Between varying levels of stay-at-home orders and social distancing practices across the country, many real estate professionals have found it difficult to keep selling real estate during this time.
Washington State was the initial epicenter of the spread of COVID-19, and real estate brokers and agents in that part of the country were some of the first to have to comply with strict orders that all at once halted their ability to continue working for a brief period. Even after some of the most confining restrictions were lifted, finding ways to keep their business going has been an exercise in creativity and measured patience.
We had the chance to talk to two Washington-based brokers, a husband and wife team, about their struggles and successes with real estate amid the pandemic. They were kind enough to share the strategies that have worked for them.
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Meet the Sangers, two Seattle-based real estate brokers
Josie and Ansel Sanger work for Seattle-based Windermere Real Estate, in Kirkland, which is a suburb less than 20-minutes outside of the city. Although Washington was one of the first places to see a large outbreak of COVID-19, it certainly hasn’t been impacted with the same number of cases that other large metropolitan areas like New York, Illinois, and Massachusetts have been. Many believe it’s thanks to the quick moves the state made that helped slow the overall spread, but those moves have been tough on businesses.
In our conversation, the Sangers pointed out that while they have witnessed deals fall through due to buyer or seller anxiety about the economy and housing market, their specific area has been more insulated from a lot of the unemployment issues. Seattle and its surrounding area is home to several large tech companies, like Amazon and Microsoft, that have not had to furlough or layoff employees at the same pace as other industries. Much of the workforce in the metro’s affluent area have had the fortune of being able to work from home. However, according to April’s unemployment numbers, with a national unemployment rate of around 14.7%, the greater Seattle area is sitting at 16.3%.
Make home virtual tours more personable
In March when the safer-at-home orders and business restrictions were coming down across the country, Josie and Ansel were no strangers to creating cellphone virtual home tours, but they quickly became a much more important part of the selling process.
Regardless of whether a listing would have a professional video, photos, or a 360 tour, a more informal virtual home tour is a really nice way to show a prospective buyer some of the highlights and the overall flow of a home without having them in the space. Furthermore, a virtual tour is an additional step to help qualify a buyer based on their level of interest in the property. If they like the specs, the pictures and enjoyed the virtual tour, it’s more likely they’re in a prime position to make an offer, so you know that a showing is going to be worth the time versus working with someone who is just mildly interested.
In addition to doing pre-recorded virtual home tours to share with their audience or other agents, Ansel and Josie have taken to host Facebook Live open houses and 1-to-1 video call walkthroughs.
These informal video tours are a way for the team to get their listings in front of other agents as well as help them bring their brand to the forefront. Ansel says he likes to model their on-camera dynamic after the beloved Chip and Joanna Gaines (from HGTV’s popular home renovation show Fixer Upper). While they’re both refreshingly pleasant and laidback on camera, Ansel likes to crack a joke now and then that Josie either pretends to ignore or just rolls her eyes at. It definitely makes it more entertaining for the viewer, which Ansel says, is the whole point.
Getting the Sanger & Sanger brand in front of more eyes is important, especially since hosting an open house is typically the top way you’re going to meet prospective customers, and that’s a big no-no under the state’s orders. So brokers and agents have to get their face time (even if it’s one-sided) however they can.
Although they have had clients make offers sight unseen, Josie says there’s just nothing--not even the most charming virtual tour--can replace seeing, smelling, and feeling the finishes in a home.
A big thing both said they look forward to post-pandemic is the ability to have more than one other person showing the house at a time. Under the current restrictions, one agent or broker and one client can be in the home at a time, and it’s certainly less than ideal that a couple or a family can’t view the house together. Ansel says often it’s watching the kids’ reactions to different parts of the house that help sell it.
Help out others with virtual tours if you can
One big point that both Josie and Ansel stressed is that if you have the ability to help out other brokers or Realtors around you, it’s the right thing to do. Both credit the helpful and non-competitive atmosphere of the bigger team they work with at Windermere.
Since they’re comfortable filming and have had success producing virtual tours for themselves, the team helped by creating videos for a number of other brokers and agents they work with. In light of the health crisis, some of their colleagues are better advised to play it safe and avoid exposure, but it’s also true that some may just be less familiar with social media or video making, or even just camera shy. Either way, the pair have been happy to do what they can to help.
Sometimes agents may forget that real estate is a relationship business, and it’s important to build them wherever you can--not just with prospective buyers and sellers. And that means reaching a helpful hand to the people who could be looked at as your competition. After all, we’re all in this together. They may not be able to help you out at this time, but down the road they will remember what you did for them.
Be flexible and patient with jumbo loans and job verification
Since the Sangers sell in an affluent suburb of Seattle, jumbo loans are a big part of the closing process for many of their clients. Economic uncertainty as of late means these types of loans have been harder to come by. Ansel recounted a buyer they were working with having to wait a lot longer than normal for financing and the anxiety that it caused many involved.
These sort of hiccups require real estate agents to wear several hats -- part real estate professional, part friend, and part therapist to their clients. Once the closing finally went through, the couple celebrated with their clients with a socially-distant backyard picnic complete with tacos and some Corona beers.
Last minute employment verification has been another challenge that the Sangers have had to work with. The unfortunate reality of the current job market means that paperwork to verify income and employment that could typically be completed weeks before closing now has to be done just days before to account for any possible changes. The pair says it’s made the closing turnaround tighter and more stressful for everyone involved.
Have a hopeful outlook when it comes to the real estate and COVID-19
The Sangers both stressed the importance of staying safe and keep others safe around you. It can be frustrating to not be able to conduct business as normal, but they’re aware of just how important it is to keep their loved ones and others safe.
At the end of May, the state will enter phase one of Governor Inslee’s reopening plan, but it won’t be back to normal for everyone. This first phase will allow few businesses to start operating, including construction which has been halted for the last two months. The state has issued a directive to wear face masks when coming in contact with others, including when showing property. The second phase will allow brokerages to open their doors in a limited fashion and will allow three persons to be on-site for showings and other real estate related business.
Ansel jokingly says the biggest thing that he missed about pre-COVID life (after seeing family and friends as freely as they’d like to) is giving high fives. When we’re all able to freely give high fives without worry, all will be right in the world again.