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Tech helped push real estate industry ‘forward 5 years in a 6-month timeframe’ during pandemic

Tech helped push real estate industry ‘forward 5 years in a 6-month timeframe’ during pandemic

No industry was immune to the sudden changes brought on during the pandemic’s state-mandated lockdown in March 2020, including real estate. Almost three years later, which of these changes have taken up permanent residence in the real estate space? We checked with four industry leaders in Rochester to find out.

Jamie Columbus: Less is more

Pre-covid, if you went to one of Jamie Columbus’s open houses, you’d likely find fanfare, enticing music, beverages and more. Today Columbus, who is the chief executive officer and broker with Judy’s Broker Network, embraces a quieter, more mindful scene.


“A ‘less is more’ approach has been more effective lately where our focus is on managing the flow of viewers, providing booties, masks, and giving tours,” Columbus said. “We staff our events well to be sure prospects can find their way in the home, be provided with marketing materials and feel welcome in the home.”

Judy’s Broker Network — whose motto is artistry in real estate — is unique in Rochester’s residential market. Founded in 2004 by Jamie’s mother, real estate icon Judy Columbus, it’s a three-generation matrilineal firm that also includes Jamie’s daughter Lily Glaser. The team specializes in the high-end haute couture and luxury home market.

Clients of Judy’s Broker Network have typically preferred not to have their homes mass marketed, which has provided a natural transition to a time in the market where there tends to be fewer open houses and in-person showings in general, despite high demand and heavy competition for homes.

“In the 2023 market with its low inventory, my direct marketing approach satisfies my adventurous spirit,” Columbus said. “I am the opposite of a retailer. Instead of waiting for a home to hit the market, and have clients competing with other potential offers, I explore — searching daily for homes that would be the right fit for a prospect on my waiting list of buyers.”

Another change Columbus has seen come about from the pandemic’s is a more flexible approach to buying and selling — one that embraces technology when appropriate.

“One of the largest changes in my business is that my team and I can work both virtually as well as the old in-person style,” Columbus said. “Turns out, my clients and myself can be anywhere in the world and function effectively and efficiently. This past year, after 40 plus years’ experience, I have earned clients’ trust so that I can list and stage homes remotely and sell them remotely through Facetime.”

Mark Siwiec: Need for community

In 2023, personal connections are top of mind for Mark Siwiec, associate real estate broker and team leader of Mark Siwiec and Associates, part of Keller Williams Realty Greater Rochester.


“Probably the greatest change in this industry in the past few years is the need for agents to build relationships with clients,” said Siwiec, who has worked in the industry for 32 years and leads a team of fifteen. “Technology should be used as a tool to enhance relationships with clients, not as a supplement. The agents who are really doing well right now are those that recognize the need people have for community.”

While Siwiec’s team has always focused on relationship building (81% of their business in 2022 was referral based) recently they’ve augmented their efforts by having a dedicated staff member who focuses purely on relationships with past and current clients; for example, sending a meal for the birth of a new baby or flowers for a death in the family. Last spring the team hosted 350 clients at a Red Wings game and at Thanksgiving time delivered hundreds of pies to clients.

“This team isn’t interested just in a sale, but a relationship,” Siwiec said.

Siwiec has also seen decreased in-person interaction between agents due to new uses of technology spurred by the pandemic. Tasks once done in person, like presenting offers, are typically now done via email. This month his team is hosting an in-person event for 50-60 agents from all different agencies solely to network and reconnect.

“Agents are feeling as though there’s not as much facetime with other agents anymore,” Siwiec said. “An agent representing a seller and an agent representing a buyer may never lay eyes on each other now. We want to develop these relationships because in the long run it benefits clients.”

GRAR: A healthy market

At the Greater Rochester Association of REALTORS®, Inc. (GRAR) — a 3,200 member organization of area professionals engaged in every aspect of the real estate industry — leaders have seen many changes spurred by the pandemic that appear here to stay, especially in the technology realm.


“Open houses more or less came to a halt,” said Mike O’Connor, the organization’s president, about the initial stage of the pandemic. “People very quickly adjusted to live video streams with an agent and it became very common for people to purchase homes sight unseen. We learned it could be done.”

O’Connor says open houses have been slow to come back and there are fewer than in pre-pandemic times. Showings have also decreased due to better quality photos and videos and because more sellers now choose to only have principal, pre-approved buyers view their properties.

“The market is still very strong,” O’Connor said. “We are seeing multiple non-contingent offers and home going above asking price. We continue to have a healthy market with a lot of competition even with interest rates as high as they are.”


Jim Yockel, the organization’s chief executive officer, attributed the embracing of technology by both consumers and agents as critical to moving the industry forward over the past three years. From electronic notarization to the use of drones for outdoor and indoor photography, “technology pushed our industry forward five years in a six—month timeframe,” he said.

Locally, GRAR has seen an increase in membership since the pandemic began and continued interest in real estate as a career — some of that driven by technology as well as more training classes have moved (and stayed) online.

“The training side opened up a lot,” Yockel said. “We have very strong numbers of new members and there certainly has not been a drop-off in interest in real estate as a career.”

Caurie Putnam is a Rochester-area freelance writer.