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Realtors, travel agents struggle to stay afloat during social distancing orders


Susan Fleming (middle) with co-workers for Illustrated Properties

As humans we all must adapt to change; however, a local business owner and realtor never thought that a pandemic would completely alter how they operate.


“This has been a learning experience, the COVID-19 pandemic, just like how the hurricanes were a learning experience for us back in 2004, 2005. So we are just trying to figure this one out,” Susan Fleming said.


Fleming has been a realtor for the past 16 years and has worked at Illustrated Properties for the past 11 years. Illustrated Properties is the largest independently owned real estate company in Palm Beach County.


Fleming has actively been searching for ways to keep sales up despite the ongoing pandemic, but she’s found it hard to do so when most of her sales occur face-to-face at the location.


Many sellers don’t want others visiting their houses now due to the fear of contracting the invisible virus. This concern has led to many condominium boards also restricting anyone from coming in other than residents, making onsite showings practically impossible.


“As much as people look online at properties, and they do, still no one's going to buy anything without walking into that house,” Fleming said.


Susan Fleming

Not only is it difficult for her to make sales with no on-sight tours or open houses, but Fleming is also taking a huge hit since it’s peak season for house sales in Florida.


“It has been challenging because the sellers obviously still want to sell, and buyers still want to buy, but nobody wants to go out in public,” Fleming said.


In order to accommodate for decreased sales, Fleming has worked to improve her online listings so people can get online tours and still see the listed houses without physically being there.


It’s not ideal, but with social media, Fleming can still operate her business during this pandemic. She’s hopeful she can continue to adapt and learn from it.


“This is something new for me, these virtual open houses and Facebook Lives. It’s a new phenomenon,” Fleming said. “Next time, hopefully there isn’t a next time, but if there is, hopefully we'll have more policies in place and we'll know just like we did for the hurricanes. The first one took us all by surprise and after that we kind of got in a groove.”


While Fleming has found ways to continue to promote sales around the pandemic, the same can’t be said about Luxury Travel Specialist Valerie Dorsey.


Dorsey retired from GlaxoSmithKline pharmaceuticals and opened her own travel agency with Cruise Planners almost nine years ago in Royal Palm Beach.


“Travel is my passion, so I opened up this travel agency to help others travel and to make extra money so that I can travel myself,” Dorsey said.


However, since social distancing orders went into effect, the travel industry has taken a drastic hit.


“We were moving toward a very good year, and now that's going to decrease by a significant amount,” Dorsey said. “I would say that I've lost more than 50% of my business already.”


With this loss of business, all Dorsey can do is try to reschedule previous vacations and get people to book for vacations in the future.


Valerie Dorsey

Meanwhile, her social media accounts remain active, not promoting anything, but leaving photos of other travel destinations as a reminder to those who so desperately want to travel when the virus subsides.


“Travel agents don’t get paid upfront, so when you count on paying your bills every month, and you know you’ve got a certain number of people traveling per month, you know you got a steady income,” Dorsey said. “However, when you get a disruption like this, then obviously you can’t count on any amount of money. The cruise lines have guaranteed our commission, but we don’t know how long that is going to take them.”


In the meantime, Dorsey will continue to work with her clients who still want to travel once it becomes safe to do so.


“Besides the monetary part of this, it is missing the memory, missing the perfect opportunity to get together with family, missing somebody who will plan milestone birthdays on cruise ships and weddings,” Dorsey said. “My job is to make sure my clients are happy, and what I am the most sad about is that my clients are missing the memories that they were trying to make for this year.”


By Morgan Therrien


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