The COVID pandemic has made some homebuyers reluctant to visit properties for sale any more than they have to. Some agents are likewise wary of too much in-person interaction. So, are agents making any interesting innovations in how they sell a property or taking advantage of new technological innovations to make the process safer and easier for buyers and sellers?
According to some agents, not much new technology has been invented in response to COVID, but pre-existing technologies have become more important. They also agree that concerns about visiting properties have largely dissipated. However, now that people have gotten used to virtual tours and sanitary precautions, these visits usually come later in the process, after a property has been thoroughly vetted from a distance. The upside to this is that physical visits are more likely to result in sales since marginally interested house-hunters now tend to weed themselves out before they’ve asked for a showing.
Technology Improves Safety
Technology helps agents agree. But the in-person visit (with a little extra distancing) is still essential.
Jack Cotton, Jr., who sells luxury homes on Cape Cod at the Osterville, Mass. office of Sotheby’s International Realty, remarks that in-person showings are coming back strong after they had almost come to a halt earlier this year. In the meantime, he has developed a protocol for “healthy showings.” In the first part of the year, he recalls, he would hold one or two virtual showings a week, with up to 800 prospective buyers logging in for a tour. But he hasn’t done many of these events lately.
“Homes sell so fast in this market, and buyers would rather see the property in person,” he says. “Nowadays, we skip ahead to the live showing, which a few months ago was the last step in the protocol. The good things about the virtual tours were, first, they attracted prospects from all over the country, and, second, the tours stay on the Web.
Cotton says Zoom calls and other remote options are still available, and he went all-remote for a property where the owner was 95 years old and still on-premises.
“Nobody finds our precautions onerous,” he concludes. “Now the issue is inventory. It’s October: people should be gone from here but they’re not. We have a private school up the street where enrollment has doubled.”
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Agents Who Use Technology To Their Advantage Are Positioned For Success
Creig Northrop, CEO of Northrop Realty (Clarksville, Md.) remarks that the real estate industry has had the necessary tools for a pandemic situation for a long time—but the current crisis has taught agents to use them to their best advantage. The learning curve, he says, has been steep but manageable.
“We are now able to fully leverage the exceptional technology that is available,” he says. “Buyers have multiple ways that they can purchase their dream home without ever stepping foot inside the house. Our fusion and aerial photography, virtual tours, and Matterport 3D walkthroughs allow the buyer to feel like they virtually live in the house already. We’ve adapted to making everything virtual, from staging to settlement—limiting the disturbance of the seller, more than ever.”
Northrop notes that now is “an amazing time if you’re a seller.” Pictures sell homes, he says, so listing agents should not scrimp on photography.
“People have different definitions of ‘luxury’ real estate, but people are looking for luxuries now, more than ever,” he says. “Buyers ask themselves, ‘What kind of house do we want to be quarantined in?’ Buyers are re-defining their wants and needs. I call it the rightsizing mindset.”
The Basics of the Real Estate Business Remain the Same
Nina Hatvany, who heads Team Hatvany in San Francisco, admits that in-person showings are harder to arrange in some parts of the country, but many buyers still insist on them, especially in a market like San Francisco where many architectural styles are in play. If she’s on the listing side, she says, she relies on the buyer’s agent to vouch for the prospect, to inform that prospect of the floor plans, so that every showing will be to a “qualified buy.”
“I’ve had buyers contact me recently to say ‘I’ve been looking for myself, but I’m getting pushback from listing agents because they don’t know who I am, so I need a good agent to introduce me,’” she says. “I talk to the buyer about what they’re looking for, make sure they’re qualified for financing, and that they have they checked the neighborhood. Older people are more concerned than younger people about risking infection. It’s reassuring when the listing agent has everything in place: gloves, sanitizers, disposable masks.”
As for the general principles of doing business during the pandemic, Hatvany says, the basic principles remain the same.
“Our signs are visible around town; we’re active in the community,” she elaborates. “People know us; they ask us questions about real estate. Looking at houses is a pretty simple process, but buyers want advice about the structure of a property, the neighborhood, and all the issues that determine whether the house is a good investment. The barriers to becoming a real estate agent are pretty low; the best way to succeed is to attach yourself to a mentor, become a team member, gain experience with different situations.”