Editor’s note: All of HomeLight’s coronavirus information for buyers, sellers, and agents is available on our COVID-19 hub.
Canceling your open house (or taking it virtual) was step one. Now, if you’re selling a home during the coronavirus pandemic, you’re looking for ways to batten down the hatches when it comes to physical house showings, too.
Most homebuyers will request to tour a property in-person before they’ll submit an offer, making it difficult for anyone to eliminate showings altogether. However, there’s also no need for you to accommodate the casual browser or take on unnecessary risk.
In the spirit of keeping everyone safe, new protocols and policies around who can gain physical access to a home are becoming commonplace, while tools like virtual tours are helping to minimize the need for foot traffic.
With careful vetting and a great online presence for your home, you can sell it without a parade of people coming through. Just follow these tips and work with your agent to ensure that showing appointments are limited to serious buyers only.
Market your property using a virtual tour
In 2020 you have an array of robust tools and technology at your disposal to give buyers a highly realistic experience of your home online — which allows them to either identify your home as a strong match for their needs, or rule it out entirely. This helps cut back on showing requests immensely.
“We ask that the buyer’s agent shows our listing video to their clients first before ever stepping foot into the home,” says top-selling Spokane, Washington-based agent Cambria Henry.
In addition to quality listing photos, make sure your listing features one of the following:
- Recorded video walkthrough (guided by the person behind the camera)
- 3D or 360-degree self-navigable tour (allows buyers to interact and navigate a home virtually at their own leisure)
- Listing video (produced, usually with high-quality video and music, to show a home’s highlights)
Your agent might offer some insight as to which type of virtual tour would elevate your listing the most — but the important thing is that you have one. A cyber tour of some kind helps buyers imagine your home’s layout and simulates the experience of walking through the property in a way that photos alone can’t.
To avoid a shaky or unprofessional-looking video, it’s probably easiest to let your agent create the tour on your behalf. Your agent will likely have a go-to app or platform they use like Ricoh Tours, Immoviewer, or Matterport.
Offer to do remote showings
A virtual or remote showing is a live, hosted house tour over a platform like FaceTime or Zoom. Virtual showings can be offered to buyers one-on-one, so it’s more like the traditional showing experience. Your agent can adjust the camera for close-ups, answer questions live, and spend more time in certain areas of your home upon the buyer’s request.
“We do offer virtual showings rather than meeting in person, especially if there is any question about how serious they are,” says Henry. “If they’re still interested after seeing the video, then we’re happy to set an appointment.”
To capture the footage needed for a virtual showing — or to host a remote showing to your behalf — an agent will need access to your home. However, agents are accommodating clients by keeping six feet away, wearing masks and gloves, and carrying disinfecting wipes.
If you’d like to minimize contact with your agent, another option is to tag-team virtual showings. It’s a little unconventional (what isn’t in these times?), but you can host the tour from your home, inviting your agent, the buyer, and the buyer’s agent to meet virtually on a platform of your choice.
If you’re comfortable leading the call, go for it. If not, let your agent direct the conversation from their remote location while you walk around and show buyers what they want to see.
You can even practice with your agent before the real thing.
Show the surrounding neighborhood
One problem with virtual showings and video walkthroughs is that buyers are viewing your home in a vacuum. In other words, buyers may fall in love with your home online, only to realize that they don’t like the neighborhood. But, too late! They’ve already booked a physical showing and “might as well take a look.”
This is the definition of an unnecessary showing.
To avoid this:
“When we do video recordings of our listings, we include the surrounding neighborhood as well for buyers to view before they request an in-person showing,” says Henry.
You may also want to require that buyers’ agents conduct what some agents are calling “preliminary showings” before scheduling an in-person appointment.
During a preliminary showing, the buyer’s agent drives their client by the house to view your home’s curb appeal from the street. They’ll also take a drive around the neighborhood to ensure the area is a good fit before booking that in-person walkthrough.
Ask for a pre-approval letter or proof of funds
One of the best ways to limit showings to serious buyers is to require a pre-approval letter from a lender or proof of funds as a matter of course.
“Sellers can require buyers to show proof of pre-approval or proof of funds before accepting a showing. Just make sure that they’re actually pre-approved, and not just prequalified,” says Henry.
