Christa Huffstickler with Engel & Völkers in Atlanta had to juggle three daughters all under the age of 10, essentially on her own, at the height of the pandemic while simultaneously trying to run her business. Today, she said things are much calmer on the home front, but her market is keeping her busy. Still, every day, she feels extremely grateful for the health of her family.
“We were one of the lucky few that weren’t affected by COVID to the degree that we didn’t have sickness in our family and loved ones didn’t die,” Huffstickler told Inman. “So I think watching other people go through that and being able to really have a sense of gratitude that we didn’t have that experience is something that’s stayed with me even [now].”
As the world marks two years since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, women have now reached the point where they’ve essentially been set back a generation in terms of workplace participation, as a recent Fortune story put it. Only 57 percent of women are participating in the workforce today. Prior to the pandemic, the women’s workplace participation rate hadn’t been that low since 1988.
The pandemic had a significant impact on women in the workforce, as millions of working women suddenly found themselves lassoed with multiple caregiving responsibilities and opted to bow out of the working world, generating the term “she-cession.”
Last year, Inman spoke with several working moms in the real estate industry to learn how they were coping with their layers of responsibilities as moms and real estate professionals. Generally, they were all making it work one way or another — but not without palpable sacrifice.
Over the past few weeks, Inman reconnected with these women to see what’s changed and where things stand for them today. What follows is an update in the wake of one of the most upending periods many people have seen in their lifetimes.
Many reported improvements in their situations as well as positive outlooks, especially as these conversations occurred in tandem with many states loosening COVID-19 restrictions amid a decline in case rates and hospitalizations.
A number also were still grappling with work-life balance and time management issues amid the currently heated market conditions causing buyers to scramble for inventory before it’s snatched away.
Engel & Völkers, Atlanta
When her babysitter decided that it wasn’t smart to continue taking care of Christa Huffstickler’s three young daughters at the height of the pandemic, Huffstickler herself stepped to the plate to take on mom and Zoom school teacher duties in addition to her full-time job as a real estate advisor. Because she had to guide her daughters through everything during the day, Huffstickler ended up working until late in the night to get some of her own work done.
Today, the kids are back in school, the babysitter is back in action and Atlanta’s mask mandate has also been lifted, so things are feeling a lot more normal, Huffstickler said.
“It really feels like we’re back to pre-COVID times,” she said. “What I’m finding is, we’re all able to accomplish our day-to-day lives like we did before.”
But something the family has tried to hold onto from pandemic times is dinner together, Huffstickler said, which pre-COVID, was more of a rarity.
“We got into good habits coming out of [lockdown] and we’ve reacclimated ourselves as a family to start [routines],” Huffstickler said. Historically, both she and her husband were working late hours and booking meetings, with family dinners as an afterthought. “Now, we make it a priority to continue what we did during COVID, which was to have meals together as a family every night.”
That forced time at home also gave Huffstickler confidence in her right to say “no” to things sometimes, which is a lesson she plans to hold close in the future.
“I was doing quite a bit of travel to participate in these things, and with COVID and all of that stopping, it was so refreshing and nice to get back some of that time that was being taken away. So I personally have found more balance and [am] more comfortable saying ‘yes’ to some things and then saying ‘no’ to things, too. That’s something that pre-COVID I would have never done.”
The current pace of the market has kept her busy in Atlanta, though, so there are still bound to be a few late nights here and there. In 2021, Engel & Völkers Atlanta’s transaction volume was up about 57 percent year over year, Huffstickler noted.
“Don’t get me wrong, because real estate is booming so much, I do have those moments where, today for example, I’ve got a site tour about an hour outside of the city, so it’ll be a late night for me tonight,” she said. “But it’s exciting because there’s so much happening in Atlanta real estate.”
“But again, for me, it’s about creating that balance, which I’m recognizing I had a harder time with that pre-COVID and then coming through that, it really taught me some of these skills and it gave me a perspective to kind of be able to see things, comparatively speaking, as to how my life was pre-COVID, during COVID and then coming out of it, how I want it to be different moving forward.”
