The first cases of COVID-19 were recorded in China at the end of 2019, and now, months later, there are millions of confirmed cases across the globe. In addition to the public health consequences, COVID-19 is having a devastating effect on the global economy. Almost every industry is being affected in some way, and real estate is no exception.
Historically, spring is the high season for U.S. home shopping. In recent years, online real estate search activity begins to ramp up in March and April, leading to a peak in sales in June and July. However, the strict stay-at-home measures implemented in March and April put a strain on the real estate industry. So far, studies have shown a decrease in home listings by more than 30%, according to realtor.com®, an uncharacteristically high drop for this time of year. This anomaly is the result of a market affected by COVID-19. Asking prices have also recently reached the slowest year-over-year growth rate since 2013.
But the drop in mortgage rates to an all-time low of 3.13% in June has been a win for buyers. As a result, the real estate industry is not at a complete standstill. Yet because the pandemic is still very much with us, real estate professionals who are able to do showings have to take precautions. Here are four suggestions for steps brokers and agents can take to keep themselves and their buyers and sellers safe in the new normal.
1. Postpone in-person showings in highly affected areas.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends limiting unnecessary contact as much as possible. In many areas, this means pressing pause on open houses and home showings, especially in markets with high local rates of infection. In places where brokers and agents offer face-to-face, in-person showings, they should wear masks and remain 6 feet away from their clients while in a location.
2. Use technology as an alternative.
Video is a great option for showing properties to clients. Use 3D home tours, aerial footage, and virtual neighborhood tours to give clients a comprehensive understanding of the property from the comfort and safety of their own homes. Real estate pros who are not equipped to take video footage of a property themselves should consider hiring a company to do so. Agents should also consider scheduling virtual showing appointments using Zoom or FaceTime to present the listing to clients.
Alternatively, agents can host a livestream showing event on social media. Since this is an activity that does not require other people, agents will be safely alone in the listing while generating buzz around the property.
Implementing a smart lock system is another option to allow clients to see a property in person, but without an agent present. With a smart lock system, sellers or agents can control entry to the property remotely using a smartphone or provide visitors with a one-time access code. This technology can also track entries and exits, limit access to certain time periods, and add value to the house. This option has been growing in popularity with agents since before the pandemic because it helps increase the number of possible house viewings. In this time, it has become an even more worthwhile investment.
3. Take extra safety precautions.
Despite all the virtual options available, many buyers still want to see a property before they purchase it. For agents who are permitted and choose to continue offering in-person walk-throughs, it is important to take safety precautions. Instead of holding an open house and allowing people to show up at any time, offer time slots for walk-throughs, so people can come and check out the property without additional exposure to strangers. Advise anyone who arrives early that they must wait in their car or outside of the property, maintaining 6 feet of distance from other viewers.
Keep doors, drawers, and cabinets open to prevent guests from touching things as they move around the property, and asking them to wear booties to limit external contaminants. Wiping down all surfaces with disinfectant will help prevent cross-contamination among visitors.
4. Stay current on news and changes.
With the rate at which the situation is changing, it is difficult to predict the long-term effect that COVID-19 will have on the real estate industry. If mortgage lending isn’t overly affected, real estate will continue to be a good option for people looking for less volatile investments in a financially tumultuous time.
For the time being, it is essential that every real estate company makes a conscious effort to keep their agents, staff, and clients safe in the hopes of flattening the curve and helping business return to normal as soon as possible.