Editor’s note: All of HomeLight’s coronavirus information for buyers, sellers, and agents is available on our COVID-19 hub.
Coronavirus is actively changing the mechanics of selling a home in a way that could have long-lasting and even permanent effects — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The need to suddenly practice social distancing and restrict movement has accelerated innovation and technology in a space that’s traditionally been paperwork-heavy and people-driven.
Even after the pandemic subsides, buyers and sellers are going to remain cautious and leery of contact with others, and new tactics that enhance efficiency and streamline clunky processes could be here to stay.
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Here are 5 really creative and productive solutions emerging out of the crisis that could carry on well into the future, even in calmer conditions.
1. Listing appointments are becoming video calls
If your house isn’t already on the market, don’t be surprised if your real estate agent proposes a virtual meeting to kick off next steps with listing your property.
“With my listing appointments, I do a Zoom call and then I share my screen and show properties that are similar and comparable,” says Cynthia Burke, a top real estate agent in Hartford, Connecticut. “Pretty much anything [the client] is looking to find out I can pull up on my computer. And I have to be honest, it’s actually better than sitting in front of them, asking for the WiFi, scooting around on the computer; it’s less awkward.”
These are benefits that could prove useful long after coronavirus has abated. “It’s saving everyone involved time, money, and gas and I see no reason to go back to the way things were done before,” says Tom Hall, a top agent in Oklahoma City. “Gary Vaynerchuck says you have to innovate or die; and I truly believe that staying at the forefront is what will continue to help my clients succeed.”
2. Open houses are taking on a new life online
While virtual tours have long been on the rise as a complement to great photos, agents are using technology more than ever to promote their listings and put houses in front of potential buyers during coronavirus.
“We are trying virtual open houses,” says Burke. “The open houses go live on Facebook, and we have links to our listings with a virtual walkthrough so people can see if they’re interested in property without [physically] seeing it.”
Not only do virtual events and walkthroughs adhere to social distancing guidelines, they save time. Sellers don’t have to leave their homes and invite a hoard of strangers into their space. And no one has to drive across town to view a property that may or may not prove to be a good fit.
In Madison, Wisconsin, top agent Jen Stauter is also using the digital tools to show houses. “We’ve switched to holding virtual open houses; that is something we’re in our third week of doing,” says Stauter. “We give a Zoom link and we let people join in, we also have it on Facebook live and make it a Facebook event.”
For as tactile of a business as real estate tends to be — after all, if someone is considering moving into a house, they want to experience the space in person — people are receptive to the virtual walkthrough experience, similar to how they’ve come around to virtual gatherings with family and friends.
“People are used to, ‘Oh, open house, I can just come in!’ and it’s like, ‘Nope, this is virtual,’ so that was probably the biggest thing; getting people to realize that it was virtual. But now, people really dig it,” says Stauter.
While agents are likely to resume conventional open houses eventually, having the option to go virtual gives sellers another tool to reach potential buyers who may still favor limited contact this year and beyond.
3. Buyers are having to prove they’re serious to gain access to a property
As long as requests are in accordance with the Fair Housing Act, now more than ever it’s becoming common practice to ask for qualifications before buyers start coming and going from others’ homes.
During a global pandemic, and when the visit involves a potential purchase of many thousands of dollars, those credentials are ideally in the form of a mortgage pre-approval letter.
“To a degree, [agents] are taking some risk when they’re out showing and they want to make sure that folks are, you know, sincere,” says Stauter, who says that her team has been asking for pre-approval when scheduling showings amid the pandemic.
They expect that this will continue.
“Whether it’s a year or two years — whatever that number is, I don’t know — but the new norm is going to be different than what we’re used to,” says Matt Kornstedt, who works with Stauter in the Madison, Wisconsin area and has been selling real estate for 23 years.
4. Showing appointments are getting some boundaries
Virtual walkthroughs and pre-approval requests are great for weeding out the tire-kickers and nosy neighbors, but as sight-unseen purchases are still fairly rare, a serious buyer will eventually need access to the house.
Though it’s tempting to be ultra-accommodating as the economy enters what’s expected to be a challenging recession, sellers should expect these restrictions on in-person showings for the foreseeable future:
- Scheduling will accommodate just one client party at a time; no overlapping visits
- Sellers will need to turn on all the lights before showing and open up closets and cabinets to minimize contact
- Agents will help sellers post protocols or other directives for visitors in the home, i.e.; don’t use toilets, avoid touching surfaces
- When possible, disposable gloves or wipes for use while opening doors, cabinets, etc. will be provided to buyers
- Walkthroughs will be bound by time limits and buyers will be asked not to linger
Although some of these restrictions will likely ease up eventually, it’s hard to say when that will be possible or whether sellers will ever again be fully comfortable inviting strangers through their home in a revolving-door fashion. It’s likely that some of these restrictions will have a long shelf life.
5. Digital or mobile solutions are replacing the closing table
The pandemic has created some pressure to innovate around home closings that were traditionally conducted in an office setting. Agents are getting creative by offering to do:
- Curbside closings that allow clients to sign documentation from the comfort of their garage, porch, or even through an exterior window of the home
- Drive-in closings where clients meet in some kind of lot (directed by signage), and sign documents from their car — either with the windows open or by slipping the paperwork through a narrow crack
- Mail-in closings where clients receive their documentation in the mail, sign from home, and mail it back or drop it off in a safe location
- E-signature when possible using software like DocuSign
At the same time, the coronavirus has accelerated adoption of remote online notarization (RON) — which allows documents to be notarized on an online audio-visual communication platform — by states that previously didn’t allow it or weren’t set up to facilitate it.
While many of the new RON rules are temporary emergency measures, it’s hard to see how this situation wouldn’t change the way this technology is used and perceived forever. States are being forced to prioritize it, and many are setting up the systems to make it possible moving forward.
What does the future hold?
Given the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, no one can state with certainty how long this will last and what the real estate industry will look like in the aftermath. Fortunately, we have technology on our side and folks are still able to buy and sell homes — perhaps using methods that, when you think about it, are actually an improvement from the old days.
“It’ll be interesting to see how all of this changes when this is over,” says Kornstedt. “Whether we keep doing the virtual meetings, the virtual showings first. We may have actually changed the industry, as far as how we do things.”
Header Image Source: (Taylor Simpson / Unsplash)