Nearly a quarter of home sellers are changing how their home is viewed during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, according to a survey from the National Association of Realtors. Open houses are being canceled, virtual tours are being encouraged, and requirements for buyers who view homes like removing their shoes or wearing footies, washing their hands or using hand sanitizer, and other changes are being made.
So far, Realtors who took part in this survey don’t seem to report a significant decrease in overall homebuyer interest, but many real estate companies and professionals are encouraging digital solutions to the concerns over the spread of the disease.
If your company hasn’t started to offer solutions like remote work, virtual tours, and digital closings, now may be the time to start. Not only does it make good sense as a measure to fight what the World Health Organization is now calling a pandemic, but offering more virtual and digital solutions will only better serve your customers in the future.
Tips for Real Estate Professionals to Reduce the Spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19)
By now (hopefully), you are aware of the following measures to reduce the risk of contracting and spreading of COVID-19:
- Stay home if you have a fever, cough, shortness of breath or any flu-like symptoms
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid touching your face.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or cough or sneeze into your sleeve.
For Real Estate Agents, there are additional concerns and considerations. Whatever precautions you decide to take, be sure to apply the new practices equally to all clients so that you are in compliance with fair housing laws. Some measures that real estate professionals are taking include:
For Buyer and Seller Agents
- No longer driving clients to showings in their own car
- Suspending open houses
- Requiring visitors to a listing to disinfect their hand upon entering the home
- Requiring visitors to remove shoes
- Recommending clients to clean and disinfect their homes, especially commonly touched areas like doorknobs and faucet handles
- No longer shaking hands
- Offering more video and virtual tours of properties
- Consider adding a clause to your real estate contracts like this to clarify each party’s obligations during the pandemic instead of relying on general force majeure language
For Brokers and Title Company Offices
- Implement a mandatory policy requiring staff or agents to stay home if they show any signs of illness
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces in the office
- Depending on your location, you may want to impose a mandatory work from home policy, especially if your local government is closing schools and barring public gatherings
- Cancel in-person meetings or events and hold virtual meetings instead
- Limit in-office settlements to one conference room that can be easily cleaned and disinfected after each closing
- Have closing documents reviewed by clients and questions asked and answered before the closing, so you only need to conduct a quick “point-and-sign” closing
- Do not schedule buyers and sellers at the same time and discourage any unnecessary parties from attending
- Use disposable pens or encourage signers to bring their own
- Suspend business travel if possible
- Continue to monitor updates from the CDC as well as your state and local health authorities
- Implement or leverage any digital tools like eSignature, eClosing, remote notarization, and other automation tools that make your title company more efficient
Of course, if you’re in charge of a closing or trying to schedule showings of a house, it’s hard to imagine going fully digital at this point, even if you live in one of the states that allow remote online notarization. Not all closing agents are up and running with the new technology. In fact, the 2019 Voice of the Title Agent report showed that only 15.3% of agents are currently doing eClosings.
Flattening the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Curve
Additionally, there are conflicting recommendations from various officials and organizations regarding who should self-quarantine and for how long. At this point in time, the worst-case scenario laid out by the National Institutes of Health official Dr. Anthony Fauci is to expect disruptions to our daily lives, working from home, and limiting in-person social interactions for at least eight weeks.
“It’s certainly going to get worse before it gets better.” NIH official Dr. Anthony Fauci says it could be up to “eight weeks or more” of shutdowns and working from home as COVID-19 cases continue to surge in the U.S. https://t.co/OSp7OkbziN pic.twitter.com/bS1IQiAy58
— Good Morning America (@GMA) March 13, 2020
The CDC is recommending that gatherings with more than 50 people be canceled for the next two months. These control measures are meant to delay or “flatten” the rate of new cases. This could mean the difference between recovering in an ICU bed with a ventilator or being treated in a hospital’s parking lot tent.
