Are Open Houses Safe during COVID-19?

How have open houses changed with COVID-19?

Visiting Open Houses has been a favorite activity of home buyers for decades. Long before HGTV, this was an attractive, non-committal way of exploring neighborhoods, or getting good interior design ideas.

In fact, my husband and I made an offer on our first home after visiting an open house back in the 90’s. I had visited EVERY open house for many weeks to get an understanding of the market. I knew when we saw this one it would go fast and it was priced right.

Open Houses Now

Times change, and home buying in 2020 especially!

With a 2nd wave of COVID-19 lurking around the corner I ask the question- do you feel your safety is protected at open houses?

If you skipped the video, I understand! 😊 Long story short, I’ve been using open houses as an opportunity to preview homes on behalf of my clients.

What are we seeing with open houses post-COVID shutdown on the Main Line and in Center City?

Surprisingly I’ve found a wide range of COVID-19 precautions in use and quite often, lack of.

What are the guidelines?

Just to be clear, the guidelines and requirements from the National Association of Realtors AND the State of Pennsylvania require:
✅ masks for everyone (I also provide gloves)
✅ COVID-19 health questionnaire, filled out, signed with contact info
✅ no more than 3 people in the home at a time

COVID-19 Open House following Correct Guidelines
How I hosted a recent Open House for my sellers; health screening, waiting area outside. Gloves provided!

At recent open houses I’ve hosted at my seller’s request, out of curiosity I’ve asked people what their experiences have been, and how they feel about it. Me playing ‘Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking”, on the street reporter‘ (more 90’s flashbacks) 🤣💥

What I’ve heard from you

Many commented that it was uncomfortable, but also expressed a desire to look at homes casually trying to sort out what their dream buying goals are – and learn neighborhoods. Just as it always has been.

One lady thanked me for providing gloves. She said has had to do the “Molly Shanon” from Superstar to avoid touching anything as she walks through other open houses!

I’m proud to say our broker at KW Main Line requires us to strictly abide by these standards. However, at other open houses on the Main Line, I’ve seen realtors letting unlimited groups of people in the house at the same time, and no COVID questionnaire – but at least they had masks on!

It’s always been my business practice to put my client’s needs first. Providing virtual access via video and live streaming is something I adapted early in my career to make it more convenient for my buyer clients, whether they were early in the process or trying to make a short term decision.

Now, more than ever, this type of VIP, concierge service offers you both convenience (saving time) and safety!

What are your thoughts?

Please share and comment. Are you attending open houses instead of booking an appointment? May I ask why? Look forward to hearing your input.

Open House signs antique? like typewriters?

After returning to an “open” business environment after three months, the future of Open Houses seems to be bordering extinct. Or more accurately obsolete, like the typewriter.

Can you write with a typewriter? Yes, but why would you? Can you have an Open House? Yes, but with all the restrictions necessary and appointments required, why would you want to go?

Open House Pivot

Pivot is a word often used to express the dramatic and rapid changes impacting the real estate market due to COVID19. Some changes were underway but became accelerated, like virtual selling.

Others, like Open Houses, have completely “pivoted” to something other than what they were.

The non-committal and casual nature of Open Houses was a way to explore local real estate without an agent, or appointment.

Virtual Open Houses were a work around during our COVID19 shut down, using video previously taken or with the owner’s cooperation via Zoom video conference.

The new standard is to present a virtual Open House on Zoom with the agent guiding a tour of previously recorded video or navigating the Matterport 3D layout. Appointments are required, and if you “stop in” late you miss the video tour.

While it’s better than nothing, and a way to get a “peak” at the interior of the home, it’s not the casual easy way to explore real estate that we have enjoyed for so long.

Virtual Selling – the new standard of practice

In today’s market, virtual selling should be a standard of practice. I’ve sold homes virtually using video since 2008. It doesn’t make sense to book an appointment for a video tour that I already have access to, or should.

Every listing should provide a video tour. For my sellers I do a marketing video, think of it like a movie trailer;

Then I do the actual walk through video which takes you through the home as if you are there.

The home buying process has “pivoted.” Home buyers used to wait to interview and hire an agent until they were ready to buy. Now it’s best practice to do that at the beginning of your search.

Likewise, your pre-approval is needed early in the process as it’s required along with a COVID19 form to book showings.

