Open House Management During the COVID-19 Crisis

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 12 May 2020 15:36
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Spring is typically the busiest time of year for the American housing market, and the COVID-19 pandemic is causing major disruptions. The market was at its highest performance over the previous decade prior to the coronavirus spread.

Though sales are off from the previous year’s volumes, some real estate transactions are still happening. The industry has been permitted to continue operations throughout the COVID-19 crisis as an essential business. However, government mandates and recommendations mean many areas are under orders not to hold public gatherings. Some areas have enacted specific restrictions on how houses can be shown in order to prevent spread of the virus.

In an industry that relies on in-person activities, real estate professionals are having to find new ways to operate that include virtual home tours, electronic document signing, and even drive-thru closings. But what does this mean for the open house?

The open house is a popular sales tool for realtors across the country. The majority of sellers in suburban and urban areas hold an open house, according to  Zillow. They are used as a way for realtors to get many eyes on a home in a short timespan and to drive competitive offers. Among realtors, the buzz of a busy open house is hard to beat.

According to  one analysis, homes sold by open house are on the market for fewer days and net over $9,000 more on average compared with homes that never had an open house. The benefits can be even higher, depending on the area and desirability of the home.

“Holding an open house is an efficient way for sellers to get more eyes on the home, and a bigger pool of potential buyers can help lead to a higher ultimate sales price,” said Daryl Fairweather, a chief economist for the real estate brokerage Redfin, in an interview with  Realtor Magazine.

The efficiency of open houses pays off for sellers and realtors. It means less scheduling of individual tours, less time spent repeatedly preparing the property, and more focused time on getting clients the best offer. At least, that is the ideal situation in a pre–COVID-19 world.

In a survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors in mid-March, 40% of members reported they are suspending holding open houses due to COVID-19. The percentage was higher in areas hardest hit by the pandemic. Multiple listing services in some areas had disabled the feature for finding and listing open houses, while others added warning messages about restrictions on public gatherings.

Yet some of the nation’s top realtors are finding ways around coronavirus restrictions, operating open houses virtually, like with the SetSchedule virtual Open house tool, to continue this important facet of the real estate business.

“COVID-19 does not mean realtors can no longer hold open houses. It just means they need to think outside the box and embrace virtual technologies,” said Roy Dekel, the CEO and co-founder of SetSchedule, a digital platform for real estate professionals.

It’s a strategy that the National Association of Realtors is recommending. It has posted  COVID-19 open house guidance on its website, which details a number of available tools for holding virtual open houses. These include proprietary tools as well as common social media platforms that offer the ability for live events. There are even options for virtual staging of properties.

“If you have the ability to work, you have to be creative,” said Mabél Guzmá, a Chicago-area realtor and early adopter of digital technologies, in an interview with  NBC News. Many realtors work for themselves, and as small business owners, they are driven to find ways to continue business even through challenging times.

Experts in the real estate market are expecting the number of real estate purchases that occur without clients ever setting foot in a home to continue to climb, potentially even after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The current pandemic has catapulted the real estate industry through a digital transformation that can open doors for the future of SetSchedule,” Dekel said. “Realtors and their clients will now have more options at their fingertips. When it becomes the new normal, virtual home buying doesn’t seem so scary.”

Online tours were first adopted for out-of-state and overseas clients. Now they can be an option for any homebuyer, offering efficiencies on the buyer, seller, and realtor sides of the equation. In times of COVID-19, no one wants to sacrifice their health and safety for a home purchase, no matter how important it is.

There is no agreement currently on when the nation’s operations will return to pre-pandemic conditions. As some states begin phased transitions to re-open their economies, some home foot traffic may be permitted. The National Association of Realtors offers the following tips for maintaining safety during in-person open houses, in light of the coronavirus threat:

  • ·   Have clients disinfect surfaces prior to showing
  • ·   Limit attendance to serious buyers only
  • ·   Permit one buyer group to enter at a time
  • ·   Require hand washing or sanitizer use upon entry
  • ·   Maintain social distancing of six or more feet between guests

Screening questions for signs of sickness may be used as long as they are applied consistently across all home visitors. The association stresses that realtors should never have to put themselves at risk in servicing a client, so a lot is left up to determining comfort level on a case-by-case basis.

COVID-19 is causing unease among homeowners, homebuyers, and realtors for a variety of reasons. People are eager to continue with their lives yet also mindful of the serious health implications of the novel coronavirus. Situations will vary depending on individual locations and risk factors of those involved.

Thankfully, due to existing virtual options, COVID-19 doesn’t mean the end of real estate transactions or home promotion opportunities such as open houses. They just might look different, like a lot of things in our lives right now. One thing is certain: the adopters of new ways of business will be more resilient in the face of future challenges.

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