How the COVID-19 Pandemic Has Forever Changed the Process of Selling a House
In normal circumstances, selling a house involves interacting with a lot of people. In-person house tours, roundtable closings, and handshakes are all standard formalities.
But in a world rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic, safety and social distancing are a must, and real estate professionals and sellers have had to adapt to a new way of doing business. That means altering how they approach open houses, closings, and even personal greetings. (We’re all too familiar with the elbow bump.)
“It has been amazing to see how quickly our industry has evolved,” says Tricia Hausler, director of sales for Lexington Homes. “We have banded together throughout the many facets of our industry to create positive solutions that allow us to continue to comfortably and safely serve our prospective clients and buyers.”
Many of these safety solutions—like self-guided house tours while wearing personal protective equipment—are still in place in states seeing surges of the coronavirus infection. But even after rates fall out of the high-risk zone and a COVID-19 vaccine has been widely distributed, experts predict some of these solutions will have staying power.
The pandemic ushered in many new methods to facilitate selling a home. Here are some of the practices experts say are here to stay.
Curbside and no-touch closings
Perhaps the most exciting part of the home-selling process is closing day. It means that your house is finally sold! But curbside and no-touch closings were enacted during the pandemic to comply with social distancing recommendations.
How does a curbside closing work? According to Chicago-based title insurance firm Proper Title LLC, a title expert walks out to the client’s car to gather signatures on paperwork that an attorney has prepared ahead of time, instead of the traditional process of completing all the paperwork with an attorney in a conference room.
And in instances where remote online notarizations or remote ink notarizations are permitted, all documents can be signed remotely through an approved online notary platform (e.g., Notarize) or audiovisual portal (e.g., Microsoft Teams).
Moving forward, experts can see curbside and no-touch closings becoming the norm.
“Everyone is looking to save more time in their lives, and that’s exactly what curbside and no-touch closings let us do,” says Kathy J. Kwak, executive vice president of operations and counsel for Proper Title LLC. “These new closing options not only reduce travel times for most parties involved, but they also help mitigate some of the scheduling challenges that surrounded the closing process before the pandemic.”
Kwak says most of their clients appreciate the changes made and would like to continue with these new closing procedures post-pandemic.
Goodbye, out-of-focus photos and meager listing descriptions
Any well-informed seller knows that high-quality listing photos and a gripping listing description of your home are vital to attract buyers. But presenting your home in its best light online was more important than ever during the pandemic, when in-person open houses were limited.
“The pandemic only accelerated the need for agents to be more virtually literate and use heavy images in their listings,” says Greg Phillips, designated managing broker for Baird & Warner’s Northwest Suburban office in Arlington Heights, IL. “Many agents started to leverage social media by posting video tours of homes on Instagram or Facebook Live, which have been very well-received by buyers.”
Phillips says his company has also seen great responses to its detailed online listings.
From here on out, the more details the better! Standard marketing of a home is likely to include professional photos, virtual tours, and a compelling description of the property.
Virtual showings are here to stay
Open houses—whether limited capacity or not—will always be a part of the process, but virtual showings are truly the future of selling a home.
“Virtual showings through 3D videos have already revolutionized the way our industry does business and likely will continue to do so,” says Kirste Gaudet, broker for @properties in Chicago. “The 3D tours are so realistic that we may be able to put open houses to rest. I find that my clients now want them as part of the marketing effort.”
Phillips says going forward, virtual tours will be used to complement in-person open houses, and that buyers are using virtual tours as a way to narrow down their choices before visiting a property in person.
Buying sight unseen
For some people, buying a home without ever setting foot inside sounds insane. But the pandemic actually saw a spike in these types of sales!
“I had three sales from out-of-town buyers who purchased properties sight unseen,” says Gaudet. “I conducted showings through FaceTime and was able to capture details—showing every nook and cranny—and home in on specifics.”
Liz Brooks, executive vice president of marketing and sales for developer Belgravia Group, says even before the pandemic, they had experience selling homes sight unseen using virtual reality in their sales galleries.
“We expect that after a vaccine is widely available, buyers will embrace this tool again to help them envision their new home before they step foot in it,” say Brooks.