How Real Estate Professionals Can Navigate the Impacts of COVID-19
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How COVID-19 is Impacting the Real Estate Industry
Volatile Residential Real Estate Demand
Everyone knows that home buying ramps up during the Spring season. Unfortunately, that spike in demand will be dampened during the upcoming months as a result of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
The Mortgage Bankers Association has warned that those who were considering buying a home before the outbreak may choose to hold off until the outbreak is more contained and the economy has somewhat stabilized. On the other hand, COVID-19 has required individuals and families to make significant life changes, some of those being related to relocating for jobs and to care for ill family members.
When stay-at-home orders have been lifted, many home owners and renters that have spent months alone may make the decision to move closer to family, friends or a significant other. This means that there will still be some demand for residential real estate during and after the pandemic.
For the supply side of things, residential construction has actually increased during the pandemic. This will support buyers when housing demand begins to recover.
Stricter Mortgage Lending Requirements
Mortgage lenders are tightening requirements for borrowers due to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The purpose of these tightened requirements is to protect against borrower default, but unfortunately this makes purchasing a home difficult for some potential buyers. According to a HousingWire article, here’s what some lenders have been doing:
- Increasing the minimum FICO credit score needed to qualify for a Federal Housing Administration loan
- Adding extra verification of employment checks on & near closing day
- Shortened age of document requirements for income and asset documentation
- Tighter verification of employment requirements for self-employed borrowers
- Increasing minimum lending standards
These restrictions may be slowly starting to loosen though. As reported by HousingWire on April 23rd, Movement Mortgage has lowered its minimum FICO credit scores on FHA & VA loans to 620. They are also moving towards servicing on most GSE and government loans.
Prior to this move by Movement Mortgage, mortgage servicers developed a more positive outlook when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced that servicers are only required to advance four months of missed payments for loans in forbearance, and that they’d buy loans that go into forbearance within the first month. As of May, one million GSE mortgages are in forbearance at Fannie Mae and that number is expected to grow as stated in one HousingWire article.
Mortgage Delinquencies & Refinancing
According to one HousingWire article, mortgage delinquencies almost doubled in April with Nevada, New Jersey and New York seeing the biggest increases.
As of May 20th, the Mortgage Banker Association’s Associate VP of Economic and Industry Forecasting Joel Kan, stated that over the past five weeks there has been a weekly increase in mortgage applications to purchase a new home. This is a sign that the housing market may be beginning to recover from the impacts of COVID-19.
Joel also goes on to say that “a strong pace of refinancing for the remainder of the year because of low mortgage rates” is to be expected. This happens to be good news for those who are currently out of a job. With the sudden boom in refinancing, the mortgage industry is one of the lesser known industries that is ramping up hiring right now. A HousingWire article shares some of the companies that are currently hiring:
These companies are recruiting everything from salespeople and inside staff to information technology professionals.
Record Low Mortgage Rates
According to a HousingWire article, as of July 16th, average mortgage rates have fallen to 2.98%. In the last five decades of data, these are the lowest rates experts have seen.
The primary cause of the low rates, according to chief economist Chris Low, is that the federal reserve is continuing to support mortgage markets by spending $4.5 billion per day on securities containing home loans. The belief is that these record low rates will boost home sales and motivate contractors to increase home building activity.
Accelerated Adoption of Teleconferencing & Digital Tools
Real estate professionals are being forced to adopt new technology quickly in order to communicate with clients, conduct home showings, and handle the closing process, but all of their hard work will not go to waste.
When social distancing guidelines become more relaxed, real estate agents will have found a streamlined & simple way of effectively communicating with their clients. Teleconferencing, e-signing, and online notaries are all tools that can be used now & after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Real Estate Brokerage Layoffs & Cost Cutting
Unfortunately, large real estate brokerages, including those with strong financial backing, have already begun laying off & reducing employees’ salaries due to COVID-19.
Compass decided to lay off fifteen percent of its employees, scale back its Compass Concierge services, pause marketing spend, reduce office expenses, reduce the executive team’s salary by twenty-five percent, and halt all non-essential projects in anticipation of a COVID-19 related economic slowdown, referring to it as a “standstill” rather than a recession. The company’s CEO, who is forgoing his salary, stated that projections of a six month 50% decline in revenue were the reasoning behind the decision.
Several well-known brands are managed under Realogy: Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, Century 21, Coldwell Banker, Corcoran, ERA, and Sotheby’s International Realty. The company has decided to temporarily reduce the “majority” of its employees’ salaries (including the CEO and senior executives) and has initiated marketing expense pullbacks, according to a Housing Wire article.
Some iBuyers have decided to bring business to a halt, while others are continuing to trudge along and adapting to the new way of work. For those that have chosen to adapt, there has been a rise in offer requests and additional flexibility provided to clients.
