Not a lot of homeowners want to put their homes on the market in the midst of a pandemic, but some do need to move, and it's not the worst time to sell. Demand for housing is still incredibly strong, despite the hit to the economy, and supply is at a record low.
For the week ending March 9, new listings were down 29% annually, and the total supply of homes for sale was down 19%, according to realtor.com. But now new listings, along with open houses, are starting to pick up as states reopen.
Selling a home is stressful enough, but selling in the age of social distancing may seem even worse, but it doesn't have to be. Simple strategies can help.
First, staging the home to sell has never been more important, even if you're not letting people in.
"You must double-down on every good practice they had prequarantine, and make sure the house is even more prepared, if anything, than it was when the majority of people would be visiting it actually versus virtually," said Paul Legere, a real estate agent with The Joel Nelson Group in Washington, D.C.
Sellers should resist the urge to save on staging now and may even want to step it up. Virtual technology is a must, and some agents are now using the latest in 3-D touring, which allows buyers to move through the home on their own.
"As we headed into quarantine, we invested in a 3-D Matterport camera so that we can shoot our own virtual tours and not rely on scheduling a photographer," said Legere.
Sellers should also make sure the agent they choose is willing to do personal, live virtual tours. Dana Rice, a real estate agent with Compass in Maryland, has been walking buyers through her listings over a smartphone or tablet so the buyers can ask questions in real time. Others are doing Facebook Live showings for groups.
"The whole virtual tour thing is not just hosting a Facebook Live, because nobody wants to sit through that," said Rice. "So there are a few lessons to take from doing them over the past seven weeks: It has to be private enough for a buyer to join in without feeling exposed, but open enough that people can easily participate. And the host [agent] should have an assist from another person who is reading comments and making notes of questions."
While not all sellers can move out of their homes before selling, it certainly helps today. That way buyers can tour the homes on their own. Homebuilders are definitely benefiting from the ability to open up their models to individuals touring alone.
Several companies now offer smart lockboxes with onetime codes to let buyers access the home through their smartphones. Minimal furniture can be left for staging, but nothing small enough to be stolen easily.
Sellers who are allowing individual buyers into the home while they're still living there should make sure to vet those buyers carefully weed out the neighbors who might just be snooping around. For open houses, masks, sanitizer, shoe coverings and wipes should be made available at the front door.
Sellers should also be very careful not to overprice their homes. There may be little to choose from on the market right now, but with the economy in free-fall, bidding wars are few and far between.
"Buyers are not desperate, so the pricing strategy still must be sound," said Rice.
Home prices have not started to fall yet, not nationally, anyway, but the big gains going into this year are gone. Buyers today are more likely to jump at a bargain than they are to pay a premium.
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