Step-by-Step: An Urgent Home Sale During COVID-19

Editor’s note: All of HomeLight’s coronavirus information for buyers, sellers, and agents is available on our COVID-19 hub.

An urgent home sale. A global pandemic. Maybe not the best combination for a real estate agent. But early this month, Portland Realtor Bonnie Roseman heard from clients who had to move because the husband got a can’t-refuse job offer in Colorado.

In this week’s episode of The Walkthrough, we go step-by-step through a home sale that’s due to close in two weeks. Bonnie tells all about the challenges she faced, especially pricing the home correctly and helping her clients navigate the sale and relocation timeline. How does her experience match yours when it comes to selling a home during COVID-19?

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If you enjoy this episode, please subscribe to get future episodes delivered automatically: Apple Podcasts/iTunes | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

Links and Show Notes

Full Transcript

(SPEAKER: Matt McGee, Host) How do you price a home for sale right now? What are you using for comps when so many recent sales in a neighborhood were pre-coronavirus?

Well, that’s just one of the challenges Realtor Bonnie Roseman faced a couple weeks ago. Clients called her and said they had to sell their home as quickly as possible. And that “quickly” part became another big challenge. How do you plan a relocation when so many parts of a transaction are fragile — more fragile than normal — and deals can fall apart at any moment?

So many questions and so many challenges to overcome. But agents like you and like Bonnie are making it happen. Today, we’re taking a deep dive, step by step, into what it’s like to sell a home in the middle of a pandemic.

This is “The Walkthrough.”

(INTRO MUSIC)

Hello, hello everyone. I’m Matt McGee, editor of HomeLight’s Agent Resource Center. On this show, we share what’s working right now from the best real estate agents and industry experts in the country. At HomeLight, we believe in real estate agents. And we believe that, by helping agents like you be even better at serving your clients, the entire industry improves. If you’d like to reach me with feedback, ideas, or questions about “The Walkthrough,” send me an email any time, it’s walkthrough [at] homelight.com.

Let’s turn back the clock a bit. In early March, Oregon governor Kate Brown declared an emergency related to the growing coronavirus pandemic. Over the next two weeks, she announced more limitations on residents and businesses, just like what was happening in other states. And then, a full quarantine eventually began in Oregon on March 23rd. Two weeks after that, a full month after the emergency declaration, Portland Realtor Bonnie Roseman got a call from clients who had just bought their home 8 months ago. It turns out the husband got a new job in Colorado, an offer they couldn’t refuse. They needed to sell right in the middle of the quarantine.

Now, we’ve spent the past 5 or 6 weeks on this podcast sharing advice and best practices to help agents adapt and keep doing business during these uncertain times.

Today, let’s find out how all that’s playing out in real life with real clients. I asked Bonnie to walk us through a transaction that’s happening right now. It still hasn’t closed but, knock on wood, everything is moving along well. As you listen, you’ll hear a lot of the back and forth from our conversation, and then, I’ll also jump in with some narration along the way to add more information when needed. At the end, I’ll come back with some takeaways. And then, stay tuned to the end of the show for a couple bits of news from HomeLight, new stuff we’ve launched recently for agents like you.

Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Bonnie Roseman and her experiences selling a home during COVID-19.

(BEGIN CONVERSATION)

Matt: Let me begin by asking how you’re doing. Are you healthy, safe? And how’s business these days?

Bonnie: Yeah. Well, thanks for having me. I feel extraordinarily lucky. Just, all things considered, I love my own house and my little courtyard garden. And I am healthy and I’m in a great location for grocery delivery, I’ve become a little obsessed with that. I’m probably eating more than I normally do because, all of a sudden, that’s the thing to do is order food and cook.

Business, you know, I would say the first few weeks, up until just several days ago maybe, I felt busy all day long just keeping up with current activities. In the last week or so, I have felt it notch down a little bit. And definitely I’m more listing heavy than usual and lighter on buyers. And pretty much all the agents that I talk to are saying that same thing, that their sellers are wanting to go forward, for whatever it is their reason for needing to move, but not so many buyers are out there.

