COVID-19 affects real estate industry

Monica Medley, managing broker for Century 21 Clinkenbeard, takes a customer on a virtual home tour. The coronavirus pandemic has led to this being a more useful option in the realty business.

Real estate agent Gary Dunlap said the home sales market was going "gangbusters" until the world began shutting down two weeks ago.

U.S. home sales in a Commerce Department report surged to a 12-year high in January. In uncharted waters and with a shutdown of all essential businesses, adjustments are everywhere in light of the unexpected path ahead.

“In our business we always have something going on — houses under contract, the time lag between a contractor closing, usually a month, and there’s a multitude of tasks in that whole closing process that I see continuing — only differently,” said Dunlap, broker/owner of ReMax. “That’s more in the showing side before contract — and perhaps on the listing side also, but that side is maybe more like the Christmas season where people tend to postpone moves for the holidays.”

Virtual showings may be the primary way of showing homes.

“We’ve already done virtual tours and FaceTimes where the agent goes to property and shows clients,” said Monica Medley, managing broker at Century 21 Clinkenbeard in Muskogee.

In the event of one-on-one showings, real estate agents are treating it with caution.

“We’re diligent in sanitizing going in to a house and sanitizing going out,” Medley said. “We’ve got our wipes, keys, no one is driving with anyone, so they’re keeping separate in their vehicles.”

She said her company has put in six new listings this week.

“Some weren’t ready to sell regardless of COVID-19,” she said. “We’re staying in contact with legislators and doing our best to abide by their guidelines.”

Lillian Jayne, who noted she sold two homes last week even as the pandemic grows, owns her realty company, and at 70 has taken the issues seriously since she first heard about the virus, which makes seniors particularly vulnerable.

“Younger Realtors may not be as concerned as us older ones are,” she said. “But based on what they keep saying on the news that older people are more in jeopardy, I quite honestly am being careful.

“I’ve gone to the lock boxes by myself. I’ll open the door, step back and let the buyers go inside and just stand away and let them view. I’m going to be in my car outside in case there’s questions,” Jayne said. “I’ve also become real high-tech sending the contracts over the internet.”

One significant change is in place with mortgage companies. Real estate agents are not essential service people with title companies, so going forward with the current safer-at-home restrictions, they’ll step back in various ways.

“We only need the people who are necessary to sign the documents to show up,” Dunlap said. “We’ll make ourselves available for questions or other issues but not in person.”

Dunlap said that there was some talk nationally about adding one more page to the transaction documents specifically due to the coronavirus, to withdraw from contract under no harm.

“If they’re quarantined in Florida for 14 days and can’t get a plane to get to Oklahoma to close tomorrow, it’s not their fault,” he said.

With a lot of the business online, such as multi-listings and notebooks on the internet with links to the inventory and communication with the real estate agent, much can be done like it has been.

Medley says her company is employing a type of strategy that some might consider therapeutic of sorts. She calls it MEDS.

“We’ve done this with everyone in our database,” she said. “M is for meditate, pray, just sit back and take a moment. E is for exercise, D for diet and S for sleep. There’s just a lot of brain stuff going on. We just need to take time and reflect and be patient.”

Patience is indeed a virtue in this chaos, and no one knows for sure what will be the end or outcome.

“We try to be positive about our industry,” he said. “Our cups always tend to be half full, but the cup may be smaller than it ever was.”

Medley is hopeful.

“Out of the last five recessions, in three of them, prices went up, and they weren’t housing recessions,” she said. “Right now, we want to make sure to give people good information.”

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