The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we live and how we do business in almost every possible way — including how we sell homes. Despite widespread uncertainty among Americans, real estate transactions still seem to be humming along. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently classified real estate as an essential service, but local laws might necessitate buyers and sellers to adjust practices like open houses or in-person closings.
In this new normal, it's important for home sellers to be proactive, safe, and accommodating to potential buyers. While there will be some hurdles — namely, buyers not wanting to come to your home — there are several solutions you can employ to solve these problems. We'll discuss a few of them here.
Open house and showing guidance
Open houses are one of the major marketing tools used by real estate agents and homeowners to draw in potential buyers and highlight a home's features. With the Center for Disease Control (CDC)'s guidance to limit all gatherings to 10 people or less in light of COVID-19, this can make the logistics of an open house difficult.
In fact, some local shelter-in-place mandates may prohibit the practice altogether. In-person showings can be a bit of a gray area, as they're typically limited to just an agent and a potential buyer or two. Rely on your agent's expertise and local mandates to decide whether to conduct open houses or in-person showings during the pandemic.
Using virtual technology to show your home
Thankfully, many savvy agents have already been using virtual tours for years. Not only can you film a virtual walk-through of your home, virtual reality now allows buyers to "walk through" your home from their own couch, deciding themselves which rooms to enter and how to tour the home. Many companies now offer 3D, 360-degree virtual tours that offer immersive visualizations in high resolution.
Virtual staging is another innovative technology in which you can present the look of a (pristine and clean) lived-in home without the hassle or expense of actually moving in staging couches or dining room tables. By using augmented reality, buyers could point their phone's camera at the living room and even overlay their own furniture or change wall colors to fit their style. Aerial drone footage can also give buyers a better feel for the footprint of the property and highlight luxury elements like pools, landscaping, nearby golf courses, or water features.
In order to funnel more of your money toward these additional services — that will pay off in the long run — you may consider a discount real estate agent. It may be tempting to go the for-sale-by-owner route or use a flat-fee MLS service, but you'll have a steep learning curve with using new technology unless this is already in your wheelhouse.
It's also important to note that many iBuyers are no longer buying inventory (i.e. companies that buy your home outright like Zillow Offers or Opendoor), so selling directly to a buyer through an agent may be your best bet.
Screening in-person buyers
If you must provide in-person showings, consider limiting them to those who are truly interested. You may request that only those with a pre-approval letter from their lender be allowed to make an appointment, along with other pre-screening measures.
By providing excellent online resources for potential buyers to check out your home, you'll weed out many "tire kickers" who would have visited open houses in the past simply out of curiosity or boredom. The idea is to minimize the risk and number of people entering your home.
Inspections and appraisals without seller present
Social distancing has presented a hurdle for inspections and appraisals, which are usually done in-person with the homeowner. Some inspection companies are now advising owners to stay in on part of their home while the masked and gloved inspector completes their job. Some lenders are also allowing drive-by appraisals accompanied by photos so there is no need to enter the home.
Call multiple inspection companies and lenders to figure out what local guidelines are being followed.
Remote home closings
Closings are also typically conducted in person, although many states had already begun allowing remote home closings prior to the pandemic. Almost half of U.S. states have allowed for online notarization in which buyer's and seller's identities are verified via video and the documents are signed electronically.
Mobile notaries are also an option, visiting both the buyer's and seller's homes using advised safety measures in order to complete paperwork. The capability of a remote closing usually depends on the buyer's lender and state guidelines, although the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) recently asked lawmakers to expand the online notarization policies nationwide.
As social distancing may be here to stay — at least for the next several months — the more proactive you and your agent can be, the better. Together, make a plan for how you'll proceed with selling your home in this new normal using some or all of the tactics we've discussed here. You'll be well prepared, your buyers will have a great experience, and your stress level is sure to be reduced during this uncertain time.