Matt: What are you currently allowed to do in the state of Oregon?

Bonnie: There’s a bit of a blur between what does, you know, the city say, what does the state say, what do feds say, what does your company say. So, all of that combined, for me the result is we allow two people in a house at a time. So, that is the buyer’s agent and one buyer at a time.

So, the last home that I personally showed I went gloves, mask, went in, opened all the doors, turned on all the lights, brought in one spouse, stayed, you know, 6-10 feet away, walked them through, walked them out, brought her in, did it again. We went and stood about 10 feet apart on the street and they said, “Yes, we liked it.” I said, “Great. Go home, let’s get on the phone.” And we wrote their offer, phone, and email, and they are pending on that house. That way a home that actually had been previously sold and had a COVID sale fail pop back on the market and they were lucky enough to scoop that one up.

Matt: Bonnie was just referring to some buyer clients that she recently helped. But the reason I wanted to talk to her this week was related to sellers that she’s working with. Earlier this month, Bonnie got a call from the Lynches, a couple that she just helped last August when they bought a new home in Portland. They called her a couple weeks ago to tell her it was time to sell, less than a year later in the middle of a pandemic. They had no choice, the husband got a new job and had to be in Colorado soon.

Now, the home is under contract right now and scheduled to close in about 2 weeks. Bonnie says two of the biggest challenges she had were pricing this home correctly and the timelines for Mrs. Lynch to follow her husband to Colorado. When should she give notice at her job? When was it safe to schedule the movers? Stuff like that. We’ll dive into those issues in just a bit, but first, I asked Bonnie to walk me through the process of getting the home on the market as quickly as possible with social distancing and so many other challenges to overcome.

Bonnie: COVID pandemic rules were fully under way, so I went gloves-and-mask with just him home, so again, only two people in the house. Normally, I would wanna be there when everybody was there but, you know, you just gotta do things a little differently. And at a great distance, I watched the house and he kind of stayed far away from me. And as we went through, I said, you know, “This sofa needs to move over here, this loveseat needs to go in that room, this daybed needs to get out and into storage,” and so forth. So we went through room by room with the things that I thought would help make it…you know, photograph the best, show the best, and sell the most quickly.

And they were very good about executing almost everything on my list. And so, we went on the market. Normally, in a normal market, I get all of my marketing pieces completely finished before I go on the market. And I have my listings go live at midnight on Monday with a hosted, catered brokers tour on Tuesdays. So that I invite my Realtor community to come and be fed and see what new listing I have and try to create excitement by having a lot of people in at once.

I find, during COVID, I really have the exact opposite feeling about it. I’m like, as soon as I have a price and a photograph, I wanna get it out there, start the word getting out there. And then, as I get in more pieces, I add them. So, you know, it takes days to edit a professional video, you might get that 4 days after the photographer was there. Well, that’s 4 days that a seller who has some serious need to move, for them to be going on the market during COVID, they have urgency, and that 4 days means something to them. So I’m like out the window with perfection, “Let’s just get it done.”

So we did that, we had our photos back on Friday. We went live with the listing on Friday late in the day because it took a little time to get that up and running.

Matt: That was Friday April 10th, if I remember correctly.

Bonnie: I think that’s right. Yeah, I think that sounds right.

So I had two immediate requests for showings. And, you know, I put the agents through their paces, you know, “Are you sure that they are pre-approved? Are you sure everybody’s in good health? Please wear gloves and masks. Only two people in the house at a time. There’s a hand-washing station, wash your hands when you go in.” All of that.

And so, we agreed to two showings for Saturday. I had the sellers leave for a couple of hours, told them not to come home until I had called them and told them that the house was clear and had told the two agents like, “Make sure you don’t step on anybody else’s time. And if you get there early, wait for them to leave,” and so forth.

And both of those buyers loved the property. One of them wrote an offer that afternoon and the other one said that they really wanted the house but it was at the top of their budget and that they couldn’t compete. So we reviewed the one offer, it only takes one — you know, in Portland, we’re kind of spoiled, we get used to this idea that if you don’t have at least half-a-dozen offers, something’s wrong. But really, if you have an occupied house during COVID and you can get one person in and they buy your house, that’s a dream. To me, that is a dream. I mean I’d rather have that.

