Realtors watch with suspicion as COVID-19 cases rise, hoping another industry shutdown doesn’t follow
COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are increasing, mask warrants are back and this stage of the pandemic is starting to look like last year. Home buyers and sellers and their agents are hoping all of this doesn’t mean another restriction will return.
At the onset of the pandemic, as Pennsylvania allowed other businesses to operate in person with security measures in place, the governor ruled real estate non-essential and halted many in-person activities.
This restriction helped slow the usually busy spring real estate market and the momentum that had built up since the winter. Agents are therefore watching the spread of the coronavirus with suspicion and wonder if the future holds another stop.
“There is a fear. There is a real fear about it, ”said Christopher Sample, chairman of the Philadelphia Metropolitan Board of Realtist, the local branch of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers. Agents and brokers “are very nervous”.
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More and more buyers and sellers are also concerned, as the number of COVID-19 cases increases. Some agents report that among current housing applicants, “there is a reluctance to see properties occupied,” said Sample, an associate broker of Able Real Estate, based in Philadelphia. Many members of his association give slots to potential buyers during open days to control the flow of visitors.
Even though the housing market has cooled somewhat, as is usually the case in August and September, homebuyers are still active and are taking advantage of historically low mortgage interest rates. Homes continue to sell quickly in a year that broke sales records for many area brokers.
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As more people received COVID-19 vaccines, realtors began allowing homebuyers with vaccines to attend tours and open houses without masks, in line with safety guidelines for businesses. Then, like everyone else, agents, buyers and sellers began to learn more about the delta variant of the coronavirus and improved security protocols returned.
“I always keep an eye out for the pandemic,” said Jeff Block, associate broker and City Block team leader at Compass Real Estate.
In March 2020, he canceled his team’s open days a week before the region closed. This month, Block began requiring everyone to wear masks on open houses the week before Philadelphia announced mask or vaccination warrants for businesses. Block said he was generally optimistic about the future, even with the increase in COVID-19 cases.
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“A big difference now is that we’re in a much better place. Nothing stops. It’s not like everyone’s home, ”Block said. “I hope we can get away with just using common sense, being careful and keeping things open.”
He and his team will be ready to return to virtual interactions with customers if they have to, he said, “but that’s definitely not the plan.” Virtual projections “barely” kept real estate transactions going in the spring of 2020, he said. Nothing beats in person.
Last weekend, 25 parties attended an open house in Germantown, and everyone was wearing masks, he said. Everyone who comes to an open house must register, a rule that Block and his team implemented last year and had put on hold while people were getting vaccinated. Once again, QR codes on signs pasted to front doors reveal questions about symptoms, exposure and positive COVID-19 tests.
Buyers have followed restored pandemic safety protocols, Sample of Able Real Estate said.
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“Especially if they are interested in a property,” he said, “they will do whatever they need to do to get into that property.”
At the start of the pandemic, some vendors were reluctant to allow people into their homes, but even with the increase in COVID-19 cases, they are more comfortable letting people in now, said Robert Acuff. , broker and owner of RE / MAX Services at Blue Bell whose team works in Philadelphia and surrounding counties.
Real estate agents are waiting to see what the fall holds, both for the market and for the pandemic.
“Whatever happens, the real estate community will be ready to adapt to help our clients buy and sell homes,” Acuff said. “The demand is there. Consumers are interested in doing business. It is our responsibility to serve them in a way that they feel safe and comfortable.