Heading into yet another month of the COVID-19 pandemic, I believe most people have realized we are living in a new normal that will remain in place for quite a while to come. With the new reality comes an entirely new set of rules impacting every area of our lives: Selling a home is no exception.
Here are a few pointers that sellers should heed in the coming months.
1. Find an agent who understands the new normal
Anyone looking to sell should identify and partner with a Realtor a minimum of six months before they plan to go on the market and before they begin any renovations or upgrades.
Here are some key things sellers should be looking for:
- Wealth preservation is more important than ever, as unemployment numbers are at all-time highs, the stock market is constantly readjusting, many businesses are shuttering their doors and prospects for the next couple years, according to industry expert Gary Keller, are not bright. Sellers should choose an agent who is more than just looking for a quick sale, understands that wealth preservation is the priority and who will actively work with you to maximize your home’s selling potential.
- Digital capability is paramount as everything is now happening online. Agents must be technically savvy and have extensive systems in place to function effectively in this new tech-oriented environment.
- Virtual listing presentations are becoming the new norm as many sellers now understand that an agent doesn’t need to visit in person. Effective agents must be able to provide extensive documentation in online environments that not only educates sellers, but also demonstrates the agent’s technical prowess.
- COVID-current, meaning the agent knows the current state-, county- and city-mandated COVID-related rules and regulations. I am totally baffled by the number of agents in our region who ignore specific directions, do not seem to understand basic pandemic rules for showing properties and the like.
- Solid track record under pandemic circumstances. The current crisis is separating those who understand the new rules and are thriving versus those who cannot seem to figure out how to make things happen or are waiting for things to change so they can get back to their “normal.”
As an agent, these are the things you should ideally be able to demonstrate to sellers you meet with.
2. Focus on market timing
In our area, the county-mandated, shelter-in-place edict was issued on March 17, 2020. With the pandemic hitting right at what is normally considered the start of the peak selling market, confusion reigned as the stock market tanked, transactions were cancelled, and we were effectively banned from showing homes.
The result was that the market was effectively pushed from the spring to the fall. As the inventory crisis continues, many believe the market will continue its frenetic pace through to the end of the year.
Will we return to a normal real estate calendar in 2021? When you factor in the reality that the emerging recession will have to impact real estate at some point, the question is, “When?” Now more than ever, market timing is critical.
3. Feature homes that resonate with current realities
With many working from home and a significant percentage of the nation’s schooling happening from dining room tables, we are being forced to rethink the way we live. The home office has gone from a nicety to a necessity, exercise spaces are gaining popularity, and separate spaces for schoolwork have become critical.
Home improvement projects have increased dramatically with contractors booked out for months. A trip to any local home improvement store reveals large numbers of people purchasing materials to upgrade their homes.
With everyone spending more time at home, there is also an increasing focus on outdoor living spaces. As an example, swimming pools in our region were declining in popularity with pool removal companies being very active, but since COVID, we have seen an increase in the willingness to purchase a home with a pool.
Sellers looking to maximize their sale should know the following:
- Move-in ready homes have become the new norm. Buyers want the upgrades done before they purchase and are willing to pay a premium.
- Optimized spaces are gaining popularity. Whereas staging companies may have decorated homes in the past with beautiful bedrooms, consider showcasing dedicated home offices, exercise spaces and outdoor living areas. (Zoom room anyone?)
- Beautifully prepared homes are the ones that look the best online and, with current showing restrictions, the pictures are everything. Although it might not be cost effective to hire stagers in lower-priced markets, there should be no excuse for putting the home on the market without thorough preparation and professional pictures.
- Properly priced homes will sell. Because access is so limited, homes that are not correctly priced might end up with no showings of any kind.
4. Facilitate online showings
- Provide pre-emptive inspection reports: Although I understand this is not the norm in many parts of the country, it has become accepted practice in our region. And it ensures that there are no surprises that could derail the transaction once an accepted offer is in place. It also makes price negotiating easier because everything is disclosed upfront.
- Provide comprehensive disclosure packages: Include seller disclosures, natural hazard reports, preliminary title report and more.
- Provide lists of upgrades and repairs: Include receipts, contracts and any applicable warranties. Detail any issues from the inspection reports that have been remedied.
- Provide easy access: Give all the information online.
- Provide virtual brochures: With the fear of contamination, we are currently encouraged to not provide any printed material in our listings. Instead, we now use virtual brochures.
5. Furnish access for in-person showings
Even though virtual viewing numbers have skyrocketed, most buyers are still not willing to write an offer until they have actually walked through a home. With open houses forbidden in many regions and not likely to reappear any time soon, sellers and their agents must prepare for COVID-safe showings.
Here are a few guidelines:
- Vacant homes are easier to access and provide fewer restrictions. Although not possible for everyone, sellers who can relocate during the showing period will be safer and have fewer COVID-related concerns. Although buyers are told they cannot touch anything while touring a home, curiosity overcomes many of them, and they still open cabinet doors, drawers and so on. And though buyer’s agents should be wiping down surfaces after the showing, in our observation, this has been very hit-and-miss.
- 30-minute private showings have become the new standard in many regions with access limited to a buyer’s agent and no more than two buyers from the same household.
- Scheduling services can enhance access. If the property is popular, it can result in a scheduling nightmare. Across the country, many agents rely on services such as ShowingTime to coordinate access. Agents in our marketplace also insert links for products such as Calendly in the confidential comments on the MLS, which allow buyer’s agents to set dedicated appointments that ensure no one else is in the property at the same time.
- Post COVID-related guidelines. In our market, we have very specific documentation that must be posted outside the listed property to ensure that access follows the pandemic guidelines.
- Provide PPE (personal protection equipment). In most regions, masks are required for all showings. Some sellers also prefer entrants to wear gloves and/or booties. In our region, it’s recommended that masks, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, paper towels and a trash bin be provided inside the front door. Sellers can also provide gloves and booties if they want an extra level of protection. Like gloves, which are not reusable, if a seller wants booties, they should provide a fresh supply so booties can be used once and then discarded.
- Provide COVID-related signage. Signs posted strategically around the home will remind buyers and their agents not to open doors, touch surfaces and so on. They can also remind the buyer’s agent to use the provided sanitizing wipes to wipe down the home after they have finished showing the property.
It’s a brave new world, but with attention to the details, today’s sellers can still effectively sell their homes and maximize their proceeds.
Carl Medford is the CEO of The Medford Team.