So, you know, they came in with a good strong offer and it was well presented and they got their offer accepted. So that would have been the 11th, and closing is in 30 days. They had lots of inspections — they did a general home inspection, they had a sewer scope, they had a new radon test. Even though we had done sewer and radon just in August, they wanted to redo those things. They did decide they were comfortable with the underground-storage-tank locate service that we had done last summer, they didn’t do another one of those. But they had masonry specialists come out, they had an arborist come out. So they really inspected it quite thoroughly despite the circumstances.

Matt: All that is able to happen with the social-distancing requirements in place?

Bonnie: Yeah, so, not all inspectors are working, it is optional. But the inspectors that are working, the ones I know, they are not allowing buyers or Realtors to come, be present, which normally…you know, again, I’m usually at all my inspections but right now you just let the inspector go, you give him a 1-day code or whatever and you let them go, do their thing. And then, they send pictures and a report and you go through it later.

And luckily, those were things that were on the outside of the house. And so, I just told my homeowners, “When you see these professionals outside, please step inside. When they’re coming to pick up the radon test,” they have a little detached office structure, I said, “please take yourself and your dogs and go into the office until they leave the property.” You know, just do everything you can to make sure that you’re not crossing paths with folks.

Matt: How did you talk to them about the changes that coronavirus and COVID would have and how it would impact them as sellers, in terms of sanitation and cleanliness and disinfecting and that sort of thing?

Bonnie: Right. So, when we had that first phone call, I was hoping they would take off and give me like a long weekend or a week of them being out of town, take the dogs, go away. “Let me let people come and go and then you can sanitize on your way in.” And that just was not feasible for them. That definitely would be my first choice during COVID is either work with a vacant home or at least a temporarily vacant home. But they just weren’t in a position to do that, so…

You know, we went over how, instead of looking for trying to get the maximum number of people…and that’s normally the thing, you know, as I was saying earlier, I get all my marketing pieces together as perfect as I can. I get a meal catered, I try to create excitement and get as many people on the same couple of hours to be excited about a house to create competition. During COVID, it is the exact opposite. I’m trying to figure out how can I keep the people away from each other and still make them feel excited and like, “Hey, if I don’t do something, somebody else will,” it’s very hard because they can’t see that, they can’t feel it.

Which is, you know, price is very important in that situation, and presentation, how your photos are gonna look. The photos…I looked back at this home and it has sold I think three times maybe in the last decade, and so, I was digging back to all the old photos. And then, I looked at my photos and I was like…I felt very proud because, you know, it’s beautiful beautiful photography, like I went all out on having the best done for it so that it would really show impeccably. And, you know, when you get just two people in your home and they both want it, that’s a success.

Matt: The Lynches agreed to give their buyers a credit for some of the repairs suggested during inspection. Now, as of our conversation last week, everyone was still trying to figure out the appraisal. Would that be exterior only or would the appraiser need to go inside the home? Either way, the transaction is moving ahead and the closing is scheduled for the second week of May.

Bonnie told me that the biggest hurdle her sellers are facing now is the timeline. They didn’t wanna do a rent-back situation, but this transaction, like so many others right now, is filled with uncertainty. Will there be any issues with underwriting the buyer’s loan? Will the sale close on time? Is it safe for Mrs. Lynch to give her notice at work? Is it safe for her to schedule the movers to come get the furniture and everything else?

Bonnie: The Lynches were asking just yesterday like, “Are we safe to do these things?” And so, I texted, I said, “I’m gonna email you,” it was more words than I could get in a text. And I kind of spelled it out for them, “It just depends on how you wanna handle your risk.” The safest thing, because in real estate nothing is guaranteed until it has already happened, you don’t know for sure something is going to happen unless you can say it already happened. So, because of that, the safest thing would be, you know, to go back and say, “Hey, we changed our mind. Can we have one day after closing and move out after?”