According to a Housing Wire article, Keller Williams has made the following changes regarding its Keller Offers iBuyer product:
- Offering 3D virtual tours
- Scheduling live virtual open houses only
- Allowing clients to push closing dates out
Zillow has decided to pause Zillow Offers, it’s iBuyer product. Here’s what the company is doing:
- Providing added financial support to each seller
- Supporting buyers in a contract that are no longer able to purchase their home from Zillow
- Pausing all open houses in all of its markets
- Including 3D home technology and virtual consultations with all Zillow owned homes
Opendoor has also decided to temporarily suspend its iBuying platform. This means that:
- Current customers are being requested to expedite or delay their closing date until shelter-in-place mandates are lifted
- Sellers in contract are able to cancel if they’re uncomfortable moving during the pandemic
- Home offers are temporarily paused
- Affected customers are being connected with third-party buyers that can transact without in-person interaction
- The company is partnering with local real estate agents that can help customers list their homes virtually
What Real Estate Services are Considered Essential?
Real Estate Agents
The National Association of Realtors reports that the following states are considering real estate to be an “essential” service, business or operation:
- New Mexico
- New York
- West Virginia
In states such as Pennsylvania and Vermont where real estate has been deemed non-essential, real estate activities must be done remotely to the fullest extent. Even in states where real estate is considered essential, remote work is being encouraged and gatherings of ten or more are being prohibited.
In New York state, which had previously considered real estate services to be non-essential, Governor Cuomo stated that “residential home and commercial office showings, home inspections, and residential appraisers” would be considered essential going forward, but would still need to operate in accordance with CDC guidelines. For example, agents and brokers can only visit properties to conduct virtual showings.
The safest thing to do right now, regardless of the state you do business in, is to work remotely to the fullest extent possible to keep others and yourself safe.
Additionally, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has included residential real estate on its list of essential services during the novel coronavirus outbreak. The list only serves as guidance for state & local officials though, so be sure to review your state, city, and local guidelines.
Due to the in-person nature of the job and high demand as a result of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, many industry professionals are questioning whether this role is considered “essential” during the outbreak.
According to the Appraisal Institute, These states have explicitly stated that appraisals and appraisers are considered “essential”:
- New York
Keep in mind that the majority of states mentioned above are requiring that appraisal services be conducted for financial & lending institution purposes only. Appraisers in these states are also required to take the necessary safety and sanitation measures such as social distancing, using personal protective equipment, limiting human interaction, conducting exterior drive-by appraisals, and are being given the right to work on non-interior inspections if they feel uncomfortable.
Notaries face especially difficult challenges as a result of COVID-19 due to the in-person requirements of the job. Notaries are required to meet clients in-person to notarize contracts and titles relating to the home buying and selling process.
According to the National Notary Association, notaries do provide an “essential” service. This means that Notaries will need to think outside the box to find ways of meeting with clients while social distancing and limiting in-person contact.
According to the National Association of Home Builders, so far every state except for Pennsylvania and Washington has classified homebuilders as essential. The main reasoning behind this determination is that homebuilders cannot work remotely. Constructing a home can only be done on-site and in-person for obvious reasons.
How Real Estate Professionals are Adapting
Conducting Virtual Home Showings
Nearly all real estate companies have paused in-person home showings, but the demand for open houses is still there according to a Redfin report. The report states that they’ve seen a 494% increase in requests for agent-led video home tours over one week. Zillow has also seen a large 191% increase in 3D home tours. So although traditional open houses have come to a halt, their virtual counterparts are on the rise.
In a Housing Wire article, one real estate agent shares an advantage she’s seen from using these video home tours – improved communication:
“I’m talking more than I would on a traditional tour, pointing out things that would be obvious in-person but that aren’t as clear through a camera lens, like the quality of workmanship on any repairs or whether or not a room would fit a king-size bed.”
Zillow also shared that before COVID-19, listings including a 3D home tour were saved by users 50% more and sold 10% faster on average. So although the implementation of this is being somewhat forced by the current circumstances, this could help real estate agents sell homes more effectively & efficiently in the long run.
What You’ll Need to Get Started
- Mobile phone
- A mobile-friendly video conferencing application for conducting virtual open houses
- A 3D home tour service (Zillow, Redfin, Immoviewer, etc.) for the listing
Focusing on Real Estate Marketing
With everything going on, you’ll likely have more free time than you did during the last Spring season. This is a great time to fine-tune and expand your real estate marketing strategy. Here are some things you can focus on:
- Cost-benefit analyses of marketing activities
- Growing your online presence
- Learning a new skill and framing it as a competitive advantage
- Launching a podcast
- Creating real estate videos for potential home buyers and sellers
- Building strong relationships by reaching out to current and past clients to check in on how they’re doing
Additionally, Kristi Kaczarowski of The Certo Team told us that to build connections and stay top of mind, she sends handwritten notecards to her clients. This helps her break through the noise, and as Kristi says, “At this time, anybody would love to get anything but a bill.”
What You’ll Need to Get Started
- Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets
- A CMS and hosting company for your website (Wix, WordPress, Weebly, etc.)
- A YouTube Channel
- A device to record videos on (a mobile phone will work)
- A platform to share your podcast on (Spotify is pretty popular for this)
- A VoIP phone system that allows you to communicate with clients from the comfort of your home or via mobile phone when you’re on the go
Psst… If you’re looking for some podcast and video inspiration, check out our [UN]Traditional Industries Video Series!
