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With entire states ordered to stay at home amid the coronavirus pandemic—and things like open houses and in-person showings considered major health risks—the business of buying and selling houses is not what it was just a short time ago.
The federal government considers real estate an essential business, but several states, whose mandates take precedence, have categorized it as nonessential. In either scenario, real estate agents have had to find new ways to do their jobs.
We reached out to agents around the country to find out how they’re doing their jobs differently in these unsettled times.
The real No. 1 challenge for agents
You may think the biggest challenge to selling a house during a pandemic would be getting the buyer in the house, but Amy Berglund, real estate associate with Re/Max Professionals in Denver, says that’s not the case.
“The biggest challenge has been projecting and encouraging a sense of calm for our clients,” she says. “Real estate deals are still happening, closings are happening, and multiple offers in some price points are still happening. We are closing deals—we just need the public to have confidence in that.”
Different attitudes toward showing—and staging—homes
In some locations, in-person showings are still happening, but that doesn’t mean business as usual.
Gina Guajardo, broker at Sterling & Johnston in Seattle, says she uses video walk-throughs to eliminate in-person showings for people who aren’t serious buyers.
“I’m doing this for buyers’ and sellers’ health,” she says. “I want showings only from interested buyers; this is not the time for lookers.”
Before the coronavirus, homeowners were encouraged to stage homes for showings and open houses so they felt lived-in. Recently, however, that policy has been turned upside down, says Katie Witry, a real estate agent and owner of Witry Collective in New Orleans.
“Homes that are vacant are easier to show, inspect, and eventually sell,” she explains. “However, homes that are occupied are being shown on a case-by-case basis.”
When in-person showings do happen, they require extensive precautions.
“I’m suiting up in a mask and disposable gloves to show property,” says Lara Cox, a Realtor® in Las Vegas. She’s also “using a disinfectant wipe to open doors, turn on light switches, and open blinds” while inside clients’ homes.
But Washington, DC, real estate agent Karen Szala notes that when clients wear masks, it’s difficult to get a good sense of their reaction to a property.
“So much of what we do as real estate agents is reading reactions and asking questions about those facial expressions when they first see a property in person,” she says.
The pros and cons of virtual tours
Traditionally, homeowners have had little to do with house tours—their only job has been to leave the premises so that real estate agents could take over.
Juan P. Rojas of JPR International Real Estate in Miami says that has all changed now that residents have been ordered to stay at home.
“We can coordinate to show a property virtually, by simply hosting a Zoom meeting where the owner is in essence the videographer and gives the buyer a live tour of the property,” he explains. “It’s been pretty exciting!”
Jo Ann Bauer, a Realtor® with the Ozer Group in Scottsdale, AZ, notes that while virtual tours are convenient for both buyer and seller, “the drawback is, people want to experience a home and how it feels, and that can be very challenging for buyers on a virtual tour.”
Some sellers are waiting it out
A house that’s been on the market too long has “gone stale” in real estate terms, which tends to have a negative impact on its appeal—and the seller’s negotiating power.
In a time when buyers are reluctant to shop for homes, more and more homes are at risk for this, but real estate agent Tomer Fridman of Compass in Los Angeles has found a way to combat that.
“We are holding off on launching new listings on the MLS and networking them off-market through our personal sphere and social media channels,” he explains. “No one wants the days on market to date a property unnecessarily, and agents looking for their buyers are aware to look at properties coming soon and on hold.”
In other areas, though, the problem is a lack of inventory.
Nancy Brook, broker and CEO of Billings Best Real Estate in Montana, says her area doesn’t have enough homes for sale in the median price range.
“With interest rates still low, buyers are ready to buy if they can find the right house,” she says. “Some sellers are either withdrawing their listing or waiting to list.”
Relationship maintenance mode
Real estate is a business based on relationships, and many real estate agents are just working on maintaining those relationships right now.
“I honestly haven’t been thinking about deals and haven’t been pushing clients to buy or sell. My main focus is reaching out to clients, friends, and family on a human level to check and see how they are doing and not discuss business,” says New York City broker Philip Scheinfeld.
Closing on homes without getting too close
Typical closings consist of buyers, sellers, and their agents meeting in a room with a title clerk. Understandably, that can’t happen right now, so agencies are getting creative.
“My title company partners have helped us by instituting drive-up closings where all parties remain in their car and title clerks in Tyvek suits go car to car, safely securing signatures and completing the home sale,” explains Dave Marcolla, principal of the Dave Marcolla Group at Keller Williams Real Estate in Newtown, PA.
A new outlook on ‘home’
The coronavirus pandemic is making huge changes to how business is done right now, but Ed Kaminsky, licensed real estate agent at Strand Hill in Manhattan Beach, CA, says its effect on what people are looking for in a home will be long-lasting.
“I do believe globally people will be looking at ‘home’ much differently for at least a generation or two,” he says. “A home now is not just a place to eat dinner and sleep, but it potentially is your office, your home gym, your children’s school, your play center, your place of rest, your place of worship. Home has taken on a whole different meaning, and choosing one that meets all of those needs is more important than ever before.”
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