COVID-19 has certainly had an impact on real estate, but not in the way that many may have expected. In most parts of the country, it didn’t halt home sales; it didn’t have a significant negative impact on home values. Here in the metro Atlanta market, prices have remained steady (and in many cases, home values continue to appreciate), and with our housing inventory (meaning, homes that are currently available for sale) at historic lows, homes that are in good condition and priced well are moving quickly.
However, the Coronavirus pandemic has changed the way that a lot of home buyers and sellers — and REALTORS® — view the home selling process, from everything from the listing of a home to coordinating showings on available homes, from the inspection process to the closing table.
Here are some ways that the global pandemic has changed the home showing process and some protocols you might expect to see if you are in the market to buy a home in the near future.
Even before COVID-19, our initial consultations with prospective clients were over the phone — we want to maximize our clients’ time, and a phone consultation was one way that we were able to assess a seller’s needs initially, before we met in person. While current circumstance with COVID-19 have largely put in-person consultations on hold, we can now hold step 2 of our interview process to a video conference via Zoom or FaceTime. We can “meet” you face-to-face and perhaps even have you walk us through your home so we can discuss any decluttering, staging, repairs or updates that may need to be done to sell your home for top dollar (we may also schedule a time to come and do that in person — we will discuss this in full and make a decision that is best for you and your individual situation).
We have a lot of information online to help our clients find answers to their questions about the home-selling process. Our Steps To Selling a Home guide is available right here on our website, and we urge our seller clients to read the information there before our meeting. (Click here to access our Steps To Selling a Home guide.)
After our online meeting, we will email you a recap of our conversation, including our list of recommendations for decluttering, repairs, and updates so you have a complete report of what needs to be done to get your home market ready. We can refer you to recommended contractors to do exterior repairs and landscaping while still following social distancing guidelines, and we are available for updates while you get your home ready. For interior repairs, we’ll work with you to discuss if you feel comfortable leaving your house while any needed interior repairs are done, or depending on your circumstances, we can skip doing any interior repairs and offer a credit to the buyer for the work instead. For non-occupied homes we can arrange interior repairs, painting, staging, etc. as we would normally would have, pre-Coronavirus
For those who want in-person consultations, we are happy to do those, as well, and just ask that everyone present wear masks or we can meet on your patio or deck to have our conversation, while observing safe social distancing, and we can wear a mask while touring your home and taking notes.
Our goal with our marketing is to give every potential buyer who is interested in your home the opportunity to really get to know your home before they enter the property. Our hope is that we can make sure every showing is a buyer who has already looked at your photos, the 360-tour, the floorplan, the seller’s disclosures, and all of the other information about your home and still counts the home among their top choices. The more serious buyers we have entering your home, the faster it should sell and with fewer people entering your home. Our goal is what it has always been: quality showings over quantity of showings.
Every one of our listings receives the same marketing treatment — nowadays, that just includes extra precautions. In other words, we don’t treat a $100,000 listing any differently than a $1million listing; we know that your investment is priceless to you, no matter the value, and every property and every seller’s home deserves to be showcased to the best and highest of our ability. That’s our promise to you.
Our professional photographer, inspectors and appraisers all wear masks and gloves and follow CDC guidelines for safe social distancing. For this reason, they may request access to your home with only one of us present, to be able to maintain safe social distancing.
While vacant homes are “easier” to ready for the market (if the seller/homeowner isn’t living there, we can have easy access to the home to allow one service provider in at a time, without disrupting your schedule.
For owner-occupied properties, we may just need to schedule a little more time to ensure that the marketing is completed to our high standard of quality, while still protecting our team, our providers, and of course, you.
In addition to professional photography of your home, we also add photographs of areas we may not have shot before, such as storage closets, laundry rooms, attics, parking spaces, garages, unfinished basements, (on a case-by-case basis, depending on what is most important to your property), in order to give buyers a fuller sense of the property online to help them determine if it’s the right property for them before they schedule an in-person showing.
For the marketing preparation appointments (photography, video, floorplan drawing), we will ask you to leave all lights on and all bedroom and bathroom doors open so our photographer only has to touch the front door handle. We will request they wear gloves and touch as little in the property as possible and that they come alone to keep the people in your home to a minimum.
For sellers who are not open to having anyone inside your home, we can work with you to offer a completely virtual marketing plan, discuss options for your home sale now or explore a strategy to wait until you are more comfortable having people in your home. In short, we want to work with you to create a plan that works best for you.
Our listings are then enhanced on sites such as Zillow, Realtor.com, and Trulia to ensure your home gets top placement in each site’s search results, as more buyers are heavily relying on online search platforms than ever before. We have upped our social media strategy, and we are employing all avenues at our disposal to get your home as much online attention as possible. In general, we are heavily increasing our online advertising of your home since most people are online more now than ever before.
HOME SHOWING PROTOCOL
The National Association of REALTORS® has been actively working in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), to develop and maintain/update recommendations for safe showing practices for REALTORS® and home buyers and sellers., and we are keeping up with those guidelines, as they change and evolve, and working to keep our sellers informed and any showing agents and their buyers updated, as well.
Most buyers will still want to see the inside of a home before putting in an offer (if you are uncomfortable with in-person showings, please call us so that we can discuss options for getting your home sold with a completely virtual marketing plan), so to accommodate in-person showings, we have put into place a variety of showing protocols for our sellers to review and choose from.
