The coronavirus outbreak naturally has many real estate agents on edge. For most agents, face-to-face interaction -- often with customers from out of town or even out of the country -- are a regular part of day-to-day business.
It also poses a conundrum when considering one of the industry's most long-held real estate marketing practices: the open house.
While avoidance -- steering clear of open houses altogether -- is obviously the best way to ensure your safety and that of your sellers, it could dampen your prospects and delay the sale significantly, not to mention your commission.
If that doesn't sound too appealing, there are some precautions you can take to minimize the risk if you do host an open house or in-person showing.
How to protect buyers, sellers, and yourself
Agents Marianne Bornhoft and Kellie Parker both recommend taking a different approach to open houses. Instead of having open hours when buyers can come and go, spread potential buyers out in 15- or 30-minute increments. This gives you enough time to clean up and sanitize between visits, and it also keeps too many people from being on the property at once -- something the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) cautions against.
Here are some other open-house precautions the agents recommend putting in place:
- Leave all lights on in the house for the entire event or showing. This keeps buyers and their agents from touching the light switches and possibly contaminating them.
- Set up cleaning stations. Have alcohol-based hand sanitizer available throughout the house, and keep soap, paper towels, and cleaning wipes on the countertop for everyone's use. You might even consider handing out a travel-size sanitizer at the door.
- Offer booties at the door. Ask all visitors to cover their shoes with booties to avoid contaminating the seller's property.
- Clean common surfaces between each buyer. Wipe down the doorknobs, cabinet handles, countertops, faucet handles, and other areas the visitors touched before the next one arrives. Do so again when your event comes to a close to protect your sellers.
According to Bornhoft, it's becoming obvious that both agents and sellers are taking the threat of COVID-19 seriously. "Some people are waiting to list because they are elderly and have compromised immune systems," she said. "I have two sellers that will be moving out of their house, so it will be vacant."
The official word
The National Association of Realtors (NAR) encourages agents to be open and honest about the risks of an open house during this time. Recent guidelines released by the trade association ask that agents "Assess the risk based on your specific location, and direct your clients to local and state health authorities for specific information about the severity of the risk in your area."
NAR also recommends using alternative marketing tactics, like virtual and video tours. One brokerage -- Redfin (NASDAQ: RDFN) -- has already begun making virtual tours the norm for its agents. Consider asking your brokerage what alternative options and technologies you could use during this time. It could help both you and your community at large stay healthier in the long run.