It seemed like a slap in the face when I read a blog that opened with “as we approach the middle of the year.” Not the insulting kind of slap so much as the kind that wakes you out of a deep slumber. I know it’s common to say, “time goes by so fast,” but for me, the way this whole pandemic thing has clouded the passage of time is weird. For example, routine things like going to the grocery store were so unnatural that it sometimes felt like I was sleepwalking in a parallel universe.
Yet, despite our experiences over the past 15-16 months, we are beginning to get some “normal” back into our lives. For example, in our business, open houses are back. They come with conditions, but they are back. Unfortunately, for those who use open houses to help them define their wants and needs, the current real estate market will limit those opportunities.
So here we are. Memorial Day weekend is upon us, and ready or not, the summer kick-off is about to happen. But even though things appear to be getting back to normal, it seems that we’re beginning to understand that definition of “normal” might be something different than it was pre-COVID. Open houses in real estate might not be the best example because of current market conditions. They’ll likely come back as more inventory opens up. But a walk through the mall in Ventura could be a more accurate assessment.
Rebecca & I had lunch at the mall a month or so ago and sat at an interior window as the patrons came and went. First, it was a little eerie because we were sitting inside a restaurant. And second, it was noticeable that though the mall was open with COVID conditions in place, the traffic still seemed oddly light. After lunch, Rebecca wanted to check out the Macy’s, mainly because it was one of those simple things that had been either inconvenient or off the table for so long. What was unavoidably noticeable as we walked were all the empty storefronts. Seeing this probably shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it still was. We couldn’t help but remark on a walk we had taken a decade ago through Cambria, our getaway place up the coast. At that time, many businesses had closed due to the economic crash a couple of years prior. It was hard not to ask ourselves; is this what is happening now?
I’m not an economist, and I don’t play even one on TV. But I keep up to date with real estate market news, and like most, I watch the overall economy by reading and listening to experts and then try to make some sense of all of this. Here is what I think.
What we saw in Cambria back around 2010 was the result of an economy that had collapsed. A month ago, what we saw in the mall resulted from a deadly global pandemic that made it critical to enforce safety precautions. Did some businesses have to pay the ultimate price? Yes, unfortunately, they did.
My point here is about all the things in transition due to safety precautions we were all forced to take. And while there has been much politicization over preventative actions taken, I choose to stay out of that arena. We are where we are today because of how this pandemic unfolded, and now we live in this modified form of our lifestyles as a result.
A year ago, it was odd to wear a facemask or to communicate via Zoom. And while cueing up outside the supermarket early on in this thing was temporary, some of the other adjustments we have made may not be. I can’t help but think about how odd it was to put on a facemask and then how normal it became. I’m not too fond of facemasks, but though we still need to wear them in many places, here in California, they’ve become more of an inconvenience than an oddity. This Zoom thing, however, is interesting to me. It was just about this time last year that Rebecca & I conducted our first virtual open house via Zoom. It was weird, unfamiliar, and inconvenient initially, but is none of those things today. And that is because, whether we liked it or not, we were bullied by circumstance into using the technology.
When I think about all that empty retail space at the mall, it’s hard not to feel for those who lost their livelihood. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine the economy crashing when I see the Prime trucks all over the road. Many restaurants around us have become exponentially better at doing “take out” and delivery business, and I’ve always preferred alfresco dining. I’ve spoken with many people who initially had to work from home when the pandemic hit but are still there because their employers ultimately determined it to be a more efficient business model.
We are all complex beings living in a complex world, and who knows what will be the next best thing when we get forced into change. In this circumstance, it seems, we have been yanked prematurely into a future we were headed for anyway. Some of it is good, some of it not so much, and some of it may be good, but we don’t know it yet.
We find in these changes for all of the efficiency; the downside can be the lack of spontaneity in our social experiences. If we take the delivery rather than go to the store, there’s no chance we’ll “bump” into the neighbor that we haven’t seen in a while. And though we can set up a Zoom call, there’s little chance of anyone else to pass by and say hello.
We’re social creatures, and maybe the next thing we need to be conscious of is what it means to take care of relationships with technology that is constantly evolving. Because yes, the times, “they are a-changing!”