If they don’t wanna try for that, the next best would be, you know, to move the day before closing, when you’re pretty darn sure you have loan documents there and everything, and not quit the job but plan on sofa-surfing your Air B&B or whatever and give the 2-weeks notice at that time and have the furniture pulled at the last minute.

And I haven’t heard yet what they’re gonna do because, you know, maybe they’re gonna take the leap of faith and go ahead today and give notice and make the move happen. They could wait, you know, till the 26th I think was the date that would still give them 2 weeks, so I’m waiting to hear how they’re going to handle that tough choice of weighing the financial risks of the leap of faith moving forward versus the financial risks of being conservative about that — but that costs money, you know? Like if they stay at an Air B&B for 2 weeks, that’s a big expense.

Matt: While the Lynches are working through the timeline challenges, Bonnie had a challenge of her own before the house even hit the market: how to price the home to sell. And remember, her clients were in a bit of a rush because Mr. Lynch had to get to Colorado quickly. And then, there was a really big unknown: how would the coronavirus pandemic impact home prices? The Lynches had just bought a home less than a year ago, so they were familiar with how the Portland market normally works. But this is not a normal housing market.

Bonnie: And so, we did have to do, you know, a pretty intense update on what was happening right now and the challenges that it…you know, some things are moving very very fast and some things are sitting on the market. I encouraged them to go with a very reasonable price, which they agreed to. So they purchased that home last year for, I believe it was $375,000, I asked them to put it on the market this year for $379,000 despite having done some work to the house. Not a big increase, roughly the same price, just a tiny little margin wiggle room there. And they agreed to that.

Matt: How did you come up with that number? What comps did you look at?

Bonnie: So, normally I like to use things that are like a month or 2 old ideally. Appraisers typically go back about 6 months, unless there’s some extenuating circumstance why they need to go farther than that. When pricing a house, my first choice is if there is a similar home that has gone pending in the last like 3 days. I like to get on the phone with that listing agent, or if I know who it is, that buyer’s agent, and say, “Can you tell me about how that experience went? How many offers did you get? Did it go way over?” you know, “did you get any all-cash offers?” I feel like that takes the temperature of what is happening right now.

When you’re looking at comparable homes that have closed sales, the best thing about that is that you actually know where it’s settled, after inspections and everything else, you know really what they got. It tells you what the value was. The problem is it tells you what the value was a month or more ago. Because most sales take at least 30 days to close. So, if it’s closed now, even if it closed yesterday, it went pending a month ago. And in all likelihood, it went pending 3 months ago and closed a months ago. And so, that’s always stale information.

So that’s COVID, no COVID — that’s my first choice is to take the temperature of what has happened right now. But when you get a home that there are not a lot of comps for, that’s really hard to do. And this is…you know, the Lynch’s home is this special little woodsy cabin filling home, there’s not a lot of places like that. It’s surrounded by much bigger, much more expensive properties.

COVID, I felt, was going to be having a significant impact, if not immediately, eventually, on price. As we face layoffs, that’s got to impact buying power and the size of the market. And people think, “Oh, you know, it’s the restaurant workers. They are not buying that many homes.” But what people forget is that it’s not just the restaurant workers because, as those restaurants shutter, they buy things from companies. They buy their coffee from a coffee company that has executives that are now at a company that doesn’t have a customer. So it’s going like veins to ripple throughout the economy, in my opinion.

So, because of that I felt very sensitive about what price needed to do to gain attention, and particularly with occupied homes, we’re really, instead of wanting dozens of people to come through, I really wanted just the right person to come through. So I actually felt, in the Lynch’s case, that their own sale of their own home, less than a year ago, was my very best comp. Because it appraised at that time, it had multiple offers when they bought it, that really bore out what the market was willing to do on that house pre-COVID. And yes, it would’ve had some increase by, say, February but I felt that that was likely eroded in March and April.

So, I’ve been looking at pricing of things trying to go back to around September, taking away the bump that the early spring gave. But also not hitting people with the doldrums of, you know, January. So I feel like around August September last year, maybe October, is a pretty good picture of where you should be now. Just like a reset. Not a big drop but just kind of taking away some of that gain that they would’ve seen in February and March.

