Real Estate Agents Use More Virtual Tools During Pandemic

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Arkansas real estate agents say the COVID-19 pandemic has and will likely change how they do business by making virtual options for showing homes more common.

“It’s really been surprising. My business really hasn’t slowed down the entire time,” said Allison Pickell, president of Little Rock Realtors Association and a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker RPM Group.

“I was a little worried when all that kicked off but, I mean, really and truly, if we had a slowdown, it really wasn’t noticed much and now things are just rocking like any other spring,” said Tara Gatewood, a real estate agent with Halsey Thrasher Harpole of Jonesboro. 

In addition, Pickell said agents have been deploying different protocols for the pandemic.

Those include screening prospective buyers for possible exposure to COVID-19; wearing gloves, masks and booties when offering in-person showings; limiting how much they and prospective buyers touch surfaces in homes; and limiting the number of people in a home at one time during in-person open houses. 

Gatewood said she’d also been carrying a Lysol wipe with her to all in-person showings, and wiping high-touch surfaces with it. 

According to Pickell, there was a decrease in showings from March 15-April 15. And there have been fewer houses on the market.

That was the case even before the outbreak. But some who would’ve put their homes on the market now are not selling because they don’t want prospective buyers exposing them to COVID-19, she said.

Arkansas didn’t place specific restrictions on the real estate industry like other states did, said Randy Sumbles of The Sumbles Team — Keller Williams Realty.

“We honestly haven’t missed a beat,” he said. “If we were going to see a big impact in our business, we would have seen it. And so now things are opening back up and people have learned how to deal with this. I don’t see a long term effect in real estate.” 

The caveat to that is Keller Williams, an international company, trained his office in how to hold virtual open houses. Sumbles said it may continue with virtual showings after the pandemic has passed. 

“You never get 200 people coming to a live open house in the house, so you know we feel like it’s really a good tool,” he said. 

Pickell had been using virtual tools to show houses before the pandemic but said those seem more prevalent now. And she thinks that will continue post-coronavirus because agents have gotten comfortable with using them.

She said agents are walking through homes to record video for potential buyers, sometimes while speaking to the buyers via apps like FaceTime, and using Facebook Live to hold virtual open houses.

Ross McCain, an appraiser in Little Rock, said he’s not using as many virtual tools as real estate agents, but he believes that doing exterior-only reports and relying on homeowners for information and photos of their interiors could become the norm. It’s a quicker and better way to do things, he said.

“We typically run about 30-45 days behind the Realtors … we’re one of the last cogs in the machine,” he said. “But, that being said, the last six months, and even this month is shaping up to be probably about 20% higher.”

McCain said he’s seeing a lot of refinances right now, spurred by low interest rates.

“It does seem that deals are happening left and right,” Gatewood said. “Rates are still great. You’ve got all your lenders promoting. … Even through COVID-19, you’re seeing Realtors just getting slammed with refinances due to rates staying low and the reason rates are low are, obviously, COVID-driven, trying to keep the economy in the normal state.”