Houses closed: Technology helps Realtors shut down by virus outbreak

Sabra Karr, of Villager Realty in Lewisburg, works at home. All real estate offices in Pennsylvania have been ordered closed by Gov. Tom Wolf, who classified them as “non-essential” for purposes of social distancing classifications in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak.

Nicolette Wayand walked outdoors Thursday for a bit of exercise. The Valley realtor would prefer to walk clients through a new home or rental.

Realtors like Wayand are deemed non-essential workers under the Wolf Administration’s categorization used to enact social distancing measures in mitigating the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease, COVID-19.

She can’t meet clients face to face. She can’t host an open house. One of her clients is set to move to the Valley to start a job at a health system beginning June 1. Wayand can’t imagine why real estate isn’t considered essential.

“I have clients calling me and they’re stressed to the max,” said Wayand, of TEU Real Estate, Lewisburg. “These people are moving because they have to move. Housing is essential. How could this not be on the essential business list?”

Mortgage applications to buy a home fell 12% in the week that ended April 3 compared with the previous week, as first reported by The Associated Press. Applications dropped 33% compared to the same week last year, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Home buying applications are at their lowest level since 2015, the MBA said.

“We have heard of some sales being lost due to buyers losing their jobs,” said Rick Coup of The Coup Agency, Milton. Coup is president of the Multi List Board of the Central Susquehanna Valley Board of Realtors. “I have not seen many properties being cancelled or withdrawn from the market at this point by sellers.”

Sabra Karr of Villager Realty, Lewisburg, said electronic signatures help in moving sales along. So, too, can virtual tours. For now, she takes her work home — spreading out in her kitchen with her dog, Koda, by her side.

“Earlier this afternoon I had a FaceTime listing appointment where the seller ‘walked’ me through the house virtually. There have been an abundance of industry-related webinars available, as well as continuing education opportunities and designation/certification courses online. Zoom meetings have become commonplace,” Karr said.

Karr closed on several sales in the weeks leading to Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order. A buyer kept Karr on speakerphone during one closing since then, she said, in order to abide by the government directive.

“These closings were on transactions which were further along in the process and we already had most of the information we needed,” Karr said.

Title searches, tax certifications, municipal utility payoffs, home inspections, contractor repairs, deed recordings and obtaining a certified check are among many steps in the home-buying transaction that are now disrupted, Karr said.

Aimee Buehner of the Bowen Agency, Sunbury, is president of the Central Susquehanna Valley Board of Realtors. She conferred with Coup and Barbara Hamilton, the board’s executive, in answering questions about the local market and how it’s been affected by the global coronavirus pandemic.

This week, realtors were advised about how to finalize transactions contracted before March 6, Buehner said. She closed one sale last week and plans to finalize another next week. Contact is limited and it’s required that all efforts be made to conduct this business remotely, she said.

Consumers remain engaged, Buehner said, but they’re hesitant and have many questions. Realtors are working to guide them through the uncertainty and keep transactions afloat. She said she heard of one buyer pulling out of a sale because of the pandemic-caused delays.

She hasn’t heard of sellers pulling properties from the market.

Banks are conducting business remotely, Buehner said. Accessing county records is a challenge, though, as is notarization.

While there is a temporary recognition of online notarization, not all counties accept e-signatures, she said.

“Technology is a big part of our world and one that some of us have been hesitant to implement.

Now is the time, and many Realtors are moving in that direction,” Buehner said.

“Maintaining contact with current and prospective buyers and sellers is paramount to our business always, and those connections are a great way to maintain healthy routines and business activity during this time.

Our priority needs to be following the orders and abiding by the restrictions while doing business,” she said.

Recommended for you