Coldwell Banker, Harrisburg
In spring of 2020, the timing of Coldwell Banker team leader Christina Bailey and her husband’s purchase of a bar, Shermans Creek Inn, in their town was uncanny — it almost directly coincided with when COVID-19 shutdowns went into effect in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
When Inman spoke with Bailey last year, she was nervous, to say the least — her husband had quit his job to manage the bar and she had a son in his final year of high school to support, so there was a lot riding on the business endeavor. Fortunately, she also had a strong real estate team to depend on.
One year later, as many pandemic restrictions are being lifted, Bailey felt she was in a better position than she could have hoped for — business at the bar is booming, she and her husband have more qualified professional bartenders applying for jobs than she can offer, and they’re preparing to open a second location that Marriott has offered to partner with them on for their rewards program.
“For us, it really worked out well,” Bailey said. “It gave us the time to remodel the inside, because when else do you ever remodel a bar? When you wouldn’t normally have customers inside, and over COVID, you couldn’t have customers inside. So we took that option to do that and we do have a hotel attached to our bar, so that helped pay the bills while the revenue wasn’t coming in for food and drink.”
“People come from all over the place to come see us,” she added. The bar won the Central PA Wing Madness competition last year and earned Best Burgers and Best Takeaway Food in 2021 in Shermans Dale, Pennsylvania on Restaurant Guru. “It’s just really going well — COVID did not help us but really gave us time to grow market and expand,” Bailey said.
Many members of Bailey’s real estate team, which includes a number of working mothers, found it challenging at first to balance having young kids at home while still trying to get some real estate work done. After a while though, Bailey said the team members figured it out, and working from home ultimately ended up being more efficient for Bailey’s assistant, who has decided to work remotely permanently, while most other agents are now back in the office full-time. The team has continued to best its production volume year over year each consecutive year from 2019 through 2021.
Last year, Bailey said her son “took the biggest sacrifice” for the family because as he was finishing up his final year of high school, Bailey and her husband were so busy ensuring the family continued to have an income that they weren’t as emotionally available to him as they might have been otherwise. Bailey also said her son floundered a bit following his virtual high school graduation, anxious that whatever next step he took would cement his entire future.
Bailey and her husband encouraged their son to just start off by working at their bar, so that he’d have something to do to get him out of the house and earn a little money. To their surprise, he’s become one of their star employees, and just this week was promoted to a salaried position.
“If you had asked me back then if he would do a good job [at the bar], I would have told you no,” Bailey said candidly. “He actually wanted to go into real estate at one point in time, and I told him that with that kind of work ethic, I wouldn’t hire him on my real estate team. Now that I see him here I still don’t think real estate was his cup of tea, but this is his cup of tea. It’s crazy … He found his destination in life. So he’s doing phenomenal.”
Alyssa Hellman and Lynn Johnson
My Southern View Team, Raleigh
Alyssa Hellman and Lynn Johnson make a dynamic team both in real estate and in their home life. The married couple has a middle school-aged daughter and son, and together run the My Southern View Team.
Last year, the couple told Inman they “found their stride,” tag-teaming real estate appointments, helping their kids get through Zoom school, and making sure dinner got on the table every night.
Hellman and Johnson told Inman a few weeks ago that life is more normal these days, but it’s certainly no less hectic with the kids back in school full-time, with after-school activities and with their market hotter than ever.
“I think if anything, [things] are more hectic now, just because we have really opened back up a whole lot and our kids are both in face-to-face activities, basketball, tennis and Girl Scouts …” Johnson said. “We are pretty much back to normal life, other than the fear of, ‘Ok what’s coming our way at any given point?’ But [Alyssa and I are] still beating to the same drum, so to speak, and doing the same thing we have been doing and balancing what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”
The duo seems to thrive on creating full schedules and dividing and conquering their time, which has continued to provide them with a surprisingly rare partnership of equal responsibility. They even somehow found time in the last year to volunteer for their kids’ school programs — Johnson as a cheerleading coach and Hellman as a basketball coach. They also decided in the last year to break away from the Keller Williams franchise and become their own independent team.