Open House Standards Due to COVID19

Now that physical Open Houses are allowed, understandably there are awkward restrictions. As an example, here are highlights of a current brokerage’s Open House guideline for agents;

1. Sales associates and all open house visitors must wear a mask.
2. Social distancing rules should be maintained.
3. Disinfect all high-touch areas prior to and between each group of visitors; provide hand sanitizer if possible.
4. Sales associates should limit open house attendance to one group at a time to maintain appropriate distancing and accompany them through their tour to minimize unintended touching of surfaces. Additional groups can be asked to wait outside and to maintain social distancing while doing so.
5. Maintain a record of everyone entering the property, including name and E-mail address or cell phone number.

COVID19 is “here to stay” – we must adapt

The Economist recently published – COVID 19 is here to stay. People will have to adapt :

“The worst is to come. Based on research in 84 countries, a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reckons that…without a medical breakthrough, the total number of cases will climb to 200m-600m by spring 2021.”

We cannot just return to “business as usual” as the battle against this pandemic is far from over.

Protecting buyers and sellers from unnecessary public exposure and utilizing current technology to present a virtual buying experience is now a necessary standard of practice – not just an option.

While our local market is now pushed to pivot in this direction, it’s long overdue in terms of providing the highest level of service to our clients.

Home buying is a journey – not a transaction

I provide information, support, advise and guidance from early exploration of the market through negotiations and closing as my personal standard of practice. Sometimes the answer is to not buy, which is perfectly fine. It’s all about what’s best for you!

The rush to provide virtual Open Houses has been a push to generate “leads” or meet prospective buyers. Open Houses have always been more of a networking opportunity for the agent than a true selling tool for the home owner. Virtual Open Houses provide marketing exposure for the agent but present an awkward experience for buyers.

Virtual Home Buying Service

Using virtual selling expertise, I create video walk throughs of properties throughout the home buying process to narrow down selections and fine tune the home search for my clients. That way, the showings we book in person are in reality 2nd showings. This saves time, protects home buyers and sellers from unnecessary exposure and streamlines the home buying process.

Open House Signs – an antique?

When I sold luxury real estate on Kauai, my open house signs were often stolen and used for fighting rooster sheds, an illegal but popular local sport.

One way of repurposing them but not a big demand on the Main Line!

While I haven’t thrown my Open House signs away, they are in the back closet for now! My ‘go bag’ is full of video equipment instead.

Top 5 new features to sell your home post COVID-19

How has COVID-19 affected home buyer demands?

The list of “must haves” has shifted. Buyers want their home environment to meet critical needs that arose during COVID-19 stay at home orders.

Preparing a home to sell means we must “stage” it to tell the story of your home emphasizing features in high demand from today’s buyers.

That doesn’t mean a major remodel – but it does mean taking a fresh look at how the areas within your home are presented.

Integrate these 5 “must haves” into the story your home tells in marketing for a successful sale in today’s real estate market.

Today’s TOP 5 new features on buyers’ demand list:

#1 – Multiple work zones

Multiple work from home zones are a must have with today's renters and buyers

No longer do people want an old fashion home office, closed off and perhaps near the front door. COVID-19 stay-at-home showed us the need for flexible space as well as multiple work from home zones.

Home office areas need to be light and inspirational. An empty bedroom can be staged as a home office.

One of my favorite easy solutions is to add a desk and chair to a large open space as an inexpensive and effective way to tell the story of multiple work spaces.

Easy home staging solutions for open extra home office space needed post COVID-19.
Easy staging solution to add a work zone

I recently hosted Christina Henck, owner of award winning Henck Design on my LIVE Broadcast who shared excellent home office design tips addressing COVID-19 work from home needs and demands.

Staging can be minimalist. Think of theatre – the stage isn’t furnished, just enough to tell the story and your mind fills in the details.

It’s about visual impact and creating a mental and emotional comfort for buyers that their needs are met.

#2 – Resort style outdoor space

Relaxing, working and entertaining outdoors is in top demand

Demand for outdoor space has become a premium! I hear from luxury agents across the country that it’s a must have for renters as well as buyers. If you have any outdoor space, it’s critical to showcase it and create an indoor / outdoor flow, with space to work, relax, host conversations and BBQ.

Both with work from home on high demand, and obstacles we face traveling for a quick getaway, homes now need to have a staycation element.

How can we tell the story of your home so that it feels like you’re in the Hamptons?

Main Line homes with pools are suddenly in high demand!

Pools are in high demand, but you don’t have to have a pool to successfully create an at-home retreat. From small decks to large yards, it’s important to open up the indoor / outdoor flow.

Changing window coverings, rearranging furniture inside and out as well as staging outdoor patio furniture will allow buyers to visualize working from home and soaking up Vitamin D without travel.

#3 – Grand central kitchen

Open flow kitchen with room for conversations and entertaining

We’ve all found ourselves cooking at home out of necessity during our COVID-19 shut down.

