We’ve all been spending much more time at home in recent months than probably ever before, and if you’re in the market for a new place to quarantine in, there are some things that have changed when it comes to house hunting. Between wearing masks and gloves, not being able to host open houses, and holding showings via Zoom or FaceTime, the real estate industry looks a little different now—and living in a home that you love is all the more important. House Beautiful spoke to real estate agent Josh Flagg, of Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles, and broker Ryan Serhant, of Million Dollar Listing New York, to find out what to expect when house hunting in the age of the pandemic, and how the real estate industry has been impacted by these changes.
It should come as no surprise that clients, realtors, brokers, and the like have to wear masks at showings now, and gloves must be worn if surfaces are being touched. Serhant tells House Beautiful that, in New York City, contract tracing is being used now, “so in case there’s ever an outbreak, you can trace a contact across the board and alert everybody.” Shoes also have to be removed upon visiting a listing, to further avoid surface contamination.
Josh Flagg, who began working in real estate over 15 years ago, tells House Beautiful that public open houses are not plausible anymore (given the need to socially distance), but private, by appointment open houses are still happening. In place of in-person open houses on Sundays, Flagg hosts virtual open house tours and he also holds Tuesday caravans, which “is when the agents go in and look at all of the houses in the neighborhood.”
Most of Flagg’s clients live close to the listings they’re interested in buying, so they are able to see the homes in person before placing an offer. In the state of California, all visitors must sign PEAD-V (which stands for Coronavirus Property Entry Advisory and Declaration − Visitor) forms each and every time they enter a property, to make sure that the right precautions are taken at showings—wearing face coverings, staying six feet apart from one another, not touching any surfaces, and applying hand sanitizer or washing your hands upon entering a home.
Another new component of searching for a house is that everything has become digital. Serhant says there are no show sheets or show books being handed out at showings, and he continues to sell various listings through FaceTime and Zoom. When it wasn’t possible to do in-person showings, Serhant says that “we were just using videos that we had taken previously, or, if the owners were home,” they would use FaceTime or Zoom “with us, the client, and their broker at the same time.” In fact, the Serhant Team recently sold a $15 million townhouse in Chelsea entirely through virtual showings.
It’s important to note, though, that the virtual way of selling homes is not new. “This technology has been around for a long time. It just wasn’t deemed acceptable and part of the status quo until all of a sudden we were forced to use it,” says Serhant. “Now that we’re forced to use it, people are like ‘Yeah, no problem, I’m used to it.’ Before, that was like, ‘No, that’s weird, I don’t get it, why would you do that?, I’ll just wait ‘til I can come see it in two weeks, it’s fine.’”
In Los Angeles, Flagg has noticed an increased interest in buying homes with more property. “It seems like people want land and they want to be able to get out of their house, so big yards are more important at the moment,” says Flagg. “And I think, just in general, people are so tired of being cooped up and they just want change—any kind of change in their lives—that people are buying more, ironically, than they were pre the pandemic.” In regards to the Los Angeles real estate market, Flagg finds that, oddly enough, the current state of affairs has “really helped the market in some strange, bizarre fashion.” One of Flagg’s recent deals? The purchase of Lori Loughlin’s Bel-Air mansion for $19 million.
As House Beautiful reported earlier this month, June of 2020 saw the greatest amount of new home sales in 15 years. Evidently, despite the pandemic (or maybe because of it), both Flagg and Serhant have seen firsthand an increase in the number of homes being sold in Los Angeles and the New York tri-state area.
Serhant, who has been working as a real estate broker in New York City since 2008, recently opened an office in Greenwich, Connecticut, because of the heightened amount of home sales in the suburbs. “I have never known a market as ravenous as what is going on in the suburbs [of the tri-state area] right now,” Serhant tells us. “I’ve never done more business in Greenwich, Connecticut, upstate New York, Long Island, the Hamptons, and New Jersey [in recent months] than I have in my entire life.”
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