Hellman and Johnson joke that they’re not sure yet “how much therapy we’ll have to pay” for the kids in the future after the very active and sometimes chaotic childhoods they’ve had being raised by two busy real estate agents. But, they said, the pandemic has made them realize just how important it is to be active in their kids’ lives — and to also let their kids see the role real estate plays in their lives.
“We’ve learned to roll with the punches and focus on how we can continue to build our business, and trying really hard to make sure our kids are seeing the example of, it takes hard work if you’re going to be successful,” Hellman said. “So I think that’s pretty much our philosophy and mentality when it comes to our kids and making time for things outside [of work] with our kids. So we bought a beach house and are down there as much as we possibly can be as well, so that too is good for us.”
M.N.S. Real Estate, New York
The vast majority of the staff at M.N.S. Real Estate is female and a large percentage of them have kids. Last year, Highlyann Krasnow told Inman that that fact alone made for a pretty stressful pandemic for everyone in her company, both at the office and at home, as parents tried to toggle between helping their kids with remote school and continuing to keep a real estate brokerage running.
Now that kids are back in school in New York, it’s been a huge relief, she said.
“I can’t even stress how big of an impact schools being open again has had, both on the mental health of the moms who finally have a break from multitasking being a teacher at home with the kids and working, but also just such a relief for the kids because they have better mental health because they’re happier being in school,” Krasnow said. “So that has definitely been a huge positive impact, which has lessened the load slightly.”
The proportion of agents and brokers at the company who have decided to return to the office versus those who have continued to work at home has been pretty mixed, Krasnow added. “But, I think that’s to be expected and we’re working with everyone to respect what they need.”
New York City real estate has roared back with a vengeance since becoming one of the cities hit hardest by the pandemic, and Krasnow said that even with agents being able to focus more on their business now with kids back in school, they’ve been working long hours just to keep apace with the market.
While the “Great Resignation” did have an impact on M.N.S., it was not in the way one might expect through “a mass exodus.” Rather, a lot of agents at M.N.S. reevaluated what they enjoyed and what was important to their lives, which created a bit of a reshuffling.
“Some people moved back home and things like that,” Krasnow said. “I think we did see, even myself, that there was a reflection point and [we tried] to ensure that everyone’s jobs that they’re doing they were passionate about. So from my perspective, I’m less involved in the day-to-day operations of the company now than I previously was. I’m focusing more on the things that make me happy, like the design aspect of it. So I think that we’ve seen people take a restock of what’s important to them and get a little bit more out of their jobs that make them happy.”
Living Room Realty, Portland
Kim Parmon told Inman last year about how she and her husband decided that he would close his small business in order to be primary caregiver of their then-7-year-old daughter while she was at home learning remotely.
Today, Parmon’s daughter is back in school full-time, but dad still takes on the main parenting responsibilities while Parmon works full-time.
Parmon’s business exploded in 2021, so much so that she had to step back a bit and restructure to make things more sustainable for herself.
“I pretty much doubled my business last year, which I’m grateful for, but it was also just a lot physically and emotionally and I didn’t really get a lot of family time as much,” Parmon said. “As I was going gangbusters being the breadwinner, it also forced me to evaluate my work-life balance and so I ended up merging with another team [at Living Room Realty] that I really respect and becoming listing-focused entirely at this point.”
In addition to joining a team, Parmon also hired an assistant (a former sales agent who was ready to step down from that role) in order to have more support in her business. These moves have helped bring more regularity and balance to her schedule, which she feels is important in order to have more free time with her family.
“I guess just the pandemic’s continued to drive home the fact that we don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring or if we’re even going to be here tomorrow, so we might as well make the life that you want right now, whatever that is,” Parmon said. “Take the bull by the horns and do it and don’t be afraid of change.”
Engel & Völkers, Chicago
When Inman spoke with Jennifer Ames last year, one of the biggest struggles she was dealing with as a result of juggling home and work life was getting enough sleep. At that time, she said she was lucky to get six hours per night. Unfortunately, because her real estate market is currently raging, she’s still dealing with the same problem — but at least it’s not because of instability at home.
