In July of 2020, Steve Farrell, broker and owner of Classic Properties in Clarks Summit, did something he did rarely before the coronavirus pandemic began — he sold a Wavely, Lackawanna County, property through a virtual showing.
The buyer, from out of state, purchased the property without ever seeing it in-person.
“It was an executive relocating to Northeastern Pennsylvania from St. Louis,” said Farrell. “He didn’t see the house until the final walk through before closing. I walked through the house with my phone and they bought it sight unseen.”
Using technology and high-end photography, virtual showings are just one-way real estate agents are adapting to a new reality during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The virtual showing is something that will stay,” he said.
Virginia Rose, president and CEO of Lewith and Freeman Real Estate Inc. in Wilkes-Barre, said her agency has taken advantage of virtual showings.
“Sellers are at an advantage when they use a virtual tour and professional photography to help buyers envision the property prior to physically seeing it,” she said, adding that ‘whenever possible’ their realtors offer virtual tours prior to viewing a property in person. She also said many buyers are requesting virtual showings.
In March, the agency launched “Lewith & Freeman On Demand,” a database of virtual properties for sales, she said. Several agents are also doing house tours on Facetime or Whatsapp for out-of-state buyers.
But not everyone believes virtual showings are the best way to show a home.
Patricia Furneaux, owner and broker of Endless Realty in Tunkhannock said in-person showings are still the best.
“It’s been our experience that people don’t like it. People like to feel and touch,” she said.
Furneaux said in the beginning of the pandemic, they adjusted office hours. Showings are still limited to a few people and often shoe coverings are worn.
She said the seller is responsible for sanitizing the house once a prospective buyer has the left the property.
There are other changes too, like making sure buyers are safe while walking through a home.
The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors established guidelines in the very beginning to help agencies buy and sell homes during the pandemic, said Farrell. He said his agents are using ‘SafeHome,’ to help buyers through the process.
“It’s a PPE package,” he said. “We rolled this out in June of last year. All of our sellers get the kit, which is a small plastic bag that we put on the front door. There’s a door hanger that gives instructions to the showing agent.”
He said the package includes four sets of personal protective equipment for each house showing. The kit includes masks, gloves, shoe coverings, hand sanitizer and a garbage bag to take everything when they leave.
Farrell said the enhanced safety precautions are working and giving buyers a sense of confidence.
“Since October of 2020, 96 of our sellers have used SafeHome,” he said. “There’s very few properties that are getting multiple showings as soon as they are listed, so buyers are a little apprehensive when they go into a house when they know there’s been a ton of people in there are already, unless they know the house is safe. It gives them peace of mind.”
Farrell said the overall process has been challenging since the beginning of the pandemic. He cited a low housing inventory and higher prices as two things that are compounding the market.
“Prices are up 11-percent since 2019,” he said. “Some of our local buyers aren’t anticipating going into a multiple offer situation and paying ‘at’ or sometimes ‘over’ the asking price. They aren’t aware of that.”
Furneaux, too, said inventory has been a problem.
“In Wyoming County, there are 37 listings,” she said. “And of those listings 13 have been listed for quite some time. Then there are seven or eight properties that are less than $200,000. We have no product to move.”
Jason Thomas said the lack of inventory has been his biggest issue since the pandemic. Thomas, owner of The Agency Real Estate in Old Forge, said prices are higher, putting sellers at a big advantage.
“It’s been crazy for the realtors,” he said. “And for buyers. It’s a case of supply and demand. Houses two years ago that were, let’s say, worth $200,000 and now selling for almost $300,000. They are selling as fast as we get them.”
Thomas said he put a home on the market in mid-February and had 35 showings from a Friday to Monday.
“I had five offers on my desk on Monday morning,” he said. “It sold over the asking price. That’s a common trend.”
He fears that could mean trouble for the real estate market down the road.
“Everyone is going to overpay for everything and in three or four years, they will be upside down on these homes,” he said.
“Our best advice to any seller considering listing their property is to meet with a trusted realtor to get the process started, even if you think your home isn’t ready,” Rose said. “Mortgage rates continue to be low and homes are selling very fast in Northeastern Pennsylvania. It’s a fantastic opportunity for buyers and sellers alike.”
Real estate website Zillow said in late February that Scranton was one of its ‘top metros’ for website traffic — sandwiched between Austin, TX and yes — New York City.