The coronavirus pandemic launched a stay-at-home order in Virginia through June 10, but that doesn’t mean the housing market is slowing down. In fact, as more people shelter in place, the need for a home that provides comfort and joy becomes more apparent.
We spoke with Pat Flynn, owner of Northern Virginia-based Flynn Realty Associates, to find out how his real estate team is adjusting to the “new normal,” how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting his work, tips for those currently looking on the market and more. Highlights from our conversation are below.
What have been the biggest changes in the way realtors are doing business since the pandemic began?
The market is still really good, but you have to adjust. We signed up for a Zoom account so that we can communicate with clients. I’ve done a lot of listing appointments virtually through Zoom, and buyer consultations through Zoom. It’s something that we’ve used in the past with out-of-country clients overseas, but it’s weird to do it when the person’s down the street in the same town you live. I’ve done this for 23 years, so the norm has always been you go down to their house and you meet with them, you see the house and you communicate with them in person.
And now, it’s weird to go online and virtually meet someone and see their house through a computer, but it could easily be the new norm. When things clear up, I think it’s still better and easier to go look at the property firsthand because you get a feel of the neighborhood and how the house flows. I’ve always said this with buyers who have looked online and made a lot of their decisions online to be cautious because sometimes you get into a house firsthand and it changes the experience. I really think that you can see a lot online, but not everything. You need to walk into that home and get a good sense about it.
In addition to Zoom, what virtual tools are you using to show clients homes right now?
We’ve always used Matterport [a tool that provides virtual, 3D walk-throughs of floor plans]. I’ve always utilized it more for our luxury-line and larger properties. If we listed a $300,000, two-bedroom condo in Reston Town Center, we might not utilize that technology. But now we’re having to open up our eyes and say, OK, we need to use more of this video walk-through technology. Because that’s what the consumer wants, from a safety standpoint, to be able to safely see things.
Speaking of safety, what measures are you taking for clients to ensure they’re safety when they go see a home in person?
Everyone wants a sanitary process so that when the sellers come back to the house, they know that it’s safe to get back into their own space. We’ve utilized that as well to where we write a two-day contingency so that people aren’t buying houses unseen. There’s ways to write the contract so that it’s contingent upon the client and it’s a short contingency.
Can you explain that contingency part of the contract further?
So, the client gives an offer, we’ll negotiate everything out and the buyer reserves a two-day contingency to actually step foot in the property. It allows everyone to negotiate all the terms and get to a point where now we’re in agreement, so we’re not wasting anyone’s time. Then the sellers say, OK, you can come by at this time and the house will be empty and then we can go show it.
With in-person house showings, are your realtors going with the clients? How is everyone staying safe during that process?
We’re doing a couple of things. We can utilize Zoom for the showing. The nice thing about Zoom is you can set it up so that it records the call and then the client has the footage in case they go back and say, “Oh, I can’t remember what that kitchen cabinet looked like.” They can actually go back. With in-person showings, I’ve got one agent who will get to the property a little bit earlier than the clients. She’ll go in first, she’ll turn all the lights, she’ll have gloves on and a mask. She’ll open all the doors so that there’s no door that needs to be touched. And then, she’ll come out and send the clients in to look. When they’re done, they’ll come out and then she’ll go back in after she says goodbye, and close everything up. It takes a little bit longer, obviously, but it’s another layer of safety.
What’s been the biggest worry from clients?
I get a lot of reload buyers who are probably in the biggest dilemma right now, because if their company is paying for a trip for them to come out and look at property for relocating, well, they can’t travel right now, they’re not having that opportunity to take the trip. They need the chance to see it and just feel comfortable about the area. They come, look at houses, look at neighborhoods, maybe buy something, and at least have a more comfortable feeling before they make this massive move to this new town for this new job, and they don’t even know if they like the town. So those folks are actually struggling the most. For example, we’ve got a couple moving here from Colorado Springs and they already sold their house so they have to move here. It’s a transfer for a government job. But they really wanted to come and see it first. They have two little girls and they wanted to know what communities are right from a school standpoint and activities. Now, there are a lot of big decisions they’re going to have to make.
What are your biggest tips for clients who are looking to buy right now?
Make sure your agents are utilizing all the tools out there. A lot of agents are doing virtual open houses on Facebook Live and they’re walking through the property and people can watch it either live or rewatch the taped version.
Any other realty words of wisdom?
We as human beings will always need shelter. That’s never going to change. And, the real estate market is not like the stock market. I know the stock market took a crash, but the real estate market is a long-term thing. I’ve lived through 9/11 and a huge recession in 2008 and 2009. Those were bad times and they affected the real estate market directly. This is a health crisis that is affecting the entire world, but it’s not directed at the real estate market. If there’s ever been a time where people need shelter most, it’s right now because you need a place to go and be quarantined. People are stuck in their house right now for an extended period of time. They may be saying to themselves, “Is this really where I want to be? Is this a house I want?” When this thing passes, everyone could be running out buying new houses.
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