While the coronavirus pandemic has forced businesses to temporarily close, buying and selling houses was not put on pause as real estate agents and buyers adapted into safer forms of interacting.
Erika Hiller, a Realtor with Better Homes and Garden Real Estate Gary Green, said some of the changes were added onto existing services.
“I just don’t think photos [of homes] are enough anymore,” she said. “The consumer will want to see the virtual tour and 360-degree photos.”
Hiller said to reduce contact and limit people from having to travel to businesses, a mobile notary was used and would travel to buyers.
“I had a closing out in Navasota, and they told us not to come in, and they would send a notary to the sellers,” she said.
Wiring funds has also become more prevalent, Hiller said, which has also been more convenient.
“There are some lenders that are trying to move to a complete virtual closing, with a virtual notary,” she said. “I think that is something we are going to start to see [more of].”
To prevent any possible spread of the coronavirus, Hiller said lights have been left on and closet doors have been opened by the homeowners.
Homeowners have been the most uncomfortable during this time, said LaRae Whorley, a broker and the owner of LaRae Whorley Realty Group, as they are the ones that have had numerous people come in and out of their homes.
“There have been a few homeowners that have been uncomfortable with people coming into their homes,” she said.
Whorley said only people who are essential for the signing process are allowed to attend, meaning children or other family members have been asked not to.
“Only people who are signing are allowed to come to closings, and they have to wear face masks,” she said. “There is a panel between them and the closers, and the documents are passed under the panel, and the closer is wearing gloves.”
During a time when people have been staying or working from home, Whorley said online traffic has spiked since the pandemic began.
Renee Leslie-Buckhoff, a broker and the owner of RE/MAX Elite Properties, said she closed her office for two months and had other Realtors work from home.
“I had 30 agents here in my office, and a lot of them have elected to [work] from home rather than renting space in the office,” she said.
Leslie-Buckhoff said virtual tours have not been effective in selling houses; however, they have been good marketing tools for Realtors.
“There is a whole lot you can’t see and feel in a virtual tour,” she said. “There are smells, neighborhood feelings and sounds that you don’t know until you get there.”
Ray Wade, a broker and the owner of Legacy Texas Properties, said the closing process has changed for buying houses, but the changes are not easy to implement.
“Title companies have been really flexible; one of the companies I work with has done drive-thru closings,” he said. “They basically brought the paperwork out to people in their car.”
Wade said completely online closings and notaries are possible; however, there is difficulty in verifying the signer's identity.
“The concern is verifying the person who is signing the document is who they claim to be,” he said.
Closings have now been able to occur in offices, Wade said, with some added safety precautions.
“The good news is that closings, for the most part, were able to continue during the quarantine time,” he said.