As real estate agents navigate through the new era defined by the coronavirus (COVID-19), the realities of social distancing are here for the foreseeable future.

Buyer’s and seller’s agents will find themselves working harder and more creatively during these socially distant times, as legwork usually performed by buyers is shouldered by the more knowledgeable agents involved.

For example, in April 2020, roughly 33% of Redfin tour requests were for virtual tours, up from 1% at the beginning of March before social distancing measures began. Similarly, in a first tuesday poll performed during the month of April, 77% of respondents said they conducted at least “some” of their tours virtually, including 19% who said they conducted all of their tours virtually.

In other words, many buyers are submitting purchase agreements sight-unseen. They may delay an in-person tour until their offer is accepted, or some may even wait until the final walkthrough.

Tasks for seller’s agents

To give their listings the biggest edge, seller’s agents need to prepare for a significant chunk of potential buyers to be touring virtually or with the help of their agents via video chat.

This is most easily accomplished by ordering a 3D tour of the home, to be made available alongside the listing photos. There are numerous companies that offer virtual tour technology, including Matterport for residential homes and realync for multi-family properties. Asking a professional photographer who you’re already familiar with is also a good place to start.

Most of the advice seller’s agents give for homes receiving the virtual tour treatment is the same as with regular listings. This includes de-cluttering and tidying up, and also providing ample lighting for the professional photographs and virtual tour.

Seller’s agents can also prepare additional marketing materials highlighting the area. Consider the aspects of the property that buyers won’t be able to appreciate when they tour virtually and include those in your listing materials. Most importantly, make it clear that socially-distant buyers are welcome and the seller is willing to work with them to close the transaction during this turbulent time.

Tasks for buyer’s agents

In today’s volatile environment, finding an agent they trust is at the top of buyers’ lists. Prompt communication is key to showing an agent’s dedication and reliability. Being upfront with any issues is also important. This means making no assumptions when it comes to the property or the process.

Even if a virtual tour is available, ask the seller’s agent for permission to walk the property on your own. Have an in-depth discussion with the homebuyer about what features they are most concerned about and what they are looking for in a home. For example, a buyer with a fenced-in yard at the top of their wish-list will be interested to know that in person, it’s apparent the fence will need repairs.

Other questions you can answer for the buyer that may not be immediately represented in photos or 3D tours include:

  • What is the view out the windows from various rooms?
  • How close is the house to the neighbors?
  • Are there any strong smells present, indoors or out?
  • How is the noise level on the house?

Even the most thorough agent walkthrough doesn’t replace a home inspection report, especially important when buying sight-unseen. Recommend two or three home inspectors you trust to be unbiased and thorough for the buyers to choose from.

Flexibility is key

Both buyer and seller need to remain flexible.

Many homebuyers and sellers are choosing to extend closing dates as they wait and see how the economic fallout from the pandemic impacts their plans. There are options available to extend closing.

As a matter of policy, RPI Forms do not contain “time essence” provisions. When you need to extend closing scheduled under an existing purchase agreement, simply use RPI Form 250 as a general addenda to your current purchase or listing agreement. If not, then notices to perform providing a reasonable time period for the buyer to close are the seller’s best enforcement effort.

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