Matt: And to make sure I understand what you’re saying there, and to make sure our listeners understand what you’re saying there, you don’t wanna rely on more recent sales because those are numbers — those are prices that, yes, they’re recent, but they would be recent and pre-COVID. And so, maybe they’re not as reliable as what the COVID market would indicate is at the right price.

Bonnie: And even if they are early COVID, I’m gonna say it’s not equal. I have another one that had gone on the market right before things really got shut down. People had heard about COVID but we weren’t really doing anything about it yet. That house, it had multiple offers, it was sale pending $36,000 above the asking price. And the gentleman buying it, he was moving to Portland because his fiance was here. And less than a week before closing, she got laid off. He decided he didn’t wanna own a house in Portland because maybe her work wouldn’t be here. And so, he terminated, forfeited his earnest money, and that house is now still on the market. You know, it’s sitting now waiting…all these repairs have been done. It got a new sewer line, it got a new radon mitigation system, and had an underground storage tank decommissioned. So, thousands of dollars of repairs were done. It got a new garbage disposal, and yet, it’s sitting at a price so much lower than what it was pending at. So, you know, it’s really scary to risk going back on the market. That’s a home that we had had beautifully staged, you know, and we had pulled the staging out because we were just days before closing. Less than a week before closing. And so, now it’s a vacant home with nothing in it.

So, COVID is making things very fragile, some things…you know, I know there was a new listing recently, they got three offers over the weekend. The weekend before, there was a listing that got 15 offers. It was a very unusual and spectacular home. It had a short-term rental in it and some other things. You know, it was a designer’s own home, it was really exquisite. So some things are flying and some things are sitting but it’s very fragile. And if you get a sale fail, you’re really at risk that the value is not gonna be the same as it was.

Matt: Let me ask you. It sounds like things are progressing, fingers crossed, you’re gonna have a closing in a couple weeks. What would you say has been the most difficult thing about this transaction?

Bonnie: I think this decision they’re facing right now about taking that leap of faith of sticking with their plan, Sonya giving notice at her job, and emptying out their house, and moving all of their possessions, and being in another state, and just gritting their teeth and crossing their fingers and toes and hoping everything closes as expected. I think right now that decision they need to make today or in the next few days is probably the hardest part because it’s nothing anybody can control. I can’t look forward and say, “Oh, I can for sure make this happen for you.” You know, I sent them an email and I said, “If hurdles come up, I will do everything I can to get through them but I can’t guarantee that no hurdles will come up.”

Matt: Yeah. It’s a situation where you…I mean, as an agent, you wanna guide and help but it’s out of your hands as well.

Bonnie: Yeah. I mean, if I had the say over everything, I would say, “Nobody should move out or give notice on jobs or order appliance or furniture,” nobody should do anything until after closing. Everybody should have a rent back if they’re in an occupied house. If you have a vacant home, then, by all means, you know, move forward with everything.

But, you know, I probably wouldn’t pull the staging out. I have some other people right now converting their home staging from the 2 months prepaid that they did, they’re gonna go ahead and convert today to the guaranteed staging, which sets a price that leaves it in there until closing. You know, just because we don’t know how long it’ll take.

Matt: Pricing challenges. Timeline questions. Disinfecting homes. Arranging in-person showings, inspections, appraisals — all while practicing social distancing and following your state or local guidelines. This is a time of crazy change and adaptation for real estate agents. No matter how successful you’ve been, no matter how long you’ve been doing this, you’ve probably learned something new in the last week or the last month. You’ve had to.

At the end of our conversation last week, I asked Bonnie what the past 6 weeks have been like for her, what’s helping her get through all this. She responded with two things that have been key for her. One, a willingness to change and grow. And two, treating her clients and others in the industry with grace and empathy.

Bonnie: For me, in my own business, relinquishing…this is how I’ve always done it, this is what I wanna do, this is how I like it. I’ve been an agent for just over 29 years in Portland, Oregon, and, you know, so I think I know something, right? You think you know something. But the truth is every day you have to be open to learning, “What new thing do I need to know?” And, you know, a few weeks ago, if somebody said, “Do you know how to do a Zoom call?” I would’ve been like, “What’s a Zoom call?” Right? “I guess I’ve heard of it, I don’t know.” And now I’d say more often than not my days include one or more Zoom calls. I think this is my third Zoom today.

