Debby McCain was having a stellar year.
“We were so busy,” McCain said. “Above what we sold last year. We had a closing right before and I said, ‘Praise the Lord. We’re doing great this year.’”
With so many limits on what McCain, owner of Ready2Go Realty, can and cannot do under Pennsylvania’s stay-at-home order, the euphoria McCain and real estate agents across the country were feeling a little less than a month ago has turned into a feeling of uncertainty. What McCain, a real estate agent since 2003, does know is she has not had a new sale since March 9 and will have to come up with some clever ways to show her listings to change that.
On March 19, Gov. Tom Wolf issued an order that all non-life sustaining businesses shut down in response to the coronavirus. That meant all real estate sales offices were forced to close their doors. The order, however, does not prohibit virtual or telephone operations. It simply induces change on how real estate agents can conduct their business.
“You have to think outside the box,” said Terry Wygle, associate broker at Howard Hanna Bainbridge Kaufman. “How are the buyers going to look at (the home)?”
Agents can post virtual tours of homes on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or realty websites if a video of the home was secured prior to the quarantine. Otherwise, sellers can take videos or even use avenues like FaceTime, Zoom or Skype to show their homes to potential buyers.
“A lot of agents are putting more videos up on the listing sites rather than pictures,” said Laura Lacey, a real estate agent with Howard Hanna Bainbridge Kaufman. “I have a listing someone was interested in. I told them I’m not allowed to show it to you, but I can send you videos.”
There is also the option to sell sites unseen — something a lot of home flippers do. But when you aren’t looking for a project, that can be a risk.
“I’ve done that in the past contingent on the client seeing the property in three or four weeks and looking at it and approving it,” Wygle said.
The trouble is now, how far out do real estate agents make that contingency when the end of the quarantine is so obscure.
“Do you go 20 days out? 30?” Wygle asked.
Say, after all of this, a buyer is ready to put in an offer. What happens next? How does paperwork get signed and filed? What about a notary service, home inspection or appraisal?
“Contracts can be sent digitally,” McCain said. “Closing agents are working to close properties we had before. They are just going about it differently.
“It won’t be a round table of people gathered asking questions and shaking hands.”
Notaries are working but have also had to alter how they do their job to practice social distancing.
“You can do e-notary as well,” Lacey said. “But I’m not sure all counties are accepting that. I did hear of people doing mobile notary.
“I do have a closing pending right in and the guy is in Pittsburgh and he’s not well. He’s not going anywhere. So he could use a mobile notary. He has the documents and he can send them out. But you’re still touching stuff. So I don’t know.”
The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors released a COVID-19 addendum to its agreement of sale form. The addendum allows parties to agree to postpone contractual deadlines should it be necessary.
The real question is how the real estate business will bounce back when it is time. McCain said she was on pace for a record year when she was forced to close her doors. Wygle was also having a busy spring thanks to low interest rates and supply and demand that drove the price of homes up.
Will the industry recover?
Wygle has been a real estate agent for 52 years and said she has worked through a number of recessions. This, she noted, is a very different situation, but she also attributed the area’s knack for rallying together in troubled times as a reason for hope.
Employment will be a huge factor, of course.
“I had a guy under contract on Friday,” McCain said. “On Saturday he got laid off. He couldn’t even apply then. Every sale you kind of have to ask, could you maybe get laid off?”
And it’s a trickle effect.
“Buying houses creates more jobs,” McCain said. “You go to Home Depot to get stuff to do renovations. You hire a contractor for a new bedroom. They can’t go to jobs now.”
In addition to McCain's pace for a record year, Wygle said she was also having a very busy spring. They are hopeful for a resurgence when all is said and done.
“I’m ready to go,” McCain said. “My car is in the driveway ready.”
Lisa Renwick can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.