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Miami broker Joan McCaughan on navigating challenging times: Always have a financial cushion

'Save for that rainy day ... so that you can continue business as usual even though business may be slower'

Editor’s Note: This is the final installment in the “Industry Warriors” series, a collection of profiles on veteran real estate professionals and lenders who produced high volumes pre-9/11 and pre-2008, weathered those economic downturns and rebounded even stronger.

Miami native Joan McCaughan has watched her hometown’s real estate market maneuver through decades of transformation: the growth in the 1980s and 1990s, Hurricane Andrew, the condo-building boom in the 2000s, a spike in foreclosures during the Great Recession and the influx of investments and development in recent years.

McCaughan, a broker-associate with Coldwell Banker, specializes in the Key Biscayne area of Miami – a causeway that now prospers as South Florida’s financial district.

HousingWire spoke to McCaughan about what she’s seeing in today’s real estate market and her past strategies for navigating unpredictable times.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

HousingWire: What are you doing within your real estate business to adapt to the current market situation?

Joan McCaughan: The adaption mainly is showings. I’ve been working out of my home for a while now. Real estate has really become that way; you could be anywhere in the world working in real estate.

The new thing is masks and gloves, getting permission from the sellers to show the properties. Most are agreeable to do that in this environment, as long as people wear masks and gloves, and don’t come in big crowds.

HW: Have you been seeing any changes in the market in the last month, in terms of people looking for rentals versus home sales?

JM: Yes, going back to my earlier years – [Hurricane] Andrew in 1992 and then the downturn in 2008. Your first thought process is, ‘Oh my heavens, nobody will want to do anything anymore about real estate for the time being.’

But after Andrew in 1992, the phone started ringing the next day with people looking to rent. Recently that’s been happening with people coming from places like the Northeast who want to have a more secure position away from crowds. I just did a waterfront one the other day.

Now all of a sudden, I’m beginning to see a real pickup in showings for buyers wanting to get into a house that has its own pool, because a lot of the condo pools and amenities are shut down because of coronavirus. They want control over when they can swim and how they can swim.

They’re desperate to get out of an apartment that you have to push elevator (buttons), get into elevators, walk down the halls perhaps with other people. People are looking to the future and saying, ‘I need my own space.’

HW: How are you encouraging your team to stay positive during this time? How are you staying positive?

JM: I’m naturally a positive person. I’ve been through a lot and I’ve seen a lot, so I know there’s always an end to it. The sun will come out tomorrow. And my team, I get with and say, ‘What are you doing? How are you doing it?’ They’re all involved technology-wise.

HW: What did you do in past economic shocks to successfully navigate the downturns?

JM: Most of our buyers are cash buyers. I live in an area that has substantial incomes. So were they hit here? Not dramatically so. I would say that would be more Miami, perhaps the Brickell area that got hit.

HW: During that time, were you still seeing an influx of business? How did you keep your momentum going?

JM: I always keep a cushion. I know this business is mercurial; one minute you could be leading the world, and the next minute you could be standing still, doing nothing. I keep those cushions financially, and I tell all my team members the same thing because you don’t know when it’s going to slow down. You can enjoy the great times, but you keep that cushion.

HW: Are you seeing this year’s spring buying season impacted because of the coronavirus? 

JM: Yes, because they (prospective buyers) can’t fly down here. We’re getting people conversing online. I have a waterfront villa on Key Biscayne, and I got someone the other day who just saw the pictures, saw the video, wanted to know more about it, but they can’t fly into town anytime soon.

Our buyers, for the most part, are not young people; they’re usually in the age range that wants to be cautious about getting on an airplane right now. And actually, our season is the winter season because it’s cold up north. It snows up north. It doesn’t here. People often come starting January, February, March, and that’s when it (the coronavirus) hit here.

HW: What do you predict will happen to that typical buying season this year?

JM: It’s in a holding pattern right now. As you know and I know, you can work from anywhere. You could be in Europe and working for a company in the United States. People are realizing that more and more lately, ‘Hey, I don’t need an office. I don’t need to drive a couple miles to my workplace and sit in traffic for half hour, 45 minutes.’ I bet this summer, if things are lifted, the pent-up backup is going to come forward.

HW: What piece of advice from your history in downturns would you give to others in your field trying to navigate COVID-19?

JM: The most important advice – and this is a personal one – keep your financial cushion. Don’t overextend yourself. Save for that rainy day, so that you’re not under the gun, so that you can continue business as usual even though business may be slower.

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