“The good news is, I think things are much more stable on the family/home front,” Ames said. “But the bad news is, I’m not getting any more sleep. And that’s partly because the pendulum is swinging in such a way that — the market has picked up a lot for us in a way that means I’m getting back to more of my being able to focus more on my career again … So the market is on fire. I’m just struggling now that there aren’t enough hours in the day — I’m just spending them differently than where I was a year ago.”
Last year, one of Ames’ top concerns was her aging parents and their isolation from the world amidst coronavirus shutdowns. She shared with Inman this time around that both of her parents had passed away over the course of the last year.
“It wasn’t from COVID, but I think that COVID caused a lot of older people … they were sedentary, they weren’t getting a lot of exercise, they were kind of shut-in, and I think on some level, they lost their vision for their future,” Ames said.
Witnessing her parents decline, Ames determined to make self-care one of her top priorities this year. Even though she still isn’t getting enough sleep, she’s committed to exercising more regularly, which she says has made her feel more motivated and energized throughout her day.
On top of that, in the last year, she’s come to adopt the mantra that less is more, and unlike many during the pandemic, she and her family actually downsized to a smaller apartment from the larger house they owned in the last year. Part of living that mantra also includes just being there emotionally for all the people in her life.
“The message that, ‘life is short,’ I think we all got sort of loud and clear on multiple levels [during the pandemic],” Ames said. “I think it’s making me realize how to find joy and every day to be present for my family, to be present for my clients, to be present for my colleagues, and that’s a big shift.”
When she spoke with Inman in 2021, Ames had noted that her husband, while very supportive, didn’t really have the bandwidth to provide an equal amount of home-life support during the height of the pandemic, which meant Ames ended up juggling most of those responsibilities. But this year, Ames said that he’s really stepped up in terms of supporting their children on a more intellectual and emotional level as they get older and face more nuanced challenges in their development.
“I think he realized our kids really needed us and I need him,” Ames said. “When our kids were younger, they needed sort of basic food, warm beds, love, but it wasn’t complicated. And for the kids, who are now all three in high school, it’s complicated and we need to be able to support them in a different way, in a much more thoughtful way. He’s really stepped up to be that guy.”
Lyon Real Estate, Sacramento
At the height of the pandemic, Tanya Curry felt like the burden rested on her to go out into the world to get food and supplies for her husband and junior high school-aged son because she was in a lower risk health category than they. Even though she herself was low risk, coming back home after being out gave her anxiety because she feared infecting her family without knowing it.
Today, with mask restrictions lifted in her state of California, she feels much more at ease.
“I do feel like some of the weight’s been lifted off my shoulders,” Curry told Inman. “I’m looking forward to a more normal life. But I’m optimistic about that because we’re in California and our market is much different than other markets, so I’m not sure what normal is going to really truly be like. I think the masks may be coming back … but it is nice to have a breather.”
Curry’s son who is an only child and fairly independent was fortunate to adapt well to Zoom school during shutdowns, but Curry’s glad he’s back in a regular routine at school, and that the school has careful COVID protocols.
“He attends a private, Jesuit high school and they’ve had a mask policy in place on campus,” she said. “But, I believe that’s getting ready to be lifted. However, most of the children have had vaccinations on that campus as well, so I think we’ve got a little bubble of safety and assurance in that, knowing that it’s an equal playing field for everyone.”
These days, the biggest thing she worries about is low inventory.
“I do worry now because we are still low in inventory and it’s still a very heavy sellers market,” Curry said. “With the interest rates threatening to rise here, I expect we’re going to have a decrease in buyer demand because now they’re going to pay a higher interest rate. I’m hoping the spring will roll out more inventory, as well.”
Overall, Curry said the pandemic has helped her become a better Realtor.
“I feel I have weathered the storm very well. I don’t think it’s hurt my business, I think I’ve become better at doing my job. In a non-pandemic world, a Realtor’s job is to protect. I feel good that in a pandemic world, I was able to learn to protect in a different way, so I feel like I’m coming out of this much stronger.”