Necessity, They Say, Is the Mother of Invention - What Will Brokers and Agents Take Away From the Age of COVID-19?

Written by Posted On Friday, 08 May 2020 05:00

As governors, mayors, and Americans nationwide debate public safety versus the need for going back to work, real estate brokers and agents are largely complying with restrictions imposed when the industry, early in the scourge of COVID-19, was deemed an essential business.

Agents in more liberal states are showing homes in person, socially distanced, masked and gloved, touching nothing, sanitizing everything. Elsewhere, they are mastering the magic of new technologies, creating brilliant virtual home tours that result in virtual sales.

At some point, maybe sooner, maybe later, the grief and disruption of coronavirus will begin to recede in our memories, and the business of real estate, and all business, will return to a more normal level. 

Some things will almost surely be left behind.

“Handshakes, for one,” noted Diane Glass, chief operating officer, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Chicago. “At least for a very long time. Also, I hope, the fear of trying something new.” 

Some things will be forever changed.

“Wasting paper,” said Glass. “Our agents are printing almost nothing right now. At least some aspect of every deal is now virtual.”

And more.

“We will certainly want to stay with virtual sales meetings,” said Elizabeth Nunan, president, Houlihan Lawrence Real Estate headquartered in Westchester, N.Y. “We get better attendance, and look at what we’re saving in terms of money, time, and miles on the road.”

And some things will continue to evolve as we move into the new normal.

“We are asking our agents to question everything they do to conduct business,” said Glass. “Every task, every meeting, every marketing dollar. Why am I doing this? Is it necessary? How can I do it better than before?”

The concept of ‘home’ itself has taken on new meaning.

“From the first spike in rentals as people escaped from the city to the search we see now for bigger properties with home offices, swimming pools and other amenities, buyers are seeing their home as a sanctuary, a place where the family can come together, shelter from whatever life brings,” Nunan said. 

Nice homes, priced right, are moving at the speed of light, she said. “We had one virtual listing come in last Friday, and had two good offers by Monday morning.” 

Just as agents have become adept in managing virtual home tours, so are buyers in greater numbers doing more of their home searching online - and with electronic signings, remote notarizations, curbside closings, and even the occasional virtual loan funding, brokers and agents in the new normal will have far less need or inclination to drive buyers around in their cars to see an endless succession of properties, Glass noted. 

“Agents will be taking forward all their newly honed video skills,” she said. “More than ever, they recognize their value for marketing and self-promotion purposes as well as for remote showings - and agents who have been reluctant to try it are seeing the benefits of jumping in.”

It’s a trend that can open doors.

“I’ve done remote showings for years,” said Wendy Herst, a luxury home and relocation specialist with Sotheby’s International Russ Lyon Realtors in Scottsdale, Ariz. “Buyers relocating from other states are happy to tour homes online - and it’s so much more efficient, especially now, as this pandemic has brought more title companies, notaries, lenders and others into the digital world.”

While inventory is tight and some sellers still reluctant, there are plenty of buyers out there, said Herst, who has five homes currently in escrow. “Looking for new ways to prospect and work your leads will be a given in the new normal.”

There’s little question that COVID-19 has substantially impacted sales, and as many agents sent home from shuttered offices have learned to like working from home, brokers looking to pull in their belts will be examining their use of brick and mortar.

“I have a call tomorrow on one of our larger lease renewals,” said Shane McCullar, CEO and operating principal, Keller Williams Metro Center, whose 650 agents in three offices serve a large swath of northern Virginia.

McCullar plans to cut the office space by as much as 20 percent, devoting less footage to private offices, he said, and more to a larger shared space, where agents can meet with each other and with clients in a casual, convivial environment.

“If nothing else, this pandemic has forced us to re-evaluate,” McCullar said. “It has given many an increased awareness about what is important, what is not, and how we can do so many things better than we’ve been doing them in the past.”

Among those is being nicer to each other, he said, citing agents in closer in touch with their spheres, ready to help if they are needed.

“I see that people are more patient, more mannerly these days,” McCullar said. “I hope that is something that stays with us when we leave the pandemic behind.”

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Barbara Pronin

Barbara Pronin is an award-winning writer based in Orange County, Calif. A former news editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism and corporate communications, she has specialized in real estate topics for over a decade. She is also the author of three mystery novels and two non-fiction books.

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