In the Trenches: Doing Business During the Pandemic

Real estate practitioners share candid, inspiring tales of how they've adapted to working through the crisis.
two agents in their cars during a closing, sharing leads

© Steve Musgrave

We asked agents to share their experiences of working through a period that has felt surreal, scary, and, at times, confounding. They recount here how they continued to go the distance to serve clients efficiently and safely, ever mindful of social distancing protocols. Learn how tech tools, new processes, and sheer instinct helped them power through. Their reflections offer inspiration for everyone in real estate making their way during these unsettled times. Stories curated and edited by NAR's Wendy Cole, Frederik Heller, Hathaway Hester, and Emily Swenson.

The More Things Change...

My April 9 closing was anything but ordinary. While I met with my clients to prepare the closing documents, we sat over 6 feet apart, protected ourselves with gloves and face masks, and even avoided sharing pens. As it dawned on me that this was the first closing in 16 years that would not end with a celebratory handshake or hug, I was reminded of something else—this is what REALTORS® do. We deal with whatever we’re faced with. Unforeseen circumstances are our normal. Throughout my career I’ve always put my clients first, finding solutions to (often) last-minute challenges. In the midst of trying times, my client knew she was my top priority and we sold her home—sans handshake.

Leslie Wollard, Keller Williams on the Water, Bradenton, Fla.

Racing the Clock

My clients moved to San Francisco last November with two small children in tow and were having trouble selling their home in Nashville, Tenn. When they finally got an offer in early March, they accepted it. The family had been renting an apartment and were eager to start their Bay Area home search. They waited 20 days for the closing papers, and on the exact day the papers were set to arrive and be notarized, the state of California went into lockdown. My clients felt like they were racing against the clock to print out their closing documents and find the last open notary in the area. After this wake-up call, I knew I had to set in place procedures for virtual closings, notaries, and home tours. Adjusting to the new normal was daunting at first, but I have found joy and a refreshed passion for the real estate community amid the changes. My clients are happy and safe in San Francisco, and I have had six virtual showings over the two weeks that followed.

Sher Powers, CRS, Urbane Residential Specialists, Nashville, Tenn.

Car Talk

I had back-to-back closings on March 20, at the start of social distancing for businesses. Real estate was designated an essential business in Oklahoma, and luckily everything came together for the transaction without delays. However, brokers were not permitted in the title office during the closing. We had to stay in our cars the whole time, waiting in the parking lot in case there were questions.

My client did not like this arrangement, but we had no choice. I figured if I complained about the process, my anxious client would be even more nervous. I just went with the flow. The buyer went in to sign first, came back out, and then the seller went inside. The poor closer was running back and forth from the office to the parking lot. It was a windy, 40-degree day, and I felt sorry for her with it being so cold. She even got locked out of her office once and had to run around to the back door to get inside. I signed a HUD certification on the hood of the car. We got it done, but it felt surreal and ridiculous.

On the upside, while the cooperating broker and I were out in our cars for those two hours, we rolled down our windows and had a great conversation. I had a young couple who had been looking, without much luck, for a home in his area. I asked if he knew of anything coming on the market soon for around $125,000. He actually had one and texted the owner for details. I showed it to the couple the next day, as we stayed six feet apart. They loved it and bought it. The closing was set for early May.

Gail Scott, CRS, RE/MAX Cobblestone, Midwest City, Okla.

Going Commercial

It was my first commercial property transaction, an almost million-dollar deal, and then the COVID-19 pandemic happened. I’ve only had my license since June 2019, so this was a big and intimidating step. The purchase was for my husband’s catering business. He needed a bigger building, and I found a former restaurant in foreclosure that had been vacant for two years. It seemed ideal. Because of the shutdown, my husband’s business closed temporarily as events were canceled for March, April, and May. Not surprisingly, the lender didn’t approve the loan. He went to another bank that asked for more extensive paperwork. The whole process got very stressful, but he was approved. We finally closed at the end of April and we couldn’t be happier! My broker was there for me, educating me as we went along. My first commercial sale happened during a pandemic. I won’t let anything stop my real estate career. I’m very grateful.

