Real Estate in 2020: What’s new in shopping for and marketing homes?

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Guest Columnist

In March, the COVID-19 pandemic restricted our real estate activities. Our every-Tuesday in-person tour of homes, “caravan” as we call it, stopped immediately because the recommended change in distancing between all of us wouldn’t allow gatherings of groups. Sellers were uncomfortable with people coming in their homes, not sure where visitors had been. Air travel safety was questioned by buyers, so most stayed home rather than travel to make buying decisions.

Real estate was deemed an essential activity. I immediately changed some processes to facilitate my customers’ buying and selling homes. Some of these adjustments have become our new normal and will likely stay with us.

Thanks to technology, I help buyers visit properties with me through my phone’s camera. I was trained in interviewing as well as in laying out ads for visual appeal when I was in the newspaper business. I’ve had a great time using these skills when planning a tour for customers. I learn what is important to them, which allows me to lay out, if you will, the overview as well as the details of the property in a visually attractive way.  We focus on their checkboxes and give them narrative that the camera doesn’t give, covering details they aren’t there to experience, like the connectivity or separation between spaces, interior finishes, community amenities, distances to schools and work. Sometimes we have specific tasks, such as “where can I put the chest I sent you a photo of?”  I measure and visualize so the customer can imagine how the spaces work for their precious furnishings. Through such personalized tours, I have put several homes under contract without the buyers stepping into the homes. It’s a very focused way to look at homes, and it works!

We have returned to doing in-person showings, with a limit on number of attendees. We travel separately, in our own cars. During home tours, we use our own personal protection and we follow distancing guidelines set forth by our local and national Realtor Associations. Where my toolkit used to be comprised of paperwork, pens and tape measures, additionally I now have a stock of masks, gloves and sanitizer in my car for buyers who don’t have their own. We give each other space when in the homes. We save our in-depth discussions about what we’ve seen for when we are outside.

E-signing is now the norm, as well as electronic transmission of contracts, reports and surveys. Customers have found that they like the electronic way; they appreciate the ease and convenience. Buyers, sellers, lenders, inspectors, contractors — all communicate by phone and online; I stay in the center of the transaction keeping all the wheels turning. Closings are the exceptions, because lenders still require notarized signatures. Closing lawyers set signing appointments separately for buyers and sellers, and Realtors and loan officers don’t attend. For those who don’t want to go into an office, there are remote notary services.

On my personal Facebook page, I share uplifting highlights of our First Coast area. Pictures of sunrises and sunsets, a beautiful dining table, and ever-expanding online resources provide diversions as well as paths for navigating our way through the pandemic.

Our Ponte Vedra Realtors have created a virtual tour of homes for area real estate professionals. Accurate photography is imperative since shopping online is the number one way most buyers come into contact with inventory. Buyers need to have reliable photos.

I expect that providing personalized tours will continue. Customers and I enjoy connecting that way. It requires close communication and collaboration, plus it’s a lot of fun. We’ve changed our methods to meet the challenges of the day, with good results!

Clare Berry is owner and broker of Berry & Co. Real Estate, which is located at 330 A1A N. in Ponte Vedra Beach.

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