I’ve never understood why as an artist I didn’t feel creative in the kitchen. That broke through during our stay-at-home and I’m loving cooking!

Unfortunate for my daughter that this happened now, instead of when she was little. But it shows that no one’s hopeless. 😁

While restaurants are starting to open, cooking at home is a lifestyle shift for busy professionals that will stay. Meal prep is an event – part of open living with dynamic conversations, not a one-person chore.

Kitchens need to be stylish, inviting, polished, open and have space for fluid conversations.

#4 – Safe and smart tech

Smart technology, for safety and security are in high demand

Smart features of a home are in top demand. Both for technology connectivity as well as convenience and safety. If your home currently is not wired for today’s tech, let’s explore some modest updates to showcase your home for today’s buyers.

For instance, install a home security system with cameras. You can use a service and have them do the install. This also provides peace of mind while it’s on the market.

A smart app for front door access such as the August App won’t require a complete re-wire of your home but will greet buyers with high-tech security that they want.

While surround sound has been in high demand for new construction, the security and convenience of remote access and control is more important in today’s market.

#5 – Decompress zones

Yoga rooms are one of the easiest staging solutions

Personally, I cancelled my gym membership at the end of last year and while I thought about signing up in a new location during the New Year’s specials – I’m glad I procrastinated.

The future for gym memberships may be uncertain – but the demand for space to work out at home, and decompress is not going away.

Yoga rooms and home gyms along with mediations space are key demands for staging for success

Staging a yoga room is easy and inexpensive. I take an empty bedroom, or odd extra space – add a yoga mat and yoga ball, some calming art or zen like features and it’s done!

For larger homes often a challenge is too much furniture.

Move an extra chair into a sunlit area with a staged open book to attractively tell the story of a reading nook in a bedroom, or part of an open living space.

Staging isn’t an insult to your personal interior design taste. It’s literally theatre – setting the stage for buyers to be able to visualize themselves as the stars of their own show, instead of guests in your home.

When I work with my clients to successfully sell their home, I create a unique PR / Marketing plan to tell the story that will connect the best possible buyers to the home, maximizing exposure, creating sizzle and high demand from qualified buyers.

Our initial consultation can be done remotely using Zoom or FaceTime as we go through the home and construct a room-by-room marketing strategy for your success. Let’s talk!

How to host a virtual open house

Virtual Open Houses are likely to become our new “normal” even after social distancing directives are lifted. For now, working together virtually as business partners, we can successfully showcase your home online and create a virtual first “walk through” for interested buyers.

4 Tips for how to host a virtual open house during #stayathome:

  1. Communication – we will do a consultation first via Zoom going over how to prepare, what to expect and choosing a time that works for you and your family. We’ll prepare and discuss features you’d like me to highlight the day of the virtual open house.
  2. Coaching – I’ll teach you how to “host” using your phone’s camera connected through my Zoom account. My hacks and tips I’ve developed from over 12 years of doing real estate videos will make it easy for you!
  3. Preparation – cleaning and decluttering will be necessary just as you would for an in-person open house. Also, the day of the open house all lights should be on, and be ready to open and close cupboard and closet doors. Buyers will also want to see the basement and garage.
  4. Q&A – at the end we’ll leave time for questions and answers. In our coaching call, I’ll help you prepare how to address buyers questions if necessary.

Marketing is my speciality! I’ll create a Facebook event and promote heavily on all social media platforms, linked to an event site asking for registration. The Zoom link will be sent only to those people who RSVP.

You’ll be able to easily share the event with friends and family on your personal social media sites. My marketing strategy gives your property high visibility both to consumers and realtors, creating maximum exposure.

Virtual Real Estate

Recent COVID-19 crisis “stay at home” orders have up-ended traditional real estate activity. However, sellers still want to sell and buyers need new homes.

Virtual showings now become a primary tool for both buyers and sellers to overcome the COVID-19 challenges and accomplish their goals.

For instance, the video below is a walk through preview I did for my clients last week during a brokers open house. There’s so much detail, sense of place and flow of the design one can get from a virtual walk through that you can’t get with profession videos or even the best photos.

Working remotely with both buyers and sellers was a foundation of my business while selling luxury 2nd homes in Hawaii as most of my clients were remote. Some buyers went under contract “sight unseen” based on video walk throughs I shared with them, and then flew in for the home inspection. Of course, that was based on our strong working relationship and clarity of their vision for their new home.

Now is the time when you need a realtor with cutting-edge technology skills as well as experience and expertise. Let’s have “coffee” via Zoom video conferencing and discuss what’s going on in your local market and various strategies to accomplish your goals.