As the world ground to a halt amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, there were still houses to sell and people looking to buy them. The need for shelter, even those in the multiple bed, bath and man cave variety are essential to survival, so are the people that assist in the acquisition of those properties, the realtors who represent buyers and sellers and the title companies that finalize the paperwork.
According to Rhonda Sams at RE/MAX, the stay at home order from Gov. Bill Lee only caused a periodic stall before business ramped back up again.
“When the whole shutdown started there might have been a week where everything slowed down and you wondered what was going to happen,” Sams said. “But that was about it. It was a hiccup. From there, it’s been business as usual. Buyers are still looking to buy and sellers are still looking to sell. We want to do what’s right to respect the buyer and seller.
“Closings are still happening and real estate is rolling right along. It’s a good thing because we’re as busy as we’ve ever been.”
But being essential is one thing. Finding a way to perform your duties while complying with all the new safety procedures is another. It required an entirely new way of doing business, from not only showing homes to prospective buyers, but closing out the contracts and financial documentation in the home buying process.
“We had to be innovative and do things differently,” Sams said. “I had some clients that were out of state and couldn’t travel. We’ve done virtual tours. I have done video conference calls at the property and showed it to them that way.”
It’s taken some new business practices from title companies as well. In the past, family and friends outside the buyer or seller, their realtor and the closing agent could attend the final closing documentation signing. Under the new social distancing guidelines, and just for public safety, that’s no longer the case.
Sams has closed multiple deals since the shutdown was instituted with title companies adapting to the new norm in various ways.
“I’ve had three closings in a parking lot under a tent with the buyers and sellers in their car,” Sams said. “I had one where we went into a title company. I was the seller’s agent, It was the seller, myself and the closing agent in the title room. The room was sanitized before we came in and after we came out.
“Normally when you go to a closing, you’ve got the buyer, the lender, the realtor and sometimes moms and dads. They’re limiting the people that are in there at the same time. …Nobody is waiting in the lobby until it’s your time to close.”
Sams has done home viewings over Facetime and video conferencing apps. She’s also asked clients to open their closets and turn on all their lights before a viewing to limit contact from prospective buyers.
“We have tried to limit the number of people I take in at a time,” Sams said. “Each agent is going to do things differently, but Tennessee realtors and the national association of realtors have asked us to be cautious. Out of respect to my buyers, I’ll wear gloves and masks to make them more comfortable.”
Evolving quickly has helped the realty business to keep chugging along even as other businesses have stumbled due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“We’ve had to change the way we do things a little bit,” Sams said. “We were essential so we had to figure out how to do it and make people feel comfortable. Realtors are a scrappy bunch. We’ll come up with a way to make it work.”