In a blog post on Wednesday, Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman announced the brokerage would offer on-demand video home tours for homebuyers worried about being exposed to COVID-19, a potentially-deadly form of coronavirus that causes mild to severe respiratory symptoms including fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
“We’ve long had a push-button tool for requesting a private, in-person tour of homes for sale,” Kelman wrote. “Starting today, we’re letting homebuyers use that tool to ask the agent to conduct the tour virtually via video chat. Our customers can also complete every part of a contract virtually; in the states where the law allows it, customers who use our mortgage and title service can close electronically.”
“If you’d rather not meet others except where necessary, we can let you see a home, bid on it, and close on it, all virtually,” he added.
In the United States, COVID-19 has spread to 16 states with 129 confirmed cases and nine deaths. Redfin’s home base, Seattle, has been hit the hardest after a deadly outbreak began at a nursing home in the nearby suburb of Kirkland. As a result, Kelman said some buyers and sellers, especially in affected areas, are adjusting their plans.
“Until Sunday, U.S. housing demand seemed unaffected by the coronavirus,” he said. “But over the past three days in Seattle, where the first U.S. coronavirus death was confirmed on Saturday, February 29, we’ve seen a significant drop in demand from homebuyers and sellers.”
Kelman said sellers in Seattle have expressed concerns about agents hosting one-on-one tours and open houses, with three pulling their homes off the market. Buyers in Seattle, San Antonio, and Tampa Bay have paused their home searches with one buyer canceling an offer.
The CEO said his team is split on what the drop in demand in Seattle and other COVID-19 epicenters mean for the future, depending on how the fight against the virus develops.
“Redfin’s demand fluctuates plenty from day to day, especially in a single market, and this may only be a significant but short-lived reaction to the first serious virus infections on the U.S.,” he explained. “It could also be more serious, and affect the rest of North America.”
For those who’d still like to continue their transactions as normal, Redfin also rolled out new guidance based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advice for reducing the risk of infection — wash hands frequently and wipe down surfaces with a household cleaning spray or wipe.
“We’ve advised our agents not to shake hands with customers who would rather not have to worry about contact with new people; please don’t take it personally,” he said. “We’re asking our listing customers to have [wipes] on hand during private showings, for agents from other brokerages to use after a tour. We’re also supplying our agents with wipes and cleaning materials.”
Although there’s fierce debate on whether Americans’ fears about COVID-19 are justified or overblown, Redfin isn’t the only real estate company erring on the side of caution. Realogy, RE/MAX, Compass, Zillow, Keller Williams, and the National Association of Realtors have adjusted their conference, meeting, and work schedules to serve industry members who’d rather not travel or meet in person.
“This is what we know so far, and what we’re doing about it,” Kelman concluded.