Professionals in the real estate industry, especially agents, tend to be fairly familiar with the idea of working remotely. Whether it’s making calls to clients in the car after a showing or answering client calls after standard working hours, they have some experience with remote work.
The only thing that has changed with the new COVID-19 stay-at-home orders is that remote work will now be required full time, and in-person interactions with clients will be very limited.
To stay in contact with your clients, team, and other key parties you’ll need a reliable phone system that enables you to work from home and on the go by facilitating clear communication.
What You’ll Need to Get Started
- A working computer
- A physical or softphone (we offer this as an add-on with our phone service)
- A reliable VoIP phone system provider with mobile features
- A VPN for additional security
- Sufficient internet bandwidth (we can help you determine this)
Presenting Offers & Conducting Appraisals Virtually
If you have an offer to present to your seller, consider presenting it virtually rather than meeting in-person.
According to Ryan Lundquist, founder, and owner of Lundquist Appraisal Company, if you are an appraiser that typically conducts evaluations by entering clients’ homes, consider trying out a desktop or drive-by appraisal. A desktop appraisal doesn’t require you to leave your home or office, while a drive-by appraisal only requires you to look at the exterior of the home and make use of tax record information.
In addition to these methods, you can request that homeowners conduct a live video walk-through of the house for a more accurate appraisal without having to physically enter the home.
When working with technology shy clients, you’ll want to get even more creative with your approach. We spoke to one real estate agent, Kristi Kaczarowski of The Certo Team through MJ Peterson, who shared her creative approach to accommodating these types of clients.
“I’ve actually had to make copies of the documents, highlight everything, drop it off in the mailbox, wait a couple days, then go back and pick it up. And of course explain everything over the phone with them,” Kristi says.
For her more tech-savvy clients, Authentisign facilitates virtual signatures amid social distancing.
Want to see what other creative approaches real estate agents are taking? You can watch our full discussion with Kristi here.
What You’ll Need to Get Started
- A web-based video conferencing tool that you & the client can use
- A webcam for you & the client
- Access to an internet connection for you & the client
- Access to a computer or mobile device for you & the client
- A secure eSignature platform (optional)
Acting as Leaders in Their Local Communities
Real Estate Agents are often informal leaders in their local communities, whether they know it or not. Focus on using your marketing channels and existing connections within the community to make a difference during this outbreak.
By doing this you’ll feel accomplished and build stronger relationships with individuals in your community, who may need your help with future real estate endeavors. You’ll achieve name recognition much greater than the results you would see with a traditional paid marketing campaign.
You can get started with this right away! Just reach out to your connections and see if they or someone they know needs assistance.
Legal Issues to Consider
Fair Housing Act Compliance
To remain compliant with the Fair Housing Act and maintain positive relationships with your real estate clients, ensure that with all of the changes going on you don’t discriminate against a specific segment of the population. Unfortunately, with pandemics like COVID-19, people may have intentional or unintentional biases towards specific segments of the population.
In the time of COVID-19 (and always!), this means you should never refuse to assist a home buyer or seller based solely on their gender, religion, sexuality, race or nationality. The National Association of Realtors suggests reducing any unintentional biases you may have by determining factors that you can apply equally to all segments of the population.
For example, to determine if it is safe to enter a client’s home for a virtual open house you could create a set of questions similar to these to ask ALL of your clients:
- Have you or any members of your household traveled domestically or internationally recently?
- Have you or any members of your household been experiencing signs of respiratory illness?
- Have you or any members of your household been in contact with an individual that has tested positive for COVID-19?
- Are you and members of your household working from home or going into work?
- Have you and members of your household been practicing the social/physical distancing guidelines issued by the CDC?
Make sure that you also set a threshold when deciding which actions to take after receiving answers to these questions. For example, if any client answers no/yes to at least 3 of the questions above I will take additional precautions or refrain from entering their home.
Note: Keep in mind that if you’re still conducting in-person open houses in states that haven’t issued a stay-at-home order, you should ask visitors the same questions you ask your clients before entering the home.
Include Additional Language in the Purchasing Agreement
If you choose to opt for virtual home showings during the COVID-19 outbreak, make sure you remember to protect yourself from potential risks and liabilities.
The National Association of Realtors suggests including “language in the purchase agreement that acknowledges that the buyer – not the listing broker, agent or seller – is responsible for personal verification, walk-throughs, and professional inspections to confirm condition and that any given property is satisfactory.”
With protective equipment, extensive sanitation measures, clear communication, contractual adjustments, remote work tools, and a whole lot of patience and perseverance, real estate professionals can continue operating (the best that they can) during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
Have questions about how to properly set your office up for remote work or which tools to use? Contact the team at Arbeit. We have extensive experience with working remotely and have some cloud-based communication tools that can help you with the transition. No pressure though; this isn’t a sales pitch. We just want to help you out.
We’re all in this together! The Arbeit team wishes an abundance of health and safety for you, your family, and team. 💜