The new reality of real estate: Virtual tours, social media showings, car closings

Medical Watch

A business that impacts many homeowners has been forced to forego much of the face-to-face communication it’s built on. But real estate is moving on with a new approach in a time of crisis.

Jenny and Mike Huffman listed their northwest suburban Cary home on March 20. Showings were steady at first, then the door literally closed. The COVID-19 crisis hut out perspective buyers.

“We were always anticipating Spring to be a big time to be out and selling homes. And hopefully sell ours and go and find our forever home,” Jenny Huffman said. “Mike put in a lot of work to get it updated so that was always our time frame. As soon as it was updated and ready to go, we were going to list it. And it just happened to fall during this time.”

Realtor Beth Rupta said Spring is typically the busiest season when it comes to buying and selling houses.

“Especially March and April. I’m never home. These are our busiest times of the year,” she said. “I’d be out on listing appointment showing homes, in the office huddling with my team talking about strategies.”

With open houses banned and in-home tours limited, it’s a trickle down chain reaction – no showings, no contracts, no commissions.

“Showings are down in the MLS about 60 percent,” Rupta said. “So we’re not seeing that type of activity anymore. But what I can say is we’re going to keep going. We just get up and go to work every day from our homes.”

Instead of guiding clients through a property in-person, Rupta is using social media to showcase her listings. It’s the new reality of real estate.

“It is different,” Mike Huffman said. “We didn’t have an open house. We had a Facebook Live event.”

Virtual tours allow agents and their clients to vet perspective houses and reserve rare, in-home tours for properties that meet their needs.

In other words, serious buyers only.

“Our realtor Beth has been very adamant about if we are going to look at homes, it’s going to be homes that we are pretty sure we would buy before we even go to the showing,” Mike Huffman said.

“A portion of this business is still going to go on,” Rupta said. “People have to buy a home or sell their home if they have sold their home and have nowhere to go. They have to get in to see a house.

But we are using every precaution we can: rubber gloves, shoe covers, masks hand sanitizer. So (we are) being very, very cautious about letting people in and out. 

Some people have been chastised for going into other people’s homes so it’s a really fine balance and depends on clients and what they are comfortable with 

While some sellers have opted to take their homes off the market temporarily, the Huffmans are allowing perspective buyers to take a peak with precautions in place.

“We’re taking a lot of precautions as far as disinfecting,” Huffman said. “We disinfect everything, wipe everything down before the showings. After they leave the premises, we go in and disinfect and wipe everything down all over again.”

At Heritage Title in Crystal Lake, owner Fred Roediger said instead of gathering around a conference room table, they’re offering alternative ways to close on a property, including from your car.

“A drive up closing where you can drive right up to our door and we’ll have you sit in your car … sign the documents,” Roediger said. “My closer will bring them back and forth, bring IDs in and have copies made and nobody has to come into office.”

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