by Mary Jo David
With each extension of the governor’s stay-at-home order, more businesses are re-opening. While life is far from normal in Stockbridge and surrounding areas, more local businesses are opening and adapting to the “new normal” that is life since COVID-19. This month, StockBIZ is sharing more perspectives, across a spectrum of businesses, about what it’s like dealing with fallout from the pandemic.
Real estate didn’t completely shut down in Michigan due to COVID-19, explained Julia Duke, Realtor® at Rock Realty in Gregory. However, until May 7, real estate activities were curtailed to address only the needs of people who had existing deals on the table or who were in immediate need of shelter. Buyers were limited to using virtual showings to see homes, but were protected contractually in that they would not lose earnest money until they could go in and see and inspect the home.
The MLS (aka “Multilist”) remained operational for looking at listings during that period but suspended its convenient button-click access for setting up showings. Social distancing required that agents were not allowed to be present at closings, but Duke explained they were always just a phone call, Zoom, or Skype meeting away.
“At Rock Realty, we were so impressed with how local title professionals and the counties and townships worked together with us to get the job done for people who already had money invested in real-estate deals during this period,” Duke noted.
Beginning May 7, in-person activities like showings and inspections were allowed again across the state on a limited basis—by appointment only and with no more than four people attending. Open houses are still not allowed. So what effect has the recent loosening of restrictions had on local real estate?
“Thanks to low interest rates, we still have buyer confidence. Values have maintained and, in some cases, they’ve increased,” Duke said. “This experience has made buyers and sellers very grateful to be back in the market again.”
But with the virus still in the picture, now buyers are depending on virtual tours more for narrowing down their lists, and they’re going to see only those houses they are serious about. Sellers are expected to wipe down common contact areas like light switches and door handles after each showing.
Based on guidelines distributed by Michigan Realtors®, a professional real estate advocacy group, many agents are limiting showings to avoid overlapping appointments and encouraging the use of masks, gloves, and social distancing guidelines. Additionally, Michigan Realtors has provided agents with release forms that, when signed, certifies that clients have not been exposed to or diagnosed with COVID-19 or COVID-19-like symptoms.
Restaurants in Michigan have been allowed limited operations during the pandemic, with all sit-down service halted. Although they could have continued their pizza carryout and delivery service uninterrupted, Rob’s Pizza in Stockbridge decided to close and then re-open. Longtime owner Rob Beam explained his reasoning.
“When the governor first announced the state shut-down, we took it upon ourselves to close for 21 days to be absolutely certain no one in the family and none of our employees had been exposed or would get sick. It was hard not to be here, but while others didn’t close, I felt it was a necessary step to protect our employees and our customers. None of us were sick and we were able to re-open with confidence.”
Prior to re-opening, Beam made a couple policy changes. All delivery orders are prepaid and the delivery person leaves the order at the door so there is no personal contact. For those who pick up their orders at Rob’s, only one person is allowed in the lobby at a time.
“These are precautions we’ve implemented to keep our customers and our employees safe. COVID-19 is not going to disappear magically. I foresee this as the new normal until they have a vaccine,” Beam said.
In Gregory, Tulip Tree Gardens opened a week later than usual, but according to owner Laura Morehouse, that worked in their favor as the weather wasn’t cooperative.
Morehouse took a minute out of her busy Saturday to remark that “Since opening, it has been good to see so many of our customers returning.”
Regular customers have missed Tulip Tree’s annual container classes, which did not happen this year. The absence of the event was not due to Michigan’s stay-at-home order but rather to the passing of Morehead’s sister Rachel (Allen) Camp earlier this year. Camp was a fixture and irrepressible wit at these classes, and her presence is missed in every aspect of the garden center’s operation.
Considered an essential food provider, the Open Air Market of Stockbridge opened on schedule on May 1. “We’ve never canceled a market in ten years,” Suzi Greenway proudly remarked.
Until the stay-at-home order is modified, vendors are allowed only to sell food, plants, and personal hygiene products. The market is requiring all vendors to wear masks and asking customers to limit to one per vendor table while others patiently await their turns.
None of these COVID-19 precautions have affected business.
“We easily have twice as many customers when compared to the same time last year,” Greenway reports. “At a market, you know who has handled your food and that makes people confident.”
Like the cheese vendor next to her, Greenway sold out of her products within an hour of arriving last week. “I’ll just have to bake more,” she said. “Who needs sleep?” she remarked with a chuckle.