Realtor Greg Geilman, who had COVID-19, uses ‘Domo Gives’ project to sell three houses free for others impacted by virus
by Mark McDermott
In late March, a strange, distressing, and potentially awful thing happened to Greg Geilman. He fell ill with COVID-19.
Geilman, who is 50, started feeling ill and self-isolated on March 12, but was unable to find any medical facility that would test him for the virus. Things took a turn for the worse on March 18. He had a fever and night sweats and felt as sick as he’d ever felt in his life. The next day, he was finally able to get tested at a local urgent care facility. On March 21, he received confirmation that he had COVID-19.
Geilman had no underlying medical conditions but at that point, early in the novel coronavirus pandemic, nobody really knew what to expect. He continued to isolate at his home in Manhattan Beach, but he also made a decision: he would try to use his experience to help others. Friends had been texting, calling and reaching out by social media with all kinds of questions, so Geilman filmed an eight-minute video in which he shared, via Facebook, what he was going through.
“I did get my test results back last night, and unfortunately I did test positive for coronavirus,” he said in the video. “I don’t see this as an immediately, hugely negative thing. I’m glad I know…I’m staying quarantined.”
The video went viral locally, amassing over 8,000 views and 197 shares and attracting press coverage. He continued to provide updates as he recovered in his home quarantine. Geilman became, for a brief moment, the face of the novel coronavirus in Manhattan Beach.
“I became sort of COVID famous,” Geilman recalled, with a laugh. “Nobody knew anyone really at the time who was sick and I think I made it real for a lot of people. And at the time, there wasn’t a lot of good information out there.”
Geilman is a managing partner for the Domo Group, part of RE/Max Estate Properties. His colleagues were at first apprehensive about his condition and then amazed at how his decision to go public helped demystify COVID-19 in the community.
“It was almost a blessing, in a way, because so many people around me weren’t taking it seriously,” said Tamer Makeen, a senior agent with the Domo Group. “And when you can say, ‘Hey, no, actually, I know someone — this is here, this is real…” And it was really cool to see him put his message out there saying, ‘These are the facts.’ Until that, until people like Greg started speaking up in the South Bay, nobody took it seriously. We thought, ‘We’re all healthy. We’re immune to it.’ And people would still get together and have people over. On my old street in the Manhattan Sand Section section, a friend of mine lived there and they were like, ‘Come by, we hang out on the block, we keep our distance.’ And they were still having little sunset get-togethers. An older couple both contracted COVID, and one of them passed away.”
But if Geilman was helpful in getting the word out, what he received back truly astonished him. There was an outpouring of care, and help. People left food on his doorstep with such frequency that he didn’t need groceries for most of his quarantine.
“I just was overwhelmed with the response that I got from the community,” he said. “People who I don’t even know reaching out to me, people whom I’m loose acquaintances with dropping off care packages at my doorstep when I was quarantined for 25 days. The community really held me in their arms and loved me through this time, this kind of scary time where I didn’t know in the beginning if I was going to live or die. I’m really grateful for how that whole scene went down. I could have gone through that experience feeling really lonely and scared. And I didn’t.”
Geilman vowed at the time that he’d find a way to give back, particularly since he’d have antibodies that could be helpful to those suffering from COVID-19. He’s since donated plasma at UCLA, which can be used to treat patients with the disease. But a few weeks ago, in the course of a Zoom meeting with his team, another idea was hatched.
Managing partner Rob Freedman had been discussing his desire to do some pro bono work. The group already had its Domo Gives project, intended to help people in financial distress, but it had never really been fully activated. Makeen put two and two together, suggesting that the group offer to help, free of charge, homeowners forced to uproot due to economic hardship during the pandemic.
“I said, ‘Well, guys, isn’t this the perfect opportunity to do the pro bono work you wanted to do? Because I’m sure there’s going to be distressed people, if not in the Beach Cities, in surrounding cities or friends and relatives of the people that we know who live here,” Makeen said. “‘And I’m sure there will be someone in the nicer neighborhoods who’s lost a loved one who was the main breadwinner, or they lost their employment, and who knows how long they’re able to stay in their current situation.”
“A lot of people stretch their budget when they buy a home,” Makeen said. “And if that’s where you’re at, and you lose your job, or you lose someone that’s contributing to the mortgage payment, you’re going to have to sell, and who knows how you’re going to make a living and make your way after that. So any money saved in a real estate transaction, will buy X amount of months for people to get their feet back under them.”
The other part of the equation is that when people are forced to sell quickly, they are frequently subject to predatory practices.
“When you need to sell your home quickly, you turn to the people who are willing to get you cash and close quickly,” Makeen said. “And they like to shave 15 to 20 percent off the sales price of a home in order to do that. It has its own market. That’s not even talking about the fees, so we’re actually putting 10 to 20 percent of their home value — we’re keeping that, and we’re preserving equity for them. And then we’re saving them an additional 2.5 percent plus whatever the fees are for photography, staging, escrow fees, title fees, or other vendors.”
All 10 agents from the Domo Group agreed to participate. Geilman, who was emphatically behind the idea, was able to quickly negotiate agreements with an escrow and transaction coordinator as well as staging and photography and all other associated real estate services involved in a sale. Last week, the group sent out an email to its contact list of 16,000 people, with a link to an application process, to start getting the word out.
“We want to sell three houses for free this year, minimum,” Geilman said. “If it grows like wildfire, then we’ll do more. The criteria are that it is someone who’s in just some kind of distress. Like literally, if someone lost their job, or someone lost the main breadwinner, to COVID and their last kind of hope for staying afloat is to sell their family home. We can’t just give them hundreds of thousands of dollars, but what we can do is help them get to their next place for free.”
Geilman says his experience with COVID-19 changed him. Things have slowed down. These days, he is more likely to enjoy a simple walk. He has also begun meditating. And what he keeps coming back to is an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the community he lives in. His hope in providing free help to those in need goes beyond what the savings will mean for someone who is facing hard times; they’ll also feel a little bit of what he felt when the community buoyed his spirits during his COVID-19 quarantine. Just as he didn’t have to fight through his coronavirus experience alone, Geilman wants recipients of Domo Gives to know they are part of a community that cares.
“Now that I’m on the other end of it, I feel like I kind of have a new lease on life,” he said. “In the whole process of posting videos on Instagram and Facebook, I never mentioned what I did for a living. Because this was never about that — I wasn’t doing this to gain customers. I was doing this because I wanted to help people.”
Makeen said seeing the community help Geilman get through his COVID-19 experience and then watching as his colleagues unhesitatingly agreed to work for free to help others has strengthened the bonds he feels with the South Bay.
“It’s super reassuring to experience firsthand this strong sense of community that the South Bay has, and we have surrounded ourselves with as a real estate team,” he said. “We are connected to good people.”
See DomoRealEstate.com/gives to learn more or to apply for the Domo Gives project. ER