While it may sound like an overreaction to self-quarantine or engage in social distancing if you haven’t been knowingly exposed to the virus or a member of a high-risk group, the purpose is to stymie the number of cases as much as possible. Restricting your mobility over the next few weeks will reduce the spread of the virus to vulnerable populations and help lessen the strain on the healthcare system.
“If it looks like you’re overreacting, you’re probably doing the right thing,” Dr. Fauci said when asked how we get ahead of the spread of the virus on Face the Nation.
Remote Work is Trending and Impacting the Housing Market
Remote work is one of the growing trends affecting the housing market in addition to affordability, job growth, and new construction.
Remote working or telecommuting is driving new migration patterns of homebuyers. A survey by Redfin shows that one-in-four US residents work remotely more often after moving to a new metro area.
In fact, respondents cited that the most common reason for moving was more affordable housing. Remote work gives employees the opportunity to keep the jobs they like, maintain their salaries, and enjoy a more affordable cost of living.
For real estate companies that have the ability, offering flexible hours or fully remote work options allows employers to better retain highly coveted talent. This may require an audit of what type of work can be done remotely, what equipment is needed to accommodate team collaboration and internal processes that may need to be modified.
Digital Solutions for Real Estate Professionals
While there are a lot of unknowns regarding what the outcome of the coronavirus (COVID-19) will be, the health crisis may spur another conversation about what digital tools your real estate company may or may not be using. Long after the full effect of the virus is felt, the demand for virtual customer experiences will continue. While not every buyer wants that experience, offering more information and ways to get that information on a home purchase will put you a step ahead of your competition.
The more information a listing agent can provide before a homebuyer arrives, the better. Many homebuyers are comfortable making an offer on a home without setting foot in the property first thanks to virtual and video tours.
Getting started with Virtual Tours
Completing a virtual for any listing may be easier than you realize. The tools needed to shoot and create both virtual tours and 3D models of homes are more accessible than ever.
Three things are needed to create virtual tours:
- A camera with 360 capabilities
- A software to process or “stitch” photos into 3D tours and/or models
- Additional equipment like a tripod, selfie stick or a gimbal
In the past, the cameras, like the Matterport, to make virtual tours a reality have been cost-prohibited, but there are some new options available making virtual tours more affordable.
Follow the instructions in this video to learn how to make virtual tours and 3D models using any 360 camera. The one used in the video is priced at about $200.
Getting started with Remote Online Notarization
When I spoke to Danielle Kaiser about digital closings and getting started on remote online notarization, the last thing on my mind for a good reason to adopt these closings solutions as soon as possible was a global health crisis.
Title policy underwriting is a business about reducing risk, and for that reason, many underwriters still require wet signatures as Jason Somers explains in this video.
The risks associated with in-person closings have now changed to the point where reluctant underwriters may now be more willing to accommodate fully digital closings.
Even if your state is unclear about eNotarization as Danielle mentions or hasn’t passed a law explicitly allowing for remote online notarization, through the Interstate Recognition of Notarization Act of 2010, your company can use a notary approved in another state for your closing.
Notarize provides some great resources like their Notarize Academy for Title Agents to help you transition smoothly into the new process.
The Uncertainty of the Virus
The virus will continue to disrupt our lives for some time, and virtual solutions won’t be the answer for everyone in every industry. We’re sure to see massive losses in the travel, tourism, and restaurant industries. As more people take part in social distancing, other service providers are likely to see a drop in their revenue. Unfortunately, our economy is by-in-large a service-based economy, so massive changes in purchasing those services in the span of just a few weeks is going to have a long term ripple effect.
Many economists are predicting the recession triggered by the pandemic is likely to last months rather than weeks. In response, the Fed has cut rates to nearly zero to help cushion the economic blow.
Now is the time to take stock of what really matters, not just as professionals or as companies, but as humans and make the necessary changes and accommodations to curb the economic and human costs. Even if you’re unconcerned for your own health, preventative measures like social distancing should be taken seriously. Now is the time to make the investments in tools to help you do that while still providing your services to clients.