Brokerage Touts Virtual Tours Amid Coronavirus Concerns

March 5, 2020

Some brokerages are already reporting a significant drop in demand from home buyers and home sellers as fears grow over a COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. Glenn Kelman, CEO of Redfin, posted in a blog post on Wednesday that following the first U.S. death from the new coronavirus in Seattle, the firm has noticed a significant drop in buyer tours in some locales.

In response, Redfin has launched on-demand virtual home tours. Starting on Wednesday, home buyers can use a pushbutton tool at the brokerage’s site to ask the real estate agent to conduct the tour virtually via video chat. Before, that pushbutton tool was only used for requesting a private, in-person tour of homes for sale. Redfin has decided to give home shoppers the option of touring homes virtually in case they prefer to stay at home.

Kelman also said in the blog post that buyers can complete the contract virtually, if they choose, in states that allow it. They can close on a mortgage and title service electronically. “If you’d rather not meet others except where necessary, we can let you see a home, bid on it, and close on it, all virtually,” he writes.

The coronavirus has been having an impact on the real estate industry, making buyers skittish to tour homes or visit open houses and influencing mortgage rates.

Kelman said that agents in Seattle are working with sellers who are concerned about potential spread of the virus from people touring their homes. “Three canceled their listings, and at least one buyer canceled an offer,” he noted.

But in other areas of the country, agents have reported little disruption. In Portland, Ore., which had the first three confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. last week, agents are reporting little change in customer behavior, except a few customers asking to meet agents in private rather than at a coffee shop.

Kelman says the brokerage has taken some extra precautions, such as advising its real estate professionals not to shake hands with customers who are concerned about having contact with new people. He says they’re also advising home sellers to have household cleaning spray and wipes available at private showings so that agents from other brokerages can use them after a tour. Redfin is also supplying its agents with wipes and cleaning materials to wipe down frequently touched objects.

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