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Housing and the Pandemic: One Expert’s Opinion

May 14, 2020 | Zach Child Zach Child

In this Q&A with Sundae Director of Construction Aubree Kendall, we discuss the real estate business, helping homeowners, and the viral pandemic.

Aubree Kendall is the Director of Construction at Sundae. Her deep desire to help homeowners in need is what motivates her work. We asked Aubree 10 questions about real estate, her career, and the impact of the coronavirus on housing. Her answers shed light on this unique social and economic moment.

See also: A Real Estate Economist on the Effects of COVID-19

1. How did you get started in real estate?

In 2007 while everyone was doing 0% down loans and purchasing homes well beyond their means, I followed all the rules and put 20% down on my first modest home. The house was a bargain as a foreclosure. But by 2009 my job furloughed me and I was struggling to make mortgage payments.

Aubree-Kendall-headshotThere were countless “save your home”  programs at the time, and I applied for every one of them. I learned that none of them were really in place to help struggling homeowners. They were meant to make lenders look like they cared about their customers at a time when the lending industry was under intense scrutiny. I researched everything I could do to save my home and still did not succeed. As my home was being foreclosed on, my loan was sold so many times that the lender couldn’t produce proof of the note. But the courts were so overwhelmed with foreclosure hearings that they made exceptions to standard legal processing to clear the backlog. 

I realized then how unfair the system is for those who have little resources. No matter how much you do the right thing and follow all the rules, the system is set up to disadvantage those without access to fair “options.” It was during this time that I applied to the PhD program at UC Berkeley where I could focus on Law and Policy issues affecting vulnerable communities. I wanted to be a resource to those navigating the lending and real estate industries.

2. What are the core principles that have helped you be successful in your career?

Character before reputation, and always bet on the underdog. I’ve had a work permit and a steady job since I was 13 years old. That in itself is not unique, but the way I landed my first job is. A friend of mine who was older was going on vacation and needed someone to cover his shifts at a local restaurant. He asked if I would and I agreed. The owner of the restaurant was a very intimidating Tony Soprano-esque man. He would sit at the end of the bar hunched over smoking all day, and served as the impromptu bouncer when needed. My first day on the job as a fill-in worker, I cautiously approached him to introduce myself and reached out to firmly shake his hand. He offered me a permanent position on the spot due solely to my handshake!

My first boss said that the character and confidence it took for a new young worker to approach him and firmly shake his hand was something you could never “teach.” He said he would always bet on character over anything else. I think he sensed that I was also guided by this principle. I ended up working for him up until the day I left for college. Today, I still think of him when I interview  job candidates who don’t have traditional work or life experiences. I value those qualities as enhancers to team culture and setting the bar for work ethic and drive. 

3. How has the coronavirus affected the housing market?

There is a lot of excellent market analysis out there from economists and real estate experts. But personally, I view this question through the lens of the toll on those who will be disenfranchised. In other words, I try to think about the human toll of those line graphs. What options will be in place for those who are struggling to make ends meet?

I have heard a lot of people say they are making more money on unemployment than from their full time jobs. I have friends in the restaurant industry who would prefer unemployment over having to go back to work for minimum wage and tips. That should hit home for anyone thinking about income disparities happening all over the US. When and if the market drops, homeowners should not be taking less money for their home because the buyer/investor is looking to get a smoking deal. That is why I am proud to work for a company that has always stood on the “do right by people” side of the line.

4. You focused on Law & Policy pursing your PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. What would you like to see happen from a policy standpoint in housing in the post-corona landscape?

I see a lot of the same fast and loose legal policy now, similar to 2009. Eviction moratoriums and rent forbearance are being implemented without due process. I know the common assumption of a landlord is someone who is wealthy and sits back as the rent checks roll in. But there is a different side to that coin.

Many people are trying to build wealth for themselves and their family by putting their savings into an investment property and then renting it out. A landlord could still be living paycheck to paycheck while renting a property they own. All their wealth could be tied up in that property.

I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be options available to struggling renters. But I don’t think we are looking at the big picture when we stop these types of landlords from being able to protect their property and wealth. Flipping and renting a property is some people’s entire retirement plan right now. We need to be looking at policy options that work universally. We can’t just take action based on the perceived “haves” and “have nots.”

5. Before the coronavirus, California was suffering from a shortage of affordable housing. How is that likely to change after this pandemic?

I think given the reasons I mentioned previously, you are going to see a lot of landlords get out of the real estate game. That’s a shame because I think small time and small town landlords are more willing to work out reasonable deals for tenants. I live in a small town that is not rent controlled. Even without government regulation, my landlord has not raised the rent in nine years. He values long term tenants who care for the property like it’s their own over a higher rent check. We have already seen an increase in landlords calling Sundae because they are handcuffed by new regulations. They see the writing on the wall and want to sell quickly. As these rental properties are unloaded, there is a high probability that they will be sold as individual residences, not rentals. This will further reduce housing inventory.

6. How do you see the pandemic and the aftereffects impacting construction and labor costs in the housing market?

It’s odd because costs vary greatly by county and industry (new construction, rehab, essential, non essential). Some material costs are down due to lower demand, while others are higher because they are shipped from impacted countries overseas. New construction just came back online as essential but much of the labor force already picked up jobs in counties with more lax rules and regulations. Also, some home inspectors are choosing not to take inspection jobs right now. But for the most part, it appears everyone is still eager and willing to work.

7. What are some of the short- and long-term real estate trends you see?

I think a short term trend that we’ll see is a reevaluation of what is considered necessary and useful space by homebuyers. Besides the obvious desirable live-work space, I believe the quarantine experience will reimagine the way homeowners view “usable space.” Walk-in pantries will take priority over walk-in closets. A yard with an additional sitting area trumps a statement piece or water feature. The examples are numerous.

8. How is the pandemic affecting what do you do at Sundae?

We’ve all had to get scrappy and respond to changing conditions quickly. Luckily we have the right team in place to do this. Recently, we adapted our home visits to be contact-free and fully remote. Our Market Experts are able to give the homeowner an accurate home valuation and solid cost estimates for repairs while observing the property virtually. The homeowner walks the Market Expert though their property on a video tour. It’s so impressive to watch. More than anything, I’m proud of the options we are providing homeowners. While other companies are rescinding offers and suspending homebuying, Sundae is aggressively working to offer more options available to sellers in their time of need.

9. If you weren’t working in construction and real estate, what could you see yourself doing?

While construction is in my blood (both my dad and grandfather are General Contractors), if I wasn’t helping homeowners in need, I would go back to working on law and policy issues on American Indian reservations. I have been lucky enough to work with the Hopi, Oneida, and Lakota tribes in the past. I’ve worked on issues such as the restoration of tribal sovereignty and prevention of violence against women and children. Part of why I am committed to Sundae is not just a mission driven purpose, but also a dedication to a diverse and dynamic team. Having a female from an underrepresented community in a leadership position, and as a first employee, speaks to this commitment. It will also allow me the visibility and resources to continue serving these tribes in the future.

10. How are you passing time during the shutdown?

Mostly by annoying my dog. I thought she would be happy to have me home all this extra time but it turns out I’m in her space and affecting her personal time. She is almost 17, so I chalk it up to being old and cranky.

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