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My New Normal: Compass Vice Chairman Robin Abrams

This series aims to capture a moment in time, talking to men and women in commercial real estate about how their lives and businesses are being transformed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Longtime New York City retail broker Robin Abrams is finding joy in activities she can never normally do. No longer working late at the office, she takes yoga classes online with her daughter in the evenings. Without her commute, she is cooking at home.

A retail broker in New York City since the late 1970s, Abrams is now vice chairman at Compass, and views the unknown as her greatest concern for business right now. With the city on lockdown, many stores and restaurants won't be able to recover. But some leases are still going ahead, she said, and this crisis has shown her just how resilient the industry can be.

Robin Abrams working from home during New York City's lockdown

Bisnow: Describe your work-from-home life. 

Robin Abrams: I did not anticipate being so busy these past two weeks since I began to work at home. Generally, I have planned calls that start in the morning, followed up by webinars on topics relative to commercial leasing in New York, with email communication into the evening. 

Many of those calls are with the tenants and landlords that I have worked with over the years, that have reached out, looking for assistance with regard to addressing rent relief. I have group calls, some audio and others video, with my team of seven — with Compass commercial brokers, the Commercial Real Estate Board's Board of Directors and with the various committees: retail, Brooklyn, etc. There are some conversations with the press. We do have several deals we continue to progress, so those result in a variety of communications as well.

Bisnow: How are you transitioning your life and business to the homefront? 

Abrams: I do set an alarm, although it is tempting to sleep in. I am less dependent on paper as my files are in the office, and I am figuring out how to work with less support. I do make it a point to talk jointly and/or independently with each of my team each day. We normally work closely in the office, so it takes more effort to keep everyone in communication. We make sure we are all engaged and in the loop on pending business and in touch with many of our clients. My analyst/admin is working remotely from her family’s home in North Carolina. She is able to do any work we require.

Some large-scale projects have been put on hold (mapping projects requiring software that is not available now). Others are getting attention, (clean up/expansion of database) as Rachel [the analyst] has more downtime. Our marketing contact is working on several flyers/e-blasts for space we will be marketing. We have just stopped doing weekly email blasts for our exclusives and are now planning to do them every other week. We don’t want to over-message at this sensitive time, but also need keep the spaces on the market if our landlords wish us to.

Robin Abrams and her daughter Ali Greenberg

Bisnow: What is the state of your business at the moment?

Abrams: We have several deals that are happily progressing. As expected, most are on hold or canceled. Of the progressing deals, one is for a tenant that needs to relocate and has a lease expiration, so they are progressing our pending deal. Another is for a 15-year restaurant deal at favorable economics. A third is for an e-commerce brand and we pushed the possession, incorporated a reduced rent for the first year with a rent step-up if the tenant extends long term. I do think creative, flexible deals can be structured now, and that tenants that can take a long-term point of view can be opportunistic. But I understand that for many tenants it is impossible to forecast business and commit to new deals. Most are mitigating now.

Bisnow: What is your greatest business concern right now?

Abrams: The unknown. For many existing businesses, it will take time to recover. Many will shutter indefinitely, and potentially go out of business, unable to shoulder the economic losses sustained during this time. Others that have deep pockets, like many of the luxury brands, will resume when possible and hopefully have huge pent-up demand, similar to what is now happening in China.

Bisnow: What was your lowest low and the highest high these last few weeks?

Abrams: Lowest low was realizing that this pandemic hit New York City as hard as it did and that family, friends and colleagues are all vulnerable. Highest high was the support my family, friends and colleagues are providing to one another and how proactive we are all being in assisting as possible. New Yorkers have a great sense of community and come together in times of adversity.

Robin Abrams

Bisnow: What are you doing at home to keep your sanity?

Abrams: Keeping a schedule with work during the day, and then having the freedom to do online yoga videos with my daughter at the end of the workday, which is a treat. I normally do not get out of the office until 7-8 p.m. and don’t have time for exercise during the week. And cooking dinner, which is also a perk of working [at] home and not having to commute.

Bisnow: What have you learned about your business or the industry in the last few weeks?

Abrams: That we are resilient. I am so amazed to hear so many in the real estate industry ask what they can do to help. Everyone I deal with continues to communicate and assist as possible.

Bisnow: How do you think the coronavirus could permanently affect the way real estate does business?

Abrams: I think that some will realize working remotely is possible, but for me, it is still more productive and satisfactory to work in an office and share ideas and be reactive as the day progresses. With regard to deal structure, I think there will be much more flexibility with creative deal structures to entice retailers to commit to take space.

Bisnow: What are you most hopeful about today?

Abrams: That the pandemic is over in the next couple of months. That is the most important thing. We can’t have a recovery healthwise, economically or otherwise until this unbelievable threat is no longer hanging over us.