So that’s just a small example of how, in my own life, that flexibility and adjustment, you know, having an agent go be my eyes and ears, then get me on a video call and show me properties, or show properties for me and bring me along. Attending closings by phone, or Zoom, or Hangouts, or, you know, all the different things options we have now, all of those changes every day, as situations present themselves, figuring out, “Okay, how do I adapt this? What’s the best way I can make this happen for my client?” and then, counseling the clients to try to embrace that same open flexibility of what is going to make this work. You know, it’s not like I can say, ‘Here’s what always works best. Let’s do that,” I have to say, “here’s what we’re up against in this situation today. Here are our options. What can you live with that can also make this situation work?” You know, “Okay, so you can’t go away for the weekend. Can you give me 4 hours? Can you go somewhere for 4 hours? Can you go just hang out in the car until I text you and tell you it’s okay to go back in your house?”

You know, and the clients, the buyers, the sellers, they just need to embrace that notion of flexibility and change and also consideration and grace of others. Because every single person, whether they’ve been directly impacted by COVID in terms of their own health or their family’s health, it doesn’t matter, every single person, their life is changed by this. So, being sensitive, giving others some room for what they need, exercising grace towards each other, you know, all of that is what makes things work in a positive way where everybody comes out with a winning situation. That’s how you get to the finish line with everybody feeling happy and intact.

(Speaker: Matt McGee, Host) I also had a chance, last week, to speak briefly with the Lynches, the homeowners that Bonnie is helping. They said they weren’t too worried about having to sell the home during this pandemic. They knew there wouldn’t be an open house and they also knew that Bonnie was taking all the right safety and cleanliness steps with the showings that they had. And as they told me that, I was thinking it really speaks to the value of having a great real estate agent on your side in every transaction. And as you know, that’s something we fully believe in here at HomeLight.

Okay, some quick takeaways from me after chatting with Bonnie about this sale. I think this story is all about flexibility and dealing with change. Bonnie talked about, at the beginning, changing how she put this home on the market. She said she wasn’t going to try to be perfect with this one and follow her system to a “T,” she said she needed to get it listed ASAP because her clients were on a deadline. She also talked about changing how she looked at comps, how she came up with a reasonable price for the home when this market is so different. And then, throughout the conversation, she talked about being flexible with other agents and their clients. Bonnie summed it up at the end when she mentioned being more sensitive and showing grace towards everyone involved in the transaction in order to get things to the finish line.

I’m curious how Bonnie’s experience compares to your experiences selling homes these days? Drop me a note any time, the email address is walkthrough [at] homelight.com. I promised a couple HomeLight updates, stay tuned for those right after the show.

In the meantime, that’s all for this week. Thanks to Bonnie Roseman for joining us. Thank you for listening. Remember, at HomeLight, we believe in real estate agents and we believe that, by helping agents like you be even better at serving your clients, the entire industry improves.

Stay in, be safe, and sell some homes. We’ll talk to you again next week. Bye-bye.

(OUTRO MUSIC)

Hi again everyone. I wanted to pass along a couple quick pieces of HomeLight company news that came out within the past week or so.

First, we launched Move Safe Certification, it’s a program to identify agents who are using the best tools, technology, and practices to help keep clients safe during the coronavirus pandemic. Agents on our platform are welcome to answer our Move Safe Certification questionnaire, I will link to that in the show notes of this episode.

Two, we also launched a COVID-19 resource hub with information for buyers, sellers, and agents. The hub answers common questions about how to buy or sell a home in these uncertain times and it also has links to all of our latest pandemic-related articles and podcasts. Our goal with this hub is to make sure you and your clients have the latest information and advice to safely conduct real estate business during the ongoing health crisis. Again, I’ll also have a link to that in today’s show notes.

So that’s all, thanks again for listening. We’ll see you next week. Bye-bye.

Header Image Source: (pegaziu / Shutterstock)

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