting to discuss reopening plans   and what needed to be done. I was told that SAS’s Office Administrator of over 20 years had retired. I was promoted to this position in order to help get the company back up and running. I had to prepare new legal COVID-19 documentation, compile a list of the office’s listings and figure out which deals closed or had fallen through, and supervise the other student secretaries. It took over a week to try and contact agents and obtain all the necessary information for current listings in order to get the information set up online and in our showing books. 

At the same time, buyers and agents who wanted to schedule showings were calling the office to see what was available. With restrictions gradually easing, many real estate agents decided to start doing in-person showings again (in compliance with sellers). The once easy process of calling the office to schedule an appointment, however, now included extra steps and more requirements that followed health guidelines

If an agent was even able to get an appointment date that the sellers and buyers could agree to, new COVID disclosure forms were required to be sent to the agent’s office. The form acknowledged that within the last 14 days, no one tested positive for COVID or showed any symptoms. A group could have at most four people entering the property with all persons having to wear a face mask and gloves. Agents could not shake hands with clients and could not share phones, pens, tablets, or other personal property to avoid any possible spread. Buyers could not touch anything in the house. After the showing, everyone had to wash their hands, and all surfaces that had been touched including keys and lock boxes had to be wiped down. No paper documents could be distributed and agents followed up with information electronically. 

Conditions were similar with open houses (although it was recommended to do showings by appointment or continue to do virtual tours in order to reduce the number of people inside the property). Some homeowners opted to pull their home off the market because they did not feel comfortable with people coming into their home or were afraid that safety procedures would not be followed.

SAS Real Estate agent Anita Oliveira noted, “When the real estate market opened up again in June 2020, I saw 2 trends. Buyers were moving from New York City and Queens to Long Island for more square feet in a home and more property. They desired the ability to create an office space and avoid the crowded environment of New York City. Also, many wanted to move south to states such as Florida, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Texas for the weather, lower cost of living, no state income tax, and less restrictions with COVID.” 

With so many New York City residents looking to get out of the cramped quarters of their apartments, interest in houses on Long Island shot up since they were much more affordable and would provide much more space and safety from the spread of the coronavirus. Massari described how she had not seen this kind of influx of people moving from the city to Long Island since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. “With the climate of strict regulations for going into houses, the market was filled with ‘A-type buyers,’ [serious buyers committed to finding a house and willing to go above asking price].” With this influx of interested buyers, a large percentage of houses closed within 6 months.

It is undeniable that the COVID-19 pandemic has sent shockwaves through the real estate market. The high demand in the housing market has led to an unprecedented housing boom across Long Island. Real estate agents have had to quickly adapt to new ideas and technology to connect buyers and sellers to homes. As 2021 unfolds, SAS Real Estate will continue to be committed to providing the Wantagh community with “Service And Satisfaction” for all its real estate needs.