On March 10, my husband and I decided to list our home this spring—smack in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
This was not a decision we took lightly. Derrick and I had been thinking about putting our Chicago condo on the market for a while. Having lived in our two-bed, two-bath home for four years, 2020 was going to be when we’d finally “settle down” somewhere quieter and closer to our families.
Plus, we figured at the time that getting in on the spring buying season would be key.
On March 11, we emailed a local real estate agent, Paul Barker of Barker Group, who specialized in our Northside neighborhood and had sent us a marketing flyer last year. We made plans for the three of us to meet at our condo a few days later.
But that week, as things began to really get weird in Chicago—like panic shopping at grocery stores and sports seasons canceling—we questioned whether we’d need to meet virtually instead. Barker assured us we’d be fine, however.
“I need to do a walk-through, but we will keep our distance, and I won’t have to touch anything,” he told me. “Then, after I’ve researched and put together a plan, we can have a virtual meeting to go over the marketing strategies and pricing.”
We met in our living room, and I had to silently reprimand Derrick for reaching for Barker’s hand as he opened the door. (Barker politely declined.) Social distancing was a new concept at that time, and we were still figuring out the new social norms.
After doing a walk-through, we sat at opposite ends of our sectional in the living room and felt confident we were doing the right thing by listing our condo now. At the time, home buyer traffic online was still at a relatively normal level, Barker assured us, and he’d be able to schedule a photographer in the next few days.
‘I could tell things had changed’
But a week later, we hadn’t heard from him. I followed up and learned he’d like to meet with us over Zoom to discuss our listing. From the minute we connected, I could tell that things had changed—even the tone of his voice was different.
We could still go ahead with the listing, Barker said; however, it was going to be a little more trouble than expected. For instance, only one of his regular photographers was still working; the others were refusing to go into other people’s homes and potentially be exposed to the virus. Showing requests had now dropped to 10% of their normal level.
Things didn’t look good. Once our call with our agent was over, Derrick and I talked through our options.
While we were both nervous at the thought of having strangers tour our home, Barker had assured us they were taking precautions to keep both homeowners and buyers safe during the process. For one, there would be no public open houses. To lower his exposure risk, Barker would not be present for showings, instead allowing the buyer’s agent to tour the home with buyers.
Plus, if we decided to close our home for showings, our agent said, it wouldn’t count against us. This is why: In the past, multiple listing service regulations required a listing to be removed from “active” status if the home couldn’t be showed for an extended period of time. But this has been changed for the time being, during the COVID-19 outbreak. Now, listings without showings can remain active.
In addition, if your listing has the “temporarily no showings” status, the market time will also be frozen. This means it wouldn’t accrue days on market—which can count against sellers because they can make a listing seem stale.
Finally, while showings were down, they were in fact still happening—so there was a chance we could still sell our home during this crazy time, and be able to move out of Chicago in the time frame we’d planned. In the end, we concluded that we really had nothing to lose by going on the market now.
A home seller’s new secret weapon: 3D virtual tours
The good news with moving forward as planned, our real estate agent told us, was that online traffic was actually up from the previous month. But with showing requests down, we’d have to up our game online. How? By adding a 3D virtual tour to our listing. Creating a virtual tour would entail hiring a specialized photographer and equipment—which our agent’s firm would provide.
We were told that a still photographer was available to come March 31 and a 3D photographer on April 1. Both appointments would take an hour or less. So, before each appointment, we loaded our cat, Monty, into his carrier and went for a drive while the photographers did their work.
A couple of days after both appointments, Barker sent us links to view both the photos and the 3D model—and we were thrilled by how they turned out.
Our listing finally went live on Saturday, April 4, and within two hours of posting, Barker already had a showing request for the very next day. A couple had loved our condo from what they saw on the 3D tour so much that they wanted to see it in person.
“Hoping this could be a one-and-done situation,” Barker added.
We’d been thinking of getting out of Chicago for a while, as the coronavirus pandemic was predicted to peak there soon, so when our agent said he wanted to schedule the showing for the following day at 11 a.m., we figured now was as good a time as any to temporarily relocate. We spent Saturday packing the car and departed Sunday morning, making the 10-hour drive to Alabama to stay with Derrick’s family.
We figured this temporary move would not only be a good opportunity for a change of scenery, it would also help our agent sell our place. He said it would be more appealing to do showings if he could tell potential buyers that we were not home—which would allow buyers faster access to the place while posing less of a health risk.
While we felt very hopeful that morning, the one-and-done situation hasn’t exactly materialized—so far.
Barker said the couple who came for the showing were looking for a condo with two parking spaces (a near impossibility in Chicago; our place has only a single garage space) and decided for the time being it was priced too high for them.
However, Derrick and I remain optimistic that we’ll be able to sell soon, based on the online traffic we’ve seen. By Barker’s calculations, listings with 3D tours are seeing about 250% more online views right now than listings without.
Overall, it was a pleasant surprise to see how many people are still shopping for homes during the coronavirus outbreak. We guess time will tell whether we’ll be able to sell and move on permanently in the near future, so stay tuned for updates!
If you want more guidance for your own situation, check out our series on “Home Selling in the Age of Coronavirus.”
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