Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman: “The whole industry has been talking about going virtual for a decade.”

Tech-focused real estate brokerage Redfin has canceled open houses for Redfin-listed homes nationwide and is limiting private showings to two customers per tour, Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman said in a blog post Monday. The move is meant to protect the health of Redfin’s customers, agents and communities amid the coronavirus outbreak, according to Kelman.

The decision comes on the heels of the multiple listing service in Redfin’s home base, Northwest MLS (NWMLS) in Washington, announcing it was temporarily disabling its open house features due to the outbreak. Washington was the first state to report cases of coronavirus in the U.S., and Seattle, where Redfin is based, has since been described as “ground zero” for the spread of the illness.

Glenn Kelman | Photo credit: Redfin

“We’d made the decision for the company nationwide prior to realizing the NWMLS had changed its policy, but for the same reasons,” Kelman told Inman via email.

“There’s still a safe way to sell houses, but we just have to be smart about it: with self-service property access, three-dimensional Matterport scans, video-chat tours and virtual closings.

“The whole industry has been talking about going virtual for a decade. Now we’re getting our first real test of how that all works when it has to work.”

In his blog post, Kelman noted that the brokerage was still serving thousands of buyers and sellers daily, but with new rules and technologies.

“No brokerage has invested more in preparations for virtual open houses, virtual tours, virtual contracts and closings,” Kelman wrote. “The coronavirus has just made the future we’ve been preparing for come sooner.”

Redfin provides interactive, three-dimensional scans of all homes listed by Redfin agents as part of a digital marketing campaign designed to attract buyers online. The brokerage also offers live video-chat tours of every listing — not just Redfin listings.

Kelman advised customers to ask for a video-chat tour if they’re sick with cold or flu symptoms or even if they might be sick. Similarly, Redfin agents with symptoms won’t host showings and those that do won’t ask customers to shake hands, will stay six feet away from the customer throughout the tour, and won’t go into tight spaces, he said.

Redfin has technology in place for buyers to complete all contracts virtually, and in states where it’s legal, they can also use Redfin’s mortgage and title service to close on their new home electronically. Therefore, for particularly concerned customers — or those who think they may be ill — Redfin can help them complete the homebuying process without any person-to-person contact.

Kelman promised to “be straight with” customers about market conditions in its weekly publications of real-time data on sales activity from buyers and sellers and surveys of consumers and agents.

In blog posts, Kelman has been discussing the palpable effects of coronavirus on the Seattle real estate market, including its effects on demand in Seattle and in other Redfin markets.

“Demand held up surprisingly well until the stock-market panic on Thursday, March 12. But with measures to slow the spread of coronavirus expanding to more cities, we expect that this Wednesday’s report will show a big drop in activity,” Kelman wrote.

“Some buyers will see this as an opportunity to get the home of their dreams at a good price, with historically low mortgage rates. Others will wait until the end of the recession that has almost certainly begun.”

In regards to the company’s agents, Kelman said Redfin is providing health care benefits and “now much higher levels of base pay for people who are sick or at home with their kids.”

Email Andrea V. Brambila.
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