How Real Estate Has Changed In The Era of COVID-19 (and how your real estate business can remain successful in a pandemic climate)

There’s no surprise that this year will look a little different due to the recent global outbreak of COVID-19. It’s crazy to think that only just 3 months ago things were still somewhat normal. But as many have quickly realized, lockdowns, 6-foot social distancing, elbow bumps, and virtual meetings have become the “new” normal. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the economy to plummet and for the United States to officially enter a stagnant market. The U.S. housing industry is on lockdown. With the virus having a complete timeline of its own, there is still so much uncertainty and many still do not know what to expect in the weeks, (or months?) to come. 

 However, what we can do is start thinking about the future. We can start thinking about the consequences the real estate market is about to undergo, and how we can be prepared. We can shed some positivity on how we can still make things work, we can get creative with our situation and we can come up with a few solutions. With millions of Americans following stay-at-home orders, and working from home to try to stop the spread of the virus, many have taken different approaches to the spring ritual of house hunting. Are buyers still looking? Are real estate agents waiting or adjusting so they can keep going? That’s where creativity needs to come in. 

So, what are some methods to shift away from, but still keep? Fortunately, we can still do most of the work while following stay-at-home orders, it just takes adjustment from all sides. We encourage you to read these tips below so your real estate business can be prepared even during the worst of times.  

 Tours and Open Houses 

Sheltering in place and working from home means going virtual. This was once a concept that has kept the industry divided for more than a decade of: Will real estate eventually transition primarily to digital? Since this historic time, we now know this has become the new normal. Will we shift back to our traditional methods once this is over? Only time will tell. 

 Currently, real estate agents need to be more creative than they’ve ever been to have their listings stay relevant and to still sell these properties. Most have been working on their virtual presence and have been conducting virtual tours for and with their clients. This consists of agents going by themselves into a property, and having video previews of their listings, or giving potential buyers a tour via FaceTime. While many have been using this method to market to their out of state or foreign clients for years, it has now become the most important tool in a real estate business.  

 Another tool real estate agents are utilizing during this time is their social media platforms. Many are hosting virtual open houses on Facebook and Instagram to expose a listing to everyone without a potential buyer even needing to be in the area. Social media is also a great way to keep other agents and their buyers up to date and to show them that you are still actively working to sell your listings.  

 It’s important to keep in mind that for a buyer it can be extremely hard to commit when never seeing or truly getting a feel of what the property is like in-person. So, what we can recommend is to be prepared to answer many specific questions. How high are the ceilings? How noisy are the surroundings? One common request has been to take perspective photos of spaces, such as different views from where the sofa could be, or from where the bed in the master bedroom would go. These are just a few things buyers will not be able to get a feel for because they can’t actually experience it for themselves. Remember to be honest, detailed and prepared to answer all types of questions so you can seal the deal.  

 Conducting Inspections and Appraisals 

As far as inspections go, inspectors are still inspecting homes but are taking extra precautions. The inspector will now inspect the home completely alone. No buyers, sellers or agents will be able to walk the property while the inspector is there. While  on-site, home inspectors should be taking extra precautions by:  

  • Wash hands multiple times during every inspection, especially after they have to touch things like faucets, light switches or door handles.  
  • Keep hand sanitizer with you at all times as well.  
  • If available, use disinfectant wipes or the equivalent on faucets and door handles. 
  • Inspectors should wear a face mask when conducting the inspection.  
  • If any inspectors have a fever or cough, they should not conduct the inspection.  

The Federal Housing Finance Administration authorized coronavirus alternative appraisal methods. Due to COVID 19, appraisers who are still performing in-person inspections are requesting that the homeowner vacate the home, and they are wearing masks and gloves. However, some homeowners aren’t even letting appraisers inside their homes, which is completely understandable. With situations like this occurring more frequently, alternative appraisals are necessary.  

Fortunately, the real estate industry has developed two alternatives.  

  1. Desktop Appraisals – With a desktop appraisal, it is just as it sounds, the appraisers never leave their desk. Instead, they do market research, pull comps, and can determine how much the property is worth without ever visiting it. They can also use tax and MLS records to make their decision. It is also important for the appraiser to pay attention to other recent sales in that specific area.  
  1. Hybrid Appraisals – A hybrid appraisal is very similar to a desktop appraisal, except the appraiser performs a few extra tasks. They may look at photographs of the interior and exterior of the house, watch a 3D virtual tour, or drive by to see the exterior of the home.  

The good news is that digital advances have made coronavirus alternative appraisal and inspection methods possible.  

How to Close Without Being at the Table 

 It’s important to know that closings are still happening.  

 As of January 1, 2020, remote notarizations became legal in Florida. In addition, curbside or “porch signing” closings have become a logical extension of signing loan documents and distributing money at the office of a title company or escrow office. When items are passed between the signers, one person places the item in a neutral area, steps back, and provides a safe 6-foot distance to allow the other person to disinfect and pick it up.  

 So what’s the takeaway? Bottom line, you can still successfully operate your business during a pandemic. Now, more than ever, as a real estate agent, your creativity and work ethic needs to be at 110%. You are doing what was once considered impossible, and that is an accomplishment in itself. One thing we know for sure is this: we are in this together and cannot wait to be with you again.