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What COVID-19 Means For Open Houses As Agents Use Virtual Tours

Molly Grace4-Minute Read
April 03, 2020

Read more on our COVID-19 Resource Guide.

The COVID-19 situation has pushed many things online – school, meetings and even concerts. Can it do the same for open houses and real estate tours?

Since much of the country is social distancing to help stall the spread of the virus, real estate agents have had to find ways to adapt their business to this new era. For the time being, the housing market is continuing to chug along, with hopeful buyers trying to take advantage of current low rates.

In fact, a recent National Association of REALTORS® flash survey found that 45% of member agents who work in residential real estate reported that COVID-19 has not changed buyer interest in the market, and 69% said that it has not affected the number of homes on the market.

With their business so dependent on buyers being able to physically see the homes they’re looking to buy, how can real estate agents adapt to this unique moment in history? Can buyers still hope to find a home among ever-changing social distancing guidelines?

Can Open Houses Proceed At All?

With the CDC recommending social distancing for all, opening up a home for buyers to walk through is risky, and is even illegal in some areas.

Different Rules For Different Areas

How real estate agents are handling the outbreak depends a lot on where they are. Individual states and localities are all handling their responses to the pandemic differently – some have issued shelter-in-place orders, temporarily shuttering all nonessential business, while others have allowed business to continue as usual for the most part.

“The first priority is protecting the agent, the agent’s family and our clients and the communities we serve, as well as our state, nation and the world we live in,” Donna Castillo, a REALTOR® with Keller Williams who serves the Bay Area, which currently is under both a county-wide and state-wide shelter-in-place order, said. “To do that, we must follow the law.”

Since she is unable to physically show properties for the time being, Castillo has had to find alternatives, such as using the teleconferencing service Zoom to conduct virtual open houses where home buyers or their agents can virtually “tour” the home and hear from the seller on the features of the home.

“I have a social and legal responsibility to honor the shelter-in-place,” she said. “With that said, there are opportunities to continue serving our sellers and buyers with all their real estate needs.”

Real Estate Association Guidelines

Some local real estate associations may also have rules in place that member agents must abide by.

NAR®, the leading trade association for the real estate industry, has released guidance that “strongly encourages members to consider the advisability of continuing to hold open houses at this time,” in areas where they are are still permitted by law.

According to the association’s flash survey, there’s been a significant decline in the number of open houses being held, with 40% of residential member agents reporting that they’ve suspended open houses.

Safety-First Showings

In areas of the country where social distancing enforcement isn’t as strict, real estate agents have been able to conduct in-person showings, though they will often limit showings to serious buyers.

When they bring a buyer into a home, many agents are now taking special precautions to limit the potential for the virus to spread.

“When my buyer clients request to schedule an in-person showing, I accommodate it as best I can while taking every step to protect them,” says Maggie Wells, a REALTOR® in Lexington, Kentucky.

Wells said that she verifies that none of the parties involved are sick, and brings gloves and disinfectant with her to ensure that doorknobs are sanitized.

For agents who are proceeding with showings, NAR® recommends only allowing one buyer group to tour the home at a time, maintaining a distance of 6 feet or more from others and requiring visitors to wash their hands and remove their shoes as soon as they arrive. The guidelines also advise agents to recommend that clients disinfect their homes after a showing.

Alternatives To Open Houses And Showings

Even if your area hasn’t yet banned in-person showings, your safety and the safety of your community is paramount, and buyers should seriously consider utilizing technology wherever they can to minimize their exposure to others.

These days, technology has made it easier than ever to go through much of the home buying process virtually.

“For virtual tours of homes and selling consultations, I’ve been using FaceTime,” Wells said.

Zoom, FaceTime, Facebook Live and other services have been popular among real estate agents looking to continue showing houses to clients during this outbreak.

NAR® guidance also suggested that real estate agents use 3D property tour software to give clients a 360-degree view of the home, allowing them to see a home virtually from every angle.

Takeaways For Buyers And Sellers

Those hoping to buy or sell a home during this time should make sure they fully understand any stay-at-home orders that may be in place in their area. Following local laws and keeping yourself safe should be your first priority. Try to conduct as much of this process as you can through virtual means, and avoid going to other people’s houses or inviting others into your house unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Additionally, be sure to familiarize yourself with the CDC’s guidelines on keeping yourself safe in this outbreak. Wash your hands often with soap and water and avoid touching your face. Keep a distance of at least 6 feet between you and other people.

If you’re someone who is at higher risk, you may want to consider postponing this process until after the pandemic comes to an end, if possible. If you’ve had symptoms of the illness or have come into contact with someone who may be positive for COVID-19, you should stay home and not invite others into your home.

Finally, guidance and laws surrounding social distancing are changing every day, so be sure to stay up to date on the latest information from government officials and the CDC.

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    Molly Grace

    Molly Grace is a staff writer focusing on mortgages, personal finance and homeownership. She has a B.A. in journalism from Indiana University. You can follow her on Twitter @themollygrace.