Real Estate Agents Adapt, Remain Optimistic During Pandemic

By Brian Indre

FALLS CHURCH REAL ESTATE agent Tori McKinney points to some of the new rules she’s put in place for home viewings during the pandemic. (Photo: Courtesy Tori McKinney/Rock Star Realty)

Despite the novel coronavirus leaving many businesses shuttered or barely operating, the housing market has remained, so far, relatively sturdy in the Falls Church area, albeit with some new precautions in place to protect buyers and agents.

“Some clients are thinking long term and seeing this as an opportune time because interest rates are low and they want to move forward with their decision,” Louise Molton, principal broker for RE/Max West End, said.
Those who are actively looking tend to be serious buyers and who are employed and have an optimistic attitude that the virus will be under control soon.

For others, wanting to sell or buy, there may be too much uncertainty now.
Heather Embrey of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Premier said she had experienced potential sellers changing their minds to wait out the pandemic.

“Especially if the property is tenant occupied,” she said by email. “Also, since many homes have been removed from the market or will be delayed entering the market, I am finding buyers that need to move soon are looking to rent instead, so they have a year to settle down and find the right home.”

Molton said she completely respects the decision of a client being too nervous to follow through on a sale if that situation presents itself. “You can’t sell anyone when there is uncertainty, and there is nothing that I can say to make that better,” Molton said.

On the other hand, people usually busy with work and without a lot of time to spend looking for a house, are now stuck at home, Molton said, and there is way more time for it.

Those who are still venturing into the housing market are being met by agents who are refitting the process for the crisis, such as Tori McKinney of Rock Star Realty, who jumped into action in early March.

“Writing PSAs to clients became like crisis management 101, and every week the practices have changed, so we have to keep rewriting them,” she said.

Traditional open houses are not taking place now, with McKinney’s last happening on March 8. Now, if a couple wants to arrange to look at a property, it can be done safely, while the agent stands outdoors or in an opposite room.

But virtual tours have become a necessity, McKinney said, so along with her marketing director, they began shooting amateur walk-through video tours of houses. It didn’t take long, she said laughing, before her team knew it needed a professional photographer to take over.

Precautionary measures for entering a client’s property are taken very seriously.

Shoe covers which are used during normal times are no longer recycled, so fresh ones are supplied at every showing, along with hand sanitizer and gloves, and it doesn’t matter if the house is occupied or vacant.

People are selling and buying right now, with activity only slightly down, but that may not be related to the pandemic since agents just don’t have a lot of inventory, said McKinney. She mentioned that the total of 17 properties in the City of Falls Church as of this week — houses, townhouses and condos — is low for the City this time of year.

“There is such a demand for housing in the F.C. area, that it is common to get multiple offers on a property, because there aren’t that many available at a given time,” McKinney said. “But keep in mind, the properties that were sold in March were under contract in February, [before the spread of the virus got bad] and April is looking very different.”

A teaser for what April could bring was revealed in the March sales numbers for the City of Falls Church, released by Bright MLS this week.

Homes sales dropped by over 30 percent and total dollar amount from real estate sales declined by nearly half, down from just over $12 million to just under $7 million. And those low numbers were only after roughly two weeks of social distancing put in place.

Still, meeting with clients who are interested in carrying out a transaction can be done virtually as well, Embrey said there really isn’t a need for it with Zoom, FaceTime or other services.

Closing procedures that require the signing of paperwork to be done in person are being handled by drive-through. For now, the seller and buyer pull up to the closing office and the title agent comes out while the documents are signed as they sit in the car, said Embrey.

Molton, who has asthma, says she has been working strictly from home and conducting all business with staff and clients by phone or online.

She explains that she is using this time as more of a supervisory role. Additionally making sure virtual tours and photos of properties are readily available for clients. “I have been occupied with lots of Zoom calls, and I’m amazed by how much can be done from home,” said Molton.