Real estate agents adapt to coronavirus

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Local real estate agents are looking for more socially distant ways to stay in business.

Last week, the Empire State Development Agency (ESD) deemed real estate to be “essential. The rules surrounding what a realtor could and could not do, however, rapidly changed.

News10NBC took a look at how a couple of local agents are navigating those changes.

Under the ESD’s current rules, there is to be no in-person connection between an agent and a homebuyer.

In a statement, a spokesperson said:

“Being an ‘essential’ industry does not mean business as usual — business can only be conducted if social distancing and other public health protocols are followed and all must be doing everything they can to help stop the spread. For real estate, that means brokers can only transact business in their offices or show properties virtually, and anything else is off limits.”

Already, agents like Howard Hanna’s Christina Barbagallo are conducting everything virtually.

“There’s a lot of texting going on, there’s a lot of video going on,” she says.

The technology is simple, as it gives people a walkthrough of a home, without physically walking through it. It’s not a new concept, but Barbagallo says it is helping agents to stay in business, and homeowners to find what they need.

She says it takes months for agents to close a deal on a home and for those who were able to make decent sales in January and February, they may see a good return. If someone was not as successful, though, the coming months may prove to be a pinch in the wallet.

According to President of Howard Hanna of Western New York Fred Corsi, earlier this year the housing market in Rochester was solid, and with interest rates at a low, people were buying up houses. He says the current market has changed due to the outbreak, though, mainly with people practicing social distancing methods.

Despite this, both Corsi and Barbagallo say there are still clients who need to find homes.

“We have found that buyers are at least willing to try it,” Corsi says. “They’re at least willing to do it because there’s no alternative right now.”

Not everyone is on board, though.

We spoke with realtor Mark Siwiec, of Keller Williams Realty.

He and about 250 other area realtors filed a letter to the ESD last week. It stressed concern over a presumption of “business as usual.”
After the complaints were heard, the ESD reversed course and tightened its restrictions.

“We’re feeling as though we have whiplash,” Siwiec says.

With in-person tours now off the table, Siwiec says he’s choosing not to do business for the next several weeks unless it is absolutely necessary. He says special rules within contracts allow someone buying a home virtually to back out of the deal if they are not satisfied with seeing the home in-person.  With uncertainty over when the current restraints will end, as well as concerns over the health and safety of fellow agents, conducting business is a risk he says is not worth it.

“There will be plenty of time, four weeks down the road for people to make up the lost time, and agents will find four weeks down the road that they’ll be making up for lost wages,” Siewiec says.

Barbagallo says she understands why some agents would stay away but says she has clients who are comfortable and she’s happy to help.

“We’re there for our customers, clients in the community,” she says.

As for dealing with a check or contract, Barbagallo says realtors are using wire transfers and drop-offs, with agents using gloves to transfer documents. She warns that while interest rates are low, people who are looking for a home while currently unemployed may be using more credit, and banks may be looking at credit differently going forward.

“They may be a bit more careful about who they lend money to,” she says.

Corsi says they are developing some other ways to make the home buying process more interactive.

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