PITTSBURG — When COVID-19 began to spread through communities most people knew that there would be many changes to how people managed to go about their daily life and work. This was true for realtors, where hand shaking and hugs were part of the excitement of closing on the homes.
As for the buyers themselves, the way they went to look for a new home changed too. The use of technology and limits on the number of people allowed to tour the homes has become commonplace.
Local realtors shared the trends that began because of the pandemic. Brian Jones and Monica Angeles of Jones Heritage, Realtors said they are doing selective showings only to clients that are prequalified.
“This has always been something we strive to do, but many times, we go ahead and initially show a customer in hopes we can educate them about getting prequalified,” Angeles said.
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They are also putting more emphasis on virtual tours, which include a 3D tour thanks to the help of a local company with Matterport capabilities, Multiple Listing Service (MLS) virtual tours and live or Zoom house showings.
“Real estate is a relationship business,” Angeles said. “Some of these changes will enhance how we do our job (virtual tours, 3D tours, in-office closings), but at the end of the day, people want to be present to personally look in every nook and cranny of a home, shake your hand at closing and take pictures with you when they get their keys.
“That is my favorite part of the job so I hope that stands the test of time. I would love to see title companies be able to do virtual closings with the buyer signing electronically with it being witnessed, like a virtual notary.”
Other trends include less in-person documentation during closings, more in-office closings rather than visiting the buyer or sellers wherever convenient, and limiting showings to the buyers instead of their extended families and friends. Gloves, masks and sanitation wipes have also been incorporated.
It’s more than just social distancing. According to a recent report, more than 26 million people in the United States have filed for unemployment before the end of April.
Local furloughs have affected people who just bought a home or were in the market to do so, the realtors said.
“Some buyers that were preapproved were no longer able to purchase because they were furloughed,” Jones said. “Some buyers got nervous and canceled the contracts they had just started because they weren't sure what was going to be happening. Some sellers decided to wait to list their home because they didn't want to take the risk.”
Inventory is also down, Brian said, adding that this is mostly because sellers are afraid to put their property in the market.
“Because of that, some houses that have been on the market for a while are now getting activity and in some instances new listings have received multiple offers,” he said. “I do expect there will be some foreclosures after this is done. Although homeowners have been given a 3-month forbearance on making their mortgage payments, some of them will continue to struggle after we completely reopen and possibly not be able to make their payments.”
Timothy Kundiger, broker and agent of Timepiece Realestate, said that more buyers are “being pushed towards specialty loans where they can put little to nothing down,” regardless if they can afford “typical loans.”
Kundinger encouraged people to think about their financials when choosing a loan and home, adding that “we need to get back to a sustainable lending system and people being responsible for their decisions.”
“It is only a matter of time before the next local issue becomes global and we feel the pinch again,” he said. “I hope that people will have learned something during this period in time and remember it the next time some lender pushes them to buy at the top of their income with money they don't have.”
In an attempt to get things moving again, Kundinger said, “it wouldn't surprise me if some type of First Time Home Buyers program pops up again giving ‘free money’ to further dig the hole.”
The realtors said they are adapting to the many changes the pandemic brought forth in their industry, from less inventory to the slowing down of business. Jones said video and virtual tours will most likely continue to help buyers with their preliminary research and “intrigue them to look at the homes.” However, “real estate is a very fluid business, things are always changing — it goes back to the old saying ‘Pictures are worth a thousand words,’” he said. “People like seeing pictures and videos are even better.”
“Nobody likes change but people came together to make the changes that we were seeing deemed necessary, work,” Jones said. “We were all in this together and with a little bit of kindness, help and understanding, people were able to and are still getting through this.
“We are very fortunate in Pittsburg to have schools that are still giving breakfast and lunches to kids, the Lord's Diner that is still doing meals, the Pittsburg Strong movement to help local businesses, etc. Yes, it is tough but working together we are making it through this. It is not over, and we need to continue to work together.”