Here’s why a pre-approval is going to be a better indication of whether a buyer can afford your home:
- To get pre-qualified, a buyer only has to provide a lender with an estimated overview of his or her financial picture. Typically, a buyer can do this online and obtain a pre-qualification letter in a few minutes. The catch with a pre-qualification is that the lender doesn’t verify the buyer’s information.
- With a pre-approval, the lender will ask the buyer to complete all or most of a mortgage application so they can analyze the applicant’s financial background and credit reports. A pre-approval is much stronger than a pre-qualification since the lender conducts at least a partial investigation of the buyer’s finances.
So, require pre-approval. And make sure that the letter is recent (ideally no more than a few weeks old).
Keep in mind, too, that a pre-approval letter is still not a full commitment to lend. If the buyer loses their job before closing — which is a real risk with tens of millions of Americans losing their jobs right now — the mortgage can still fall through.
If you have a buyer interested in paying for your home with cash (which could definitely be to your benefit as the seller considering the aforementioned job losses), ask them to provide a bank-issued proof of funds letter before granting them access to your home.
There is yet another option on the table for sellers who need further evidence that buyers are serious:
“Sellers can choose to limit buyer access to their home until after an offer has been accepted,” says Henry. “We do that all the time with investors when there’s a tenant living in the rental property they’re purchasing.”
Request that visitors sign a COVID-19 certification form or liability waiver
In a pandemic, in-person showings come with a degree of risk for all involved. Buyers and their agent could potentially contaminate a seller’s home, or a buyer might unknowingly enter the home of a seller who’s carrying the virus.
Some agents have taken steps to protect their sellers and mitigate any potential legal issues by having all parties sign a COVID-19 certification form or a liability waiver.
“We’re working on a liability waiver for buyers to sign stating that they won’t come to any showings if they have any COVID-19 symptoms,” explains Henry. “It also states that we won’t be held accountable if anyone were to contract COVID-19 after the showing.”
These forms are signed by everyone present at the showings, including the agents, and asks every party to confirm that they have not tested positive for COVID-19, they’ve had no COVID-19 related symptoms within the past 14 days, and they have not come into recent contact with anyone who has tested positive.
Avoid fair housing violations when restricting access
It’s only natural to ask a lot more questions of the people you let into your house during a pandemic. But you have to be careful to avoid violating the Fair Housing Act (FHA) in your efforts to protect yourself.
The FHA prohibits discrimination against on the basis of race, color, familial status, religion, gender, national origin, or disability. The best way to avoid any hint of an FHA violation is to ask the exact same questions of every buyer.
“If you’re going to require a pre-approval letter, or proof of funds, or ask questions about health, you need to require the same thing of every single person that tries to schedule a showing,” explains Henry. “The best way for sellers to guard against violating the Fair Housing Act is to create a checklist and uniformly complete it with every potential buyer.”
Safety first when showing your home
Once you’ve agreed to let a buyer into your house, you need to know that your agent is taking every precaution to keep your house virus-free. As the seller, you can help by turning on all the lights and opening up doors, closets, and cabinets to minimize touching of surfaces.
“We have strict protocols in our state and we take those safety precautions very seriously,” explains Henry. “We hand buyers gloves, booties, and sanitizing wipes before they even enter the home. We also ask that they touch as little as possible, and keep the wipe handy if they do touch anything.”
“We’re also required to stay six feet away from our clients, and we don’t allow two buyers into the house at the same time. So if the buyers are husband and wife, one of them has to wait in the car and then switch places.”
Don’t be afraid to adopt a similar policy.
Adapting in the time of coronavirus
Before coronavirus was at the forefront of everyone’s minds, home showings were — at worst — an inconvenient part of selling your house. Without thinking twice, sellers would accommodate an appointment and open up their doors. Anyone who expressed interest in touring a home could have their buyer’s agent book a time without much pushback.
Now, everyone can agree, showings can’t be as loose as they once were.
If you’re looking for an agent who’s equipped to help you adapt to selling a home during the coronavirus — including navigating new protocols around home showings — HomeLight can help you find an agent who’s not only at the top of their market but is also Move Safe Certified. That means they’re using the best tech, tools, and practices (like helping sellers create virtual tours and create a clear showings policy) to serve clients in these uniquely challenging times.
Header Image Source: (Serhii Krot / ShutterStock)