Patty Vesh, SRES, Keys to the Bay Real Estate, Tampa, Fla.

My First “Sight Unseen” Buyer

illustration of video tour

© Steve Musgrave

A local friend referred a client to me who was transferring to the area from Michigan for his job. This was at the end of March, two weeks into the pandemic, and the client said he’d probably have to buy a home sight unseen. That was something I’d never experienced, but we’d been talking at the office already about how to handle that kind of situation, so I was ready. Donning masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer, my teenage son and I showed them four homes via WhatsApp. We did detailed video tours that I narrated, opening cabinets and closets and looking behind doors. We walked around the exterior and shared all the pluses and minuses of the home. Because the client wasn’t familiar with the area, we even took a tour of the neighborhood and met a few locals. We spent at least 45 minutes at each house compared to the 20 minutes that an in-person showing usually takes.

He made an offer on one that looked good on the surface but needed updating, which would save him money. It was accepted. The closing date was set for June, but my client wouldn’t be able to check out his house in person until after it became his. It’s amazing what technology can do for our business.

Daniel Damesek, Coldwell Banker Realty, Westfield, N.J.

Three’s a Crowd

I had a listing for a custom-built home on 24 acres with a pond and some streams. There was a lot of activity on it, including several offers that weren’t quite acceptable to the seller. Then COVID-19 hit and he didn’t want people coming into his home. We still had interested buyers, but we couldn’t show it to them. I convinced the owner to do a Zoom tour with three sets of buyers and their agents at 6 p.m. on a Friday. I used my iPad while the seller led the way and opened doors. We were available to answer questions in real time, although the buyers could ask questions privately afterwards if they chose to. No one seemed hesitant about the group gathering. In fact, it seemed to make the buyers act more quickly, knowing others were interested. We had two offers and went under contract before midnight.

Tim Atkins, ABR, SRES, Allen Tate, REALTORS®, Oak Ridge, N.C.

By Their Side, Across the Street

My clients Jen and Jack were pursuing their dream of living near the ocean, which meant relocating their family from upstate New York to Florida. Over the past year, we’d toured nearly 40 houses together. I was confident I knew what they were looking for. Still, when the “one” came on the market, with my buyers sheltering in place in New York, I was a bit nervous as to what we were going to do.

I ended up doing a two-hour virtual tour with them over FaceTime. We all agreed the home was perfect for them and they bought it. I attended the inspection on their behalf. When Jen and Jack travel with their three kids and all their belongings to a home they’ve never set foot in, their plan is to quarantine themselves for 14 days. My plan is to stock their kitchen with groceries before they arrive. I’m doing whatever I can to make life easier for them. When they tour their forever home for the first time, I expect to be right there with them, standing across the street on FaceTime.

Pamela McCowen, RE/MAX Signature, Ormond Beach, Fla.

BYO Gear

This is a critical time to have comprehensive listing images. I’ve been avoiding doing real-time tours using FaceTime or any other video phone call interface because the resolution is far worse than in HD or 4K recordings. Instead, I use my own equipment to record 3D home tours that show everything there is to see. On the buyer’s side, people don’t want to get all masked up and go out unless they have a reasonably good idea of what they’re getting. I also work with out-of-town buyers who aren’t traveling. Of course, buyers have access to marketing materials and virtual tours from listing agents. What they can’t see are drawbacks that I would otherwise point out in person. So with the sellers’ permission, I record video, including my own commentary about the house, edit it, and share it with my clients. I let sellers and agents know it won’t be posted publicly. I warn sellers that my 3D tours will drive down in-person showings, but they should want people to vet the home thoroughly before coming into their air space. To me, it’s about Article 12 of the Code of Ethics—always paint a true picture in marketing. This is especially important now when people’s health is at risk. Increasing showings is not a valid reason to put anyone’s life in jeopardy.

Matt Difanis, ABR, CIPS, RE/MAX Realty Associates, Champaign, Ill.