Essential business: The showing must go on for real estate industry

DOVER — Brokers and agents are increasingly assisting buyers and sellers online and through social media during the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

The Delaware Association of Realtors quickly stressed Gov. John Carney’s emergency mandates to its members to limit their health risks as they conduct business. Though they are deemed essential and can operate, they have restrictions such as not allowing open houses for properties for sale.

The buy-in has been exemplary, said Dover’s First Class Properties owner Audrey Brodie, noting her 17 years of experience.

“Like everything else in life there will always be some people who are confused, but I can say without a doubt this is the highest level of focused efforts as a whole I’ve seen,” she said Monday.

“Everyone is adamant that we have consistent performance among all Realtors.”

Despite relatively low interest rates, some buyers are cautious, and concerned sellers have temporarily pulled their listings.

It’s a strange world following the area’s vibrant market prior to being staggered by COVID-19.

“We have experienced a lot of ups and downs in the economy from 9-11 to the crash in 2005-2007,” said Michael Harrington Sr., who opened Harrington Realty in 1977.

“Without a doubt this is the most serious crisis I’ve seen not only healthwise but economically as well.”

The crisis stymied a Kent County market where average sales price from December through February increased from $212,136 in 2015-16 to $239,674 in 2019-20. Woodburn Realty’s Cynthia Witt compiled the data from the Kent County Recorder of Deeds.

The number of sales increased from 546 in 2015 to 768 in 2020, with a yearly average of just less than 671.

According to home mortgage loan company Freddie Mac, Federal Reserve actions helped counteract lessening demand.

Freddie Mac said 30-year-fixed-rate mortgages averaged 3.5 percent in the week ending March 26, down .7 points from the previous week. The average rate was 4.06 percent at the same time last year. Also, Freddie Mac reported that 15-year and 5-year adjustable-rate mortgages also fell noticeably.

The Delaware Association of Realtors has asked members to tone down marketing efforts to promote the basics of available property only.

“Agents are adapting every day to something new,” said president Beau Zebley, of Olson Realty in Dover.

“We’re pushing to be good corporate citizens and promote ourselves on social media in a more understated way. The last thing we want to do now is to be seen as bragging.”

Strategies to survive

On Monday, Sussex County Association of Realtors members participated in a Webinar that was “pretty well attended,” President Sandi Bisgood said.

Virtual showings and open houses were a theme, along with encouraging buyers to look online before walking through a door. Also, sellers could walk through a home with their phone and show the property with a potential buyer standing outside, Ms. Bisgood said.

“It’s a tough time and we’re working on strategies for people to stay in business,” she said.

While Patterson-Schwartz Real Estate’s Theresa Garcia is meeting with clients daily, she’s interacting through phone, text and email. She’s not putting up any listings now due to safety concerns.

Good times will return, Ms. Garcia said, though their arrival is unknown. A few pre-coronavirus spread settlements are pending, she said.

“I think we’re adapting well,” Ms. Garcia said. “Once this is over I believe there’s going to be a lot of pent-up demand for buyers and sellers and there are a lot of things that can be done to get them ready for that.”

Following Gov. Carney’s emergency order, real estate is considered an essential industry with limitations on in-person showings.

“It’s been extremely dynamic the past three weeks,” Ms. Brodie said. “The governor has been very generous in allowing us to remain in business. We are blessed in Delaware with our limitations because Realtors in other states currently have it tougher than we do.”

Technology has never been more vital to the market, said Harrington Realty’s Michael Harrington Jr.

“Our office is closed but we’re doing a lot of things to communicate and make contacts,” he said. “We’re Cloud based and have state of the art technology that allows us to speak with, as an example, someone in Europe for instance as if they’re sitting across the table.”

Virtual tours matter

It’s up to the professionals to meet challenges and expand capacity to do business, Mr. Harrington Jr. said.

There’s an inherent local advantage to moving properties off the market, Mr. Zebley said.

“We are doing more virtual tours and fortunately people in Kent County are used to doing that,” he said. “We see a lot of military buyers who will buy homes without ever seeing them or just a day or two before closing.”

Still, though, Woodburn’s Ms. Witt longs for a return to face-to-face interactions.

“Real estate is a business of relationships,” she said. “You get to know people, become friends, understand what their hopes and wants are.

“There’s nothing to truly substitute the personal contact of plopping yourself down on a living room couch and just having a conversation.”

Until then, caution is the underlying theme to jumping into home ownership.

“Some potential buyers may be saying let’s put it on hold and say how it all shakes out,” Ms. Witt said. “I’m sure first-time buyers will be frightened enough to say this is a time of caution and it’s not the right time to jump in and invest.”

When Ms. Witt reaches her 48-year milestone of working in real estate she’d like to see more normalcy, but a timeline for that remains elusive.

“The news cycle is a second long now,” Ms. Witt said. “I can remember long ago when polio was an emergency situation and the response was to stay away from swimming pools.

“We’ve seen nothing like this and there’s instant communication about all that’s happening now.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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