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Home buying & selling in a COVID world

Things have evolved since I first wrote on this topic back in March. Open houses are back, though not entirely, we all know the drill for PPE and sanitization when showing/viewing properties, and yes, we have adapted to the *new normal* (ugh, how I hate that phrase!). The real estate market did not die with the pandemic -- it has just changed. Here's where we are today:

As stated above, many agents are once again hosting open houses for their listings. This is a HUGE relief to the agent community, since it was very hard to try to schedule everything as private showings -- there are only so many places we can be at once -- that being ONE! -- so accommodating all our buyers while also managing our own listings was exhausting if not impossible this spring.

However, not all homes are suited to open houses. Personally, I am only hosting them in single family homes or condos with either their own entrance, or in small associations, IF I have the approval of the other residents. With shared entrances and common areas, it is a matter of respect and courtesy to make sure things are done in a way that feels safe for everyone living in the building, which generally means sticking to private showings.

In these cases, many agents will try to schedule showing blocks on the weekend when an open house would normally take place. This allows us to cater to buyers' expectations on timing, while also controlling who goes in and out, making sure they are masked, one party views at a time, etc.

Personally, I am also encouraging all my sellers to list their homes only AFTER they've moved out. It's never convenient to sell your home while living in it, but during the pandemic, what was once merely an inconvenience has now become a safety risk, so I sleep better at night listing homes vacant, knowing my seller clients are safe and sound somewhere else.

Another thing that has changed with real estate during COVID is that more properties seem to be selling off-market. In some markets (including Boston proper), these *quiet listings* have always been, if not common, at least not rare. But in Cambridge and Somerville, most homes DO come on MLS, with very few exceptions selling off-market, and those are typically arranged directly between the seller and buyer. When agents are involved, we generally advise our seller clients to absolutely list their home in MLS because it maximizes our exposure to potential buyers, and in recent years, has typically resulted in a whole pool of competing offers.

Right now though, the market is quite unpredictable, and while I don't have any statistical data to back up my belief that off-market listings are more common, I can tell you that personally, I have had three listings sell off-market during the pandemic, where normally I wouldn't do any this way.

There are two main reasons why it might make sense to sell a home off market right now. First, for safety reasons, many sellers are not inclined to open their homes to the general public, especially if they are still living there. Second, in an unpredictable market where we can't assume competing bids, allowing a buyer to offer without competition can lead to a better price and terms, since they know they have to come in strong to shut the process down.

From the buyer perspective, while many buyers are comfortable getting back to in-person showings and open houses, I'd say most are more selective about what they view in person. Thankfully, many more agents are now posting floor plans and 3D tours to their listings, so it's easier for buyers to get a feel for a home online and either rule it out or decide it's worth visiting. (I really hope this is a trend that continues after the pandemic -- it is soooo much more efficient!)

Showings themselves have changed, too. Obviously, agents and buyers are no longer riding around in one car together on tour, but rather, meeting at the properties for viewings. Of course PPE is required to enter homes (once I even saw an agent doing temperature checks at the door). And with only one or in some cases two parties allowed into a property at a time, open house visits and showings are often limited to 15- or 30-minute windows. This means it's really critical to thoroughly review the listing online first, so that you can use your in-person time wisely.

Another tip for buyers is many list agents have gotten away from doing offer deadlines, and sellers are simply reviewing offers as they come in. That means if a place looks promising, best to see it quickly!


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