Evolving the Real Estate Process to Be Safer, Faster and More Responsive

Touring a home these days sure doesn’t look the way it did at the start of 2020. Agents and potential buyers will most likely be in masks, homeowners likely won’t be present and antibacterial wipes will be used to sanitize surface after surface. And while safety is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, savvy real estate professionals are looking to the future to prepare for a new world of buying and selling homes that utilizes practices that evolved during the pandemic.

We sat down (virtually, of course) with brokerage executives and agents from across the country to get their expert insights and market knowledge on where real estate goes from here. From New York City, Ellie Johnson, President of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New York Properties. Weighing in from Las Vegas, Mark Stark, Chief Executive Officer of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Nevada Properties. And representing the great American West, John Sofro, Broker/Owner, and Pam Rheinschild, Assoc. Broker/Owner of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Sun Valley Properties.

Q: The onset of the coronavirus demanded quick adaptation to how real estate professionals do business. What changes to the industry do you think will “stick” … at least for the near future?

Ellie Johnson: While transactions are still taking place in New York City, business has slowed down. What has changed is that you have far less “speculators”—people who are looking to move only if they can find a deal, or homeowners who casually list just to see if they can get an offer that’s appealing to them and potentially would allow them to make that move they have been dreaming of to Florida for retirement.

What you’re left with are buyers and sellers with urgency and a sense of need. It’s something they teach you in Real Estate Sales 101: You have to have a willing and able buyer and seller to do a transaction. And in some ways, I believe it’s better, because before, agents spent a lot of time on things such as open houses where every Tom, Dick and Harry came through the property just to get design ideas or renovation ideas. They weren’t actually serious—it was a Sunday pastime.  This will transition to showing properties by appointment only and it might last for a while. There is going to be more vetting of both buyers and sellers—so numbers-wise it will be quality over quantity. 

Q: How are agents successfully implementing virtual technology during this time, and who do you think will continue to utilize these virtual tools once the pandemic is over?

John Sofro: We’re certainly doing more than we ever have over the internet. And yes, we’re conducting real estate in a way we could never have imagined even three months ago. We have a partner in Boise who’s actually sold homes to people that have never physically been in the property—they’ve only taken virtual tours. 

Now for me, I might not be comfortable buying a home “virtually,” but I think it’s almost a generational kind of thing. Younger generations conduct themselves in a very different way and experience life in ways that might not be appealing to people in my generation. So I’m sure the technology will continue to evolve and generations that grew up in the midst of all of this technology will conduct themselves and operate in a very different way than their parents and grandparents did. They’re more comfortable with it, and so I think we’ll certainly see an increase in virtual tours, at the very least prior to in-person showings.

Q: How do you maintain that personal nature of the agent/client relationship when you can’t be, or won’t be, in person as much as before?

Mark Stark: We’ve certainly been utilizing virtual technology more, whether it’s for home previews, virtual home inspections or walkthroughs via video chat. That being said, I believe we live in an “and” environment, not an “or” environment. This means we need to be sure to be ready to do both: face-to-face communication, as well as taking all these new innovative virtual ideas to help increase our ability to communicate more effectively with all of our clients. My rule of thumb—especially in times like these—is to overcommunicate. It helps establish trust and lets clients know you’re always thinking about them, even if you don’t have much new information to share.

Pam Rheinschild: If anything, this is a real opportunity to become a meaningful part of your clients’ lives, beyond the real estate transaction. An agent knows the community better than most, so I personally have been reaching out to new homeowners in our area to ask them if they need help or to offer tips. Things like, “The library will leave a book for you curbside; let me give you their website.” You know, little things like that. If nothing else, this pandemic has given me a chance to really evaluate and reconnect with my sphere of influence. 

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