We are asking every buyer who wants to see your home to review and sign a health disclosure, assessing their current health and asking whether they have been in contact with anyone with COVID-19; at your direction, they will not be allowed in the home if they are having any symptoms or have been around anyone with symptoms. This decision is completely up to you, and we will discuss this in detail when we list the property.
In addition, they are required to provide us with a pre-qualification letter from a lender or proof of liquid funds (for a cash buyer), view both the 360-tour and the video walk-through before we will allow an in-person showing. Once a serious buyer has viewed all of the materials, we will arrange for an in-person showing at a time that is convenient for your work and personal schedule. For in-person showings, showings are limited to 4 people including the buyer’s agent and all parties at the showing must wear booties and a protective face mask before being allowed inside your home. We are asking showing agents to conduct “touchless showings.” This means we will ask you to leave all lights on and bedroom, closet, and cabinet doors open, and the buyers will be asked to not touch anything during the showing except the front door handle (their agent may touch, at a minimum, if they agree to wear gloves.
PLEASE NOTE: we make every effort to educate the showing agents and their buyers to this protocol. Please be prepared, if you have serious concerns, to wipe down doorknobs and surfaces following showings.
As a general rule, we do not hold open houses for our listings, but especially now, at a time when you likely do not want large groups of strangers walking through your home with little supervision (click here to read our open house policy and why we do not hold our listings open). We will, however, offer a “virtual open house” — an open house that is available on social media channels and online so that viewers can get a look inside your home. Combined with all of our other marketing pieces, interested buyers can get to know your home fully before entering.
GETTING TO CLOSING
Once we have your home listed and under contract, there will still be appointments necessary to the contract that will require in-person visits to the home. We will still need to get through the home inspection and appraisal, and then we will need to go to closing.
For your home inspection, most inspection companies are asking that either no one be present at the inspection (meaning the inspector only) or a maximum of one buyer and their agent be there (in other words, they are asking that no other parties be there — no extra family members come to just look at the home, no contractors come to measure for new flooring or new countertops, etc.). In addition, you have the option to request that only the home inspector attend the home inspection, in order to keep the number of people and the possibility of contamination of the home to a minimum. In fact, many inspectors are offering follow-up calls or video conferencing with their buyer clients at the end of the home inspection to identify any major defects that need particular attention.
When it comes time for us to negotiate any buyer requests for repairs that may result from the home inspection, we understand that you may be reluctant to have a bunch of contractors, repair technicians, and service providers traipsing through your home. We have access to many contractors who will give a “ballpark number” as a quote (or a price range for the repair) based on the inspection report and its accompanying photos, which we can use to potentially negotiate money off the price or toward the buyer’s closing costs in lieu of actual repairs. This may actually be in everyone’s best interests; click here to read why we think negotiating money toward closing costs is better than negotiating actual repairs. In the event that it’s a complex repair or something that is not quotable without a contractor coming by the home, we will ask that person to wear a mask and gloves (most are doing so right now anyway) and that they come alone to meet with you or with one of us, and that the buyer and their REALTOR® not be present. We can always offer to FaceTime with the buyer’s agent if they would like to be involved in the conversation with the contractor.
The appraisal process may also be different. In many circumstances, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and also FHA, VA, and USDA, are all allowing for desktop appraisals or exterior-only inspections of properties for appraisals in certain cases. This keeps the appraiser from having to enter the home, protecting both the appraiser and the home’s occupants. While we cannot guarantee this will be allowed on your home sale, it may be a possibility. We cannot demand that the appraiser not enter the home (an appraiser will be required by any lender working with a buyer obtaining a mortgage), but any appraiser entering homes right now is following the CDC guidelines and will come alone to the property. In the event of a desktop or exterior-only appraisal, the appraiser may ask that you take some inside photos of your home and possibly that you agree to a phone call with the appraiser to answer some questions about your home; this is part of our “new normal,” and we will be on that call with you, in case the appraiser asks any questions you may not understand.
Finally, closings definitely look different right now than they have in the past. In Georgia, the closing process was typically the buyers, the sellers, their REALTORS®, sometimes the lender, and the closing attorney sitting around the closing table in the same room, at the same time (note that this process is different in every state). Many closing attorneys are now allowing (or in some cases, requiring) the buyers and sellers to sign separately, at different times. Some are asking that the REALTORS® or any other parties who are not signing closing documents not attend the closing in person (but virtual attendance is, of course, permitted). Some attorneys are also performing curbside closings or putting into place other special protocols for buyers or sellers who may be “high-risk” for COVID-19 and need additional safety procedures in place in order to close in a safe environment (if you are high-risk and you feel you need to take some extra precautions, please call us to discuss prior to your closing so that we can try to make special arrangements!).
For closing, as a seller, you almost always have the option, for a small fee, to do a mail-away closing, so that you can sign your closing documents remotely — you will still need to sign in front of a Notary Public and a witness (which may require you to go outside your home to a bank or other location), but it gives you more control over the amount of time you spend at the signing location and choice of signing location.
Even once closing attorneys’ offices open back up and allow group closings to occur again, if you are uncomfortable sitting in a room with all of the above parties present, you can still request that you be allowed to have a solo closing; just ask your REALTOR® to reach out to the closing attorney to make arrangements.
We want our clients — both buyers and sellers — to feel safe during their real estate transactions and to feel certain, even in these uncertain times, that we are working hard to protect them. If you have questions about selling your home right now, or if you’re thinking of selling in the future and simply want to start preparing now, please call us anytime at 404-994-2181 or email Maura(at)BuySellLiveAtlanta(dot)com.