My New Normal: West Coast Commercial Realty Managing Broker Tiffini Connell
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.
West Coast Commercial Realty's Tiffini Connell is a managing broker by day, and wife and mom of four children by night. At least she was until about mid-March when suddenly everyone was home and simultaneously doing Zoom meetings. Now, she continues to do her work while overseeing her three younger children's schoolwork and supporting her oldest daughter, a senior in college, while she grieves the loss of graduation traditions.
Bisnow: Describe your work-from-home life.
Connell: We have four kids, ages 11, 13, 15 and 21 and everyone is home, including the college senior. All four have online education daily, so everyone spreads out around the house to study/work. There seems to always be someone in the kitchen and we seem to be unloading and loading the dishwasher constantly! We try and do a workout either together or separately at some point in the day, and I have cherished our long, uninterrupted family dinners and activities including art projects, walks and board games. Silver lining has been the quality family experiences — feels like stolen time with all of them. I have a great at-home work setup — I have a great view (we live in Seattle just northeast of downtown and have a view of Lake Washington) and I have a decent amount of privacy for phone and video calls. All of that being said, we have had some funny moments including an episode where our small dog was chasing a wild rabbit around the backyard and the kids were screaming for her to not kill the bunny. I was on a call with a client and rushed to the back door to see what all the commotion was about and proceeded to chase our dog around the yard while she chased the bunny, all while holding onto my cellphone with the call still live. My client and I got a good laugh out of the antics! And yes, I was successful in stopping the dog from killing the rabbit.
Bisnow: How are you transitioning your life and business to the home front?
Connell: I am one of the owners of our brokerage, the chair of the Board of Directors for the Commercial Brokers Association here in Washington, and a very active retail broker. So I have been working hard from day one to continue what I believe is at the core for all of those roles and that is communication, service, support and advocacy. For me, that means not only ensuring we are advancing deals to the best of our ability, it has also meant launching new tools to facilitate better internal communication with our brokers who are all now working from home, being proactive about supporting our clients with timely, curated news and information that will help them during this period of uncertainty and ensuring our business functions are working seamlessly in this remote environment. I also personally have been advocating for retail tenants and landlords through my various channels, including social media, donations and connecting with government officials. These are busy, full days!
Bisnow: What is the state of your business at the moment?
Connell: Things are good right now. It’s very hard to know what is ahead long-term for any of us, so we are taking things day by day and focusing on being of service and support to our clients. That looks and feels different from day to day. Today I actually have a lease being signed and several letters of intent and draft leases that are advancing. Yesterday I spent the vast majority of the day on the phone with clients interested in my feedback on the market. Many days I am consulting with my landlord and agency clients to review current and future plans, and every day I am checking in with our brokers and my business partners to see how everyone is doing and if anyone needs support. I am counting my blessings to be surrounded by our brokers, my partners, the CBA board and staff and our customers and clients. Everyone has been working together, sharing ideas and market knowledge, and just passing along general goodwill and best wishes with and for each other. It’s been amazing.
Bisnow: What is your greatest business concern right now?
Connell: Income and cash stability across the board. For the retailers, the landlords and for ourselves, the brokers. Universally the feedback I am getting is that everyone is aware that this is temporary, but everyone is questioning how deep the economic crevasse will be and what resources will be available to keep everyone afloat until normal productivity is regained. I believe there will be distinct pent-up demand on the other side of this — for products, services and experiences that reconnect us — so I am optimistic about the future and am hopeful we will have enough gas in the tank to meet that demand when it returns.
Bisnow: What was your lowest low and the highest high these last few weeks?
Connell: Honestly, the first time I went into a grocery store and saw empty shelves was a low point. There’s something very eerie and stark about that experience. But perhaps my biggest low has been helping my daughter, who is a college senior, mourn the loss of all of the unique experiences typically tied to this time period in her life, including graduation. I think all of the students and educators of this period are, by and large, showing incredible emotional courage and the resiliency they are building right now will most definitely have a positive impact on our society as a whole. Highest highs have all been family-centric. This is stolen time with our family and I am truly grateful for our health and the fact that we are all benefiting from this precious silver lining.
Bisnow: What are you doing at home to keep your sanity?
Connell: At the end of the day, this is a devastating health crisis and the stories of those suffering through the experience of having contracted the virus, or having lost a loved one, is just heart-shattering. Keeping that in perspective is hands-down how I keep my sanity. And while we know this situation affects us all in some way or another, it does not affect us all equally. Where we can, we are supporting the efforts to ease this experience for others through donations, patronage and advocacy.
Bisnow: What have you learned about your business or the industry in the last few weeks?
Connell: I have learned that my confidence in and connection to small businesses is yet again a good bet. If you are involved in retail in any capacity, you know that small businesses are the backbone, from the retailers themselves, to the small and midsized landlords and developers, to the suppliers, vendors, advisers and artisans — all around us are examples of their nimbleness, resiliency, creativity and grit that influences the strength of our communities. Being the first city in the country to feel the effects of the restrictions on our lives has been something I am professionally grateful for. I believe we have set a positive and enduring example of how a community can come together in meaningful ways to support the businesses that make our city an amazing place to live and work.
Bisnow: How do you think the coronavirus could permanently affect the way real estate does business?
Connell: I am not totally sure yet, but I am hopeful that there will be a renewed focus on health and wellness, including a collective proactive approach to keeping employees safe and healthy, and a medical community that focuses on prevention. That doesn’t mean we would have stopped the virus in advance, but I do think those with underlying health conditions, or those that went to work sick because they didn’t have sick pay, is a systemic problem in our society and I hope the very bright light that is shining on these two things will improve our approach to these issues in the future.
Bisnow: What are you most hopeful about today?
Connell: I think that times of crisis and forced adaptability can bring about positive change and I am hopeful this will help remind us of the critical importance in our human connections, our health and wellness, and our undeniable interconnectivity.