When it comes to industries and events impacted most severely by the onslaught of COVID-19 cases in the United States, mass gathering events like concerts and collegiate and professional sports are normally what come to mind. In reality, although mass crowd activities were hit hard by the lockdowns, the real estate industry has nearly ground to a screeching halt.
Whether it’s the plunge of the stock market, the unpredictability of the economy, or a lack of in-person showings, realtors are placed in a difficult position. Although there isn’t a way to execute the start-to-finish sale of property entirely remotely, real estate agents are figuring out how to do their jobs efficiently while working within the confines of mandated lockdown procedures. In a survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors, 11 percent noted a buyer traffic reduction. A fear of large purchases when money is tight is an obvious inhibitor to sales, but it doesn’t mean that continuing is impossible for the time being. In fact, buying a home now is actually more affordable than ever; interest rates recently hit a near 50-year low.
“The average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage hit a record 3.29% this week, the lowest level in its nearly 50-year history,” Sam Khater, Freddie Mac chief economist, said. “Meanwhile, mortgage applications increased 10% last week from one year ago and show no signs of slowing down.”
This statistic arose, in part, because of the sheer amount of Chinese buyers who suddenly were not coming into the United States to purchase high-rises and condos. Chinese buyers spent around $13.4 billion on American homes from April 2018 through May 2019; working without that purchasing potential bred system workarounds.
“People would rather not go out and mingle,” Amy Kong, real estate broker for San Bruno, CA-located Realty World Advance Group and president-elect of the Asian Real Estate Association of America, said. “The buyers can’t be here physically to sign. They have to make other arrangements.”
Realtors all over the country are taking advantage of low mortgage rates and changing the way open houses are functioning. Procedure has changed during open houses, and those wary of attending open houses altogether now have options like virtual showings. As crucial as sparkling photographs have been, stepping into the home via virtual immersion is a way to show potential buyers the vibe of the layout without crossing the threshold.
“Sellers love virtual tours because typically what would be the inconvenience of leaving the residence for 20 to 30 minutes to allow potential buyers access now have the opportunity to allow them access without having to leave,” Michelle Mumoli, CEO of the Mumoli Group, said.
Essentially, the viewpoint prospective buyers would be able to virtually tour is akin to Google Street View, but from the inside.
“As a virtual tour provider in Washington, D.C., we are seeing an uptick in demand for video and more elaborate virtual tours so homeowners don’t need to have an open house,” Roman Caprano, of Sky Blue Media, said. “In our market, homes sell in days, so many agents typically only invest in photos, but now they are purchasing more content.”
In the event of in-person, traditional open houses, sanitization is key. Shaking hands and snack foods are no longer part of the equation.
“We are seeing a lot more hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes at open houses,” Wes Jones, managing broker with Keller Williams in Bellevue, WA, said. “We also make sure to wipe down the front door handle a number of times throughout the open house. It also appears that not shaking hands at all is quickly becoming acceptable.
“We did have one client decide not to have us continue with their public open houses,” Jones said. “We will continue to show their property by appointment only.”
Everything from light switches, doorknobs, and lockboxes need wiped down, and agents are adding sanitizers to the Open House grab bag.
“I now carry a canister of disinfecting wipes in my car so I can wipe my hands and the steering wheel after being in and out of houses,” Cara Ameer, a bi-coastal real estate agent for Laguna Beach, CA and Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, said. “While you don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable, it is better to err on the side of caution rather than worry about exposure. You can never be too careful.”
When it comes to transportation to and from showings, buyers in large cities have also voiced concerns.
“Concerns just started this week,” Janine Acquafredda, a broker at House N Key Reality in Brooklyn, NY, said at the beginning of March. “So far, homeowners haven’t voiced any concerns with regards to showings, and sellers are still listing without restriction. But I do have buyers and sellers reluctant to attend closings if it involves taking the subway, and one closing was postponed by an attorney because his client was very ill—exhibiting flu-like symptoms—and didn’t know what she had. He said, ‘I’m not going to put myself in that position.'”
Real estate is, by, nature, a personal contact profession. With the help of technology and dramatic changes to mortgage rates though, it’s still possible to sell first, and second, homes during this socially-distanced time.
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