The impact of the novel coronavirus is hitting the real estate market, with realtors facing new challenges and new guidelines. The typical flurry of homes coming to market in the Spring is not happening and the days of groups of people flocking to open houses are on hold indefinitely, although some realtors in Essex County are posting listings for virtual open houses only or private tours.

coronavirus real estate
This home at 23 Berkeley Road is offering virtual or private open house tours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

At Prominent Properties Sotheby’s International Realty, office staff are considering a contingency plan, says broker sales associate Kate McDonough.

“There are no open houses, there’s a decline in listings, and deals are falling apart. Agents are scrambling to adjust to this,” McDonough says.

“Zoom meetings for the office are taking place, and there are a lot of opinions about how to proceed to best represent the seller.”

Are video tours the way to go? “I don’t know,” says McDonough, “others may disagree, but I don’t want buyers walking through my seller’s house.”

Nevertheless, McDonough is optimistic. “The market will definitely rebound, hopefully by summer. There will be a huge pent-up demand.”

Two weeks ago, realtor Amy Owens, armed with booties, wipes, gloves and hand sanitizer, was able to show homes to a handful of buyers by short, private appointments scheduled an hour apart. There was no touching surfaces and very strict distance requirements. Those two homes ended up with offers and are off the market. Owens said it also helped that in one instance, the sellers were already out of town.

“People who came were serious, not just coming to look for sport. I also saw with deals already in process, people wanted to make things work and close,” says Owens, who has also noticed some closing dates being moved up because families who were staying in a house because their children had to finish school, can now move earlier because of remote learning.

Since then, Owens has been telling prospective sellers to sit tight and wait, rather than try and put their homes on the market. Owens has seen interest in rentals, especially with yards, for people who need to move and want some outdoor space.

Richard Stanton, owner/broker of Stanton Realtors, says coronavirus has gradually slowed the real estate market to essentially on hold status.

“Hopefully we can get back to work in 30 days,” says Stanton. “There are still buyers and sellers out there, we just need to get them connected eventually. I was initially concerned about the longer term effects of damaged credit, but lenders and credit agencies are making accommodations to borrowers.”

Stanton says he is also advising clients to stay in touch with lenders, inspectors and title companies to see how they are responding. Some lenders are doing drive-by appraisals when possible.

“We expect normal traffic to first return to vacant homes, then single families, then to occupied multi-families as a function of human contact,” he adds.