Buying their new house last year on Littlepage Street in Fredericksburg was a pretty matter-of-fact transaction for Roger and Diane Gray. Now, however, selling their longtime family home in King George County will happen under somewhat different circumstances.
“We had no idea the coronavirus would be coming up,” Diane Gray said. “But we’d already called Chip.”
“Chip” is Chip Taylor, a veteran Realtor with Long & Foster Real Estate in Fredericksburg who has been the Grays’ agent of choice for years.
The three of them were sitting on the Grays’ front porch steps Friday discussing the logistics of selling a home during the coronavirus era. Taylor had a bottle of Purell in his hand, forefinger on the pump, ready to squirt.
He said he’s confident things will go well for the Grays, thanks to the technology that’s available and a local real estate market that he calls “resilient.”
But that resilience is sure to be tested in the coming weeks—or months—as the longevity of the epidemic and its effects become more apparent.
Scott Hine, branch manager for Assurance Financial in Fredericksburg, said home buyers are likely to face rising mortgage interest rates in the short term, followed by “some of the lowest rates we’ve ever seen.”
He said he sees the “panic” surrounding the virus outbreak as both good and bad. The actions people are taking out of concern, such as staying home and practicing social distancing, may mean the outbreak won’t last as long as it could have. But until people hear news that helps the fear subside, they’ll probably be reluctant to jump into the market.
Hines said that while people are out of work, foreclosures will increase and the real estate market will cool off. It’s too soon to know for sure how long the down cycle will last.
“It always depends on whether people feel secure in their jobs,” he said. “I think the immediate pain will be short-lived.”
In the meantime, real estate agents say they understand the onus is on them to adjust to the new normal, however long it may last.
Realtor Drew Fristoe of Coldwell Banker Elite in Fredericksburg was out showing a property in the area Friday morning before returning to his home office. This showing was different from past meetings because the prospective buyers weren’t there.
“I just went on a digital showing,” he said. “It’s one of the ways we’ll try to adapt and change as we need to. Things are still happening.”
Fristoe, who is also current president of the Fredericksburg Area Association of Realtors, went through the house using the FaceTime app on his phone with the prospective buyers following along in real time. After that virtual tour, the clients said they’d consider making an offer.
Had he been showing the property today to actual, in-person buyers, things would have been different.
“Every day there are more guidelines on things we should do, like wiping down all doors and door knobs beforehand,” Fristoe said. “But [these days] it can just be better to do a digital showing.”
Fristoe said the industry will adjust to the situation. In just the past week, he has seen Realtors getting together online to discuss how to adapt.
“We’re taking it one day at a time and figuring out how to come together as a community.”
Another new consideration since the coronavirus outbreak is making sure flexibility is built into contracts. With government offices closed, there could be delays in the recordation process, or there could be lag times in appraisal, financing or inspection deadlines.
In some cases, the closing date might have to be postponed. To cover those contingencies, at least one Realtor association in Virginia has produced a new “COVID-19 Addendum” page for listing contracts.
Given the military presence in the Fredericksburg area and Northern Virginia, the hold put on military moves makes such flexibility a necessity going forward.
Overall, the housing market has been on a roll. The National Association of Realtors reported Friday that February was the industry’s best month for sales in 13 years, since the Great Recession took hold in 2007.
“The market has been doing great,” Fristoe said. “Just a couple of weeks ago I listed a property on a Friday and over the weekend we had 12 showings and two competing offers.”
Kevin McGrath, a broker with Long & Foster in Fredericksburg who oversees the work of some 120 agents, said one of them just wrote a contract for clients based on a virtual tour. They haven’t seen the house in-person.
“It’s a strange new world, but I think the industry will come out stronger for it,” he said. “We’re being pushed to embrace new ways of doing business.”
He said business has been “very robust and continues to be, but what will happen tomorrow is anybody’s guess. We may not be in the office but we are definitely open for business.”
McGrath said video teaching is the wave of the future, and other new technology like electronic signatures helps get the deal done when all parties can’t be in the same room at the same time, for whatever reason.
“We have to get past any resistance to new technology,” he said. “The horse has left the barn on that.”