Real Estate in the time of COVID-19

By Tim Freeland, Realtor

Let’s talk about real estate in the world of COVID-19. What precautions are buyers and sellers taking when the need for in-person home visits exists? How is the pandemic affecting our local market?

It’s a whole new world, isn’t it? Yes, I’ve had a couple of sellers take their homes off the market in April to “sit out” Corona only to realize that this isn’t going to go away quickly. If you want to buy or sell a home, you’re going to need to tackle this head-on. Here’s my “take” on real estate showing trends right now. Check out the graph of Minnesota showing activity based on data from the Realtors MLS “Showing Time” service. Showing Time is how we book, approve and coordinate Realtor/client in-home showings. I always consider activity data coming from this service to be the pulse of a market. How many people are actively looking?

On the above line-graph, you’re looking at last year’s showing activity versus this year’s activity. Notice the first week of March 2020 – we were trending higher than in 2019, but we quickly took a nose-dive. After starting 2020 strong, people stopped looking at houses throughout March and into April, understandably. About the first week of April, we bottomed out. We all sat at home wondering just what our new world would look like, trying to finagle any way to acquire toilet paper, and April was just dead all of a sudden. However things did began a slow climb back up.

I find that when big national events happen, buyers and sellers tend to go into a holding pattern. They stop and wait for an event to pass before proceeding. This is usually true with general elections, holidays or crises, for example. Our markets ebb and flow. Any ebb seems to lead to a “catch up” flow period. Right now, as I write this towards the end of June, our markets are red hot, meaning we are seeing heavier showing activity and reports of multiple offers around the region.

In April I sensed a general feeling that this virus is here to stay as we adapted to new ways of life. Showing traffic started to come back up to speed as precautions and showing procedures were enacted. You’ll notice the annual dip in activity around the Memorial Day holiday. This is that general “holding pattern” I mentioned. After the holiday was over and June 1st became the date in which our slow restart began, our traffic increased in volume over 2019. This is such good news. If I’d had this data in March, I probably would have slept a lot better!

The following are safety procedures and techniques Realtors have put in place to protect buyers and sellers from COVID-19. Some form of these recommendations are sent to the showing agent when appointments are booked. This appears to be a lot of extra work, and it is, but it’s worth it when considering the severity of COVID-19. I’ve found that everyone is happy to comply and respectful in all ways.

Sellers are advised to turn on all lights and crack open closet doors when leaving for the showing appointment. This eliminates contact points. We also try to leave bottles of hand sanitizer at the front door and throughout the house. Initially, it was hard to acquire sanitizer, but product production appears to be catching up. Buyers are advised not to touch anything and to ask the agent to assist if they want something opened.

We Realtors wear face masks and require the buyers to wear masks as well. Some sellers provide disposable masks at the door. I also wear gloves myself during showings as I will need to turn off lights and shut doors. Sellers are then advised to wipe down handles, knobs, and switches after each showing.

We ask that buyers keep the group small. We ask them to only bring the decision-makers and to leave kids, friends, and other family members at home initially. There will be time to bring them through during the inspection appointment if you end up bidding on and getting the house.

I’ve also changed the way I market a home to be more digital. Virtual tours, more photos, and video walkthroughs are a great way to show the property in a way that buyers can get a better feel for the layout before deciding whether to enter or not. I have a company shoot the traditional photos, then 360º panoramas, then create virtual tours using a “Street View” type of click-and-navigate interface along with a drone video of the exterior from above. The idea is to weed out buyers so that only the most interested parties are entering the home.

For a few months, we completely eliminated open houses but have recently begun allowing “opens” with limited numbers of people allowed inside at any one time. Sellers can also opt not to do opens if they so desire.

We are in uncharted territory (at least for this century). With safety as a top priority, Realtors will do whatever is needed to keep clients safe while maintaining the flow of our real estate market.

Tim Freeland, Realtor with Edina Realty was voted Best Realtor in Southern Minn three years in a row. Reach him at Tim@TimFreeland.com or text/call: 507/581-5038.

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