The pandemic fast-tracked a number of paradigm shifts that were already reshaping our living habits. So, should agents try to appeal to these new buyer desires or stick with traditional, tried-and-true features?

In this monthly column, Anthony Askowitz explores a hypothetical real estate situation from both sides of the broker/agent dynamic.

A top agent wants to market her listings with an emphasis on features buyers demand in the COVID-19 era: “Zoom rooms,” home gyms, patios, pools, ample space, etc. But her broker advises sticking to the traditional, long-term approach that has always worked in real estate, like highlighting locations, schools, home condition and value.

Agent perspective

Our lives have changed dramatically due to the COVID 19 pandemic — and so have the things people now want in a home. With many parents choosing to keep their children home from camps and schools, a sharp increase in people working from home (by choice, law or policy), and reduced needs for commuting and entertaining, homebuyer priorities have evolved accordingly.

Obviously, this could all change with a reduction in positive cases or the creation of a vaccine, but for the near future, the buyers I’m currently working with desperately want ample living space, large pools and patios, extra rooms for work (now known as “Zoom rooms”), exercise and creativity, high ceilings with lots of light, and big backyards.

Conversely, they are much less interested in things that used to be important to buyers: proximity to offices, shopping and urban centers, high-quality public schools, and even the prestige of neighborhoods. (This is especially true of recent condominium-dwellers, who have been cramped up without access to shared amenities for many months.)

Clearly, people are planning to “hunker down” for the foreseeable future. They’re working, exercising and educating themselves at home, while having their groceries and other items delivered.

With so much clear input from my clients, it seems obvious to me that these features and amenities should be highlighted in all of my listings’ copy and photography. That includes reordering the photos to showcase spacious common areas, multipurpose rooms and abundant outdoor spaces, and also, revising the descriptions to emphasize comfort over location.

But my broker sees this differently. He believes these are short-term, momentary trends, and buyers will ultimately continue to want what they have always wanted — even if they don’t realize it.

Broker perspective

I appreciate my agent’s foresight and sensitivity, and I certainly trust her to market a home however she feels is best. (One wonders if there should be a “COVID-Approved Agent” certification for Realtors, indicating their ability to sell in this unique place and time!)

However, I also feel strongly that the living patterns of the past few month — and perhaps the next year or so — are but fleeting departures from the normal course of modern society, and that we will return to some form of “normal” in due course.

Accordingly, I believe real estate listings should continue to stress the classic, enduring values inherent in a home’s location, value, and durability, and advise my agents accordingly.

The purchase of a home is a completely different transaction than say, a piece of furniture or even a vehicle. Critical, longstanding factors like safety and financial stability must be weighed carefully, and in my experience, take precedence to temporary concerns — even ones as serious as the challenges presented by the pandemic.

In other words, buyers may be drawn to listings that appeal to the next year, but they will only sign contracts for homes they know will improve in value. The marketing and language they see should reflect this long-term perspective.

How to resolve

The pandemic fast-tracked a number of paradigm shifts that were already reshaping our living habits, and it’s important to consider which of those will “stick” and which ones will revert to form when the pandemic settles down.

Amazon, for example, had already normalized the concept of shopping for items online and expecting home delivery within one to two days. To avoid supermarkets, many people quickly became comfortable with the use of Instacart for their grocery shopping, and it is reasonable to predict this practice will also become routine. This validates the agent’s point about “nesting” habits and the reduced need for proximity to shopping centers.

But other major trends are certain to revert to form once the coronavirus is no longer a concern. Kids will return to school. Diners will return to restaurants. People will congregate in bars, sports arenas and theaters. In this case, the broker is correct about the need to continue highlighting a potential home’s location and proximity to schools.

As human beings, our innate drive is to be close to others. Fear and circumstances may have us retreating from activities we prefer, but eventually, we will find our way back. As professionals, it’s important to remember that the majority of homebuyers plan on staying in their homes for a minimum of five to seven years, and even longer in many cases.

Counseling buyers regarding their priorities in choosing a home are more important right now. How will the buyers feel in a couple of years when they realize the price they paid for the pool and big yard turns out to be a 90-minute commute to work?

Further changes to customs may also take hold, but are less definite. If professionals are able to productively work from home and employers become comfortable with the practice, what will that do to traffic patterns and the need for expensive office space?

We may see changes coming in the commercial arena as corporate offices downsize to adjust for the work-from-home lifestyle, leaving empty spaces available for repurposing. All of these changes translate to shifts in buyer choices in a residence.

As a result, a smart short-term compromise in this case would be for the listing agent to appeal to contemporary buyer desires with the initial listing elements: the headline in the description (“spacious rooms and patio!”) and the first few photos prospects will see on the slider.

After attention has been secured, the agent can then shift the description focus to traditional benefits such as location, value and condition, and present the customary photos that showcase kitchens, bathrooms and other features. This will assure the savvy buyer that this is a home not only for the time being, but also for the future.

Anthony is the broker-owner of RE/MAX Advance Realty in South Miami and Kendall, where he leads the activities of 155 agents. He is also a working agent who has consistently sold more than 100 homes a year for over a decade. For two consecutive years (2018 and 2019), Anthony has been honored as the “Managing Broker of the Year” by Miami Agent Magazine’s Agents’ Choice Awards. NOTE: Anthony is not an attorney and does not give legal advice. Please consult a licensed attorney regarding matters discussed in this column.

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