Thinking it might be time to start shopping for a home?
The real estate market seized up after the stay-at-home orders in March, and it is now slowly coming back to life in various parts of the country. But house hunting might look different than before the coronavirus pandemic took hold.
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The rules about how showings and closings can take place and what agents can do will vary depending on local public health regulations, real estate association guidelines and individual comfort levels.
You now may need to book an appointment for an open house. There may be waivers to sign before looking at a home. And get comfortable with those masks, sanitizing wipes and booties. These are the new realities of home buying, and agents say many of these protocols are likely to stick around.
Here are some ways the buying and selling of homes has changed.
The new rules of home buying
Buyers should expect hand sanitizer and masks to be part of any home buying experience. But other aspects of house hunting and closing the deal may come as a surprise.
“We go in one at a time,” said Morgan Dix, who’s looking at homes in Longmont, Colorado. “My wife will go in with the agent first, usually. I’ll wait with our four-year-old daughter.”
They wear gloves and a mask and usually also hold a disinfecting wipe in case they want to open a door or move anything.
“It feels like we just have to do this right now, we’ve gotten used to it,” said Dix.
He’s also gotten used to signing documents about his health before going on a home tour.
“We have to sign a disclosure that we don’t have any symptoms and we don’t have any connection to anyone with symptoms,” he said. “Both sides have to sign these documents before we go in the house.”
Closings are being conducted in a similar way in some areas, with a minimum number of people in the room.
“I went in, signed everything in five minutes, then my wife went in,” said Jeff Ralli, who bought a home in Ocean County, New Jersey in May.
He wore a mask, all the papers were already on the table. The title agent was there, standing 10 feet away.
“They told us to bring our own pens,” he said.
Rethinking the sales pitch
Kris Lindahl, a broker with agents in Minnesota and Wisconsin, bought every 3-D camera he could get his hands on for his staff to create virtual home tours for prospective buyers.
“Today’s first showing is happening online, not at the house,” he said. “People are only looking in person at houses that really inspire.”
Liz Brent, broker at Go Brent in Maryland and Washington, DC, said she’s spent the past few months changing how she presents properties by emphasizing photographs, 3-D tours, and video vignettes for homes online. “Beautiful brochures are no longer needed,” she said.
The pandemic altered the way she markets properties, too. “We have a reason for everything we do,” Brent said. “We believe houses should go on the market Thursday as part of a five-day marketing strategy.”
But when she got photographs of a property back on a Saturday in May, she tossed her old rules out. “I thought, Who knows what day it is anyway? I put it on the market that day.”
The home had multiple offers within days.
During any other period in her nearly 30 years of selling real estate, Nina Hatvany, an agent with Compass in San Francisco, would have scoffed at putting a multimillion-dollar property on the market over the long Memorial Day weekend.
“Everyone is always away,” she said. “We would never launch on a Memorial Day weekend. Never, never, never. But everyone was here.”
She listed two: a mid-century home with views of Presidio Park for $7.5 million and a six-bedroom home for $8.7 million.
“The rules are changing dramatically,” she said. “I have never been more busy changing my way of doing things.”
Open houses are not so open
Open houses, the mainstay of agents looking to show a property to as many people as possible, pose problems. While they run afoul of public health rules in some regions, they are allowed in others.
“I’m a big open house proponent,” said Phillip Horge, an agent with PalmerHouse Properties in Atlanta, who hosted two open houses this past weekend, his first since February.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but I had five parties come through one property and three at the other,” he said, adding he was pleasantly surprised by the turnout.
Lindahl said his agents in Minnesota and Wisconsin are also conducting open houses. Although, he noted, they remain mindful of social distancing and wear masks in the cities where that is required.
But for many other agents, particularly those in cities hard-hit by coronavirus, like New York, Washington DC or San Francisco, open houses are generally not being held. Brent is only showing homes by appointment.
Hatvany, in San Francisco, said one of her biggest challenges is that broker’s tours – open houses for agents to tour the home for clients – are effectively nonexistent.
“We need to see properties at this price point in person,” she said. “You have to see the light, the view, the ceiling height, all the things that make it distinct.”
She’s organizing extended broker’s open houses by appointment and even considering hiring someone to be at the door to handle the scheduling, enforce hygiene practices and hand out booties, gloves and hand sanitizer.
“I don’t need to spend five or six hours doing it, but it needs to be done,” she said.