The job of a residential listing agent is generally to market a home in such a way as to attract as many potential buyers to view the property as possible.
They hold broker tours and open houses; present the property and all its unique features at office meetings and multi-brokerage marketing groups; they may even knock on doors -- all in the interest of enticing as many qualified buyers as possible to view the home they have been hired to sell.
On the other side, buyers’ agents present their clients’ needs in meetings with other Realtors. Plus, they drive their clients around to properties that seems a good fit, showing clients through multiple homes, room by room, until they find one to make an offer on.
Clearly, those strategies are not advisable in a time of global pandemic.
Some sellers and buyers may choose to wait out the quarantines. They may figure this is not a good time to buy or sell. Others may look around, see low inventory and extremely favorable interest rates, and figure this is the perfect time.
And then there are those who have to move. Maybe they have already sold their home and need to buy another one. Maybe their family has expanded and their current place is too small. Or their divorce is finalized. Or they recently retired or accepted a job in another city.
So how does real estate operate in times like this?
The good news is that residential real estate, along with affiliated businesses such as mortgage lending, appraising, and title and escrow, are considered “essential businesses” under federal and state guidelines.
(Alameda and Contra Costa counties are considering whether in-person showings are permitted under the terms of their countywide quarantines.)
Certainly, we all should take sensible precautions to ensure the health and safety of clients, agents and the greater community. Fortunately, the real estate industry has already been developing tools to more easily conduct business remotely.
Real estate and affiliated offices are closed, but most agents, loan officers, escrow officers and others are working from home. Appraisers have been authorized to conduct “drive-by’ appraisals, in which they do not have to enter the property.
Loan officers can get you pre-approved for a mortgage without ever meeting you. They can simply gather information over the phone, by email or regular mail.
For those looking to buy a home, that’s your first step anyway, so you may as well get started!
Your real estate agent can consult with you over the phone or via video chat through Zoom, Facetime or Skype. If he or she is a member of the California Association of Realtors, your agent has access to Zip Forms, which provides most necessary documents electronically. Those documents, including listing agreements, purchase contracts, addendums and disclosures, can be filled out and signed electronically by all parties.
Additionally, your agent likely subscribes to DocuSign, Digital Ink or one of the other software programs designed to facilitate electronic signatures. He or she will store signed documents in SkySlope, Agent Elite or another secure cloud-based system.
Instead of just still photographs, the listing may include professionally shot video tours, 3D tours and/or drone pictures to maximize a potential buyer’s virtual experience of the home. It may even be virtually staged.
Your agent will likely spend a lot more time than usual on the phone with agents who have listings, getting details that aren’t obvious even with excellent photographs, as well as inquiring about homes that will be coming to market soon.
Under ideal circumstances, sellers will move out before the home goes on the market. The home would then be wiped down, photographed and wiped down again to ensure everyone’s safety.
All inspections and required disclosures – maybe even all necessary repairs – would be completed prior to listing, so no one has to come to the property.
In-person viewings would be limited, if they occur at all. In fact, C.A.R. strongly recommends against any unnecessary in-person showings until the quarantine is lifted.
Buyers may choose to make offers “subject to” viewing the property once they are in contract. This practice has long been common in commercial real estate, and could be useful in residential real estate during this period.
Of course, not all circumstances are ideal.
If sellers are still living in the home, they need to make sure it is always spotlessly clean and that no occupant is sick or has been in contact with anyone who has the coronavirus.
If buyers insist they need to see the home in person before making an offer, and sellers and both agents agree, all are strongly advised to take extra precautions. Those precautions might include:
• Only showing to buyers who are not sick and have not been in contact with anyone who has the coronavirus. Prospective buyers may be asked to sign an affidavit to this effect.
• Only showing to buyers who are pre-approved and ready to make an offer.
• Limiting attendance to one agent and no more than two adult clients at a time, with all practicing recommended social distancing.
• Requiring everyone to remove their shoes and use hand sanitizer or wear gloves while touring the home. Some showing agents may prefer to open doors and cupboards themselves, using gloves or other protection, and carefully wiping down surfaces before exiting the property.
As part of the purchase contract, buyers may want to include the newly developed Coronavirus Addendum, which makes allowances for virus-related circumstances that could delay or disrupt the closing of the transaction.
Sellers are advised to discuss possible repercussions with their agent before agreeing to this addendum.
The one time when buyers and sellers will need to interact with someone, mask-covered face to mask-covered face, is at the signing of closing documents. Certain documents must have wet signatures, so title companies will arrange for a notary to come to their homes.
If you are thinking about buying or selling property, or just have questions regarding market conditions or other real estate-related matters, contact your local Realtor today.
Cher Wollard is a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Drysdale Properties in Livermore.