During the pandemic, many real estate agents had their busiest year EVER. There were millions of people who suddenly needed more space, no longer wanted to be “stuck” in cities they had moved to for work or school, or finally had an opportunity to get their dream home at a great price and with a crazy-low mortgage rate. But there was just one, small snag: A pandemic that made in-person meetings a no-go. Showings and open houses were replaced with lockdowns, flight bans, quarantines, social distancing, and travel restrictions. As the industry faced its biggest challenge—and highest demand—yet, we were pleasantly surprised to find that real estate could function very well using a simple tool we all had on hand: Our phones.
In the past 30 days alone, I’ve sold four properties in South Florida over $10 million apiece without a single in-person showing. These deals happened completely virtually. While this may sound like the exception, or a COVID-specific occurrence, I see virtual deals as a trend that will only grow. Here’s why:
The Technology Is Here
Real estate listings are more robust and detailed than ever before. For several years, agents have been leaning in to technology to give clients an accurate impression of a home before they even walk through the door. Instead of clicking through a few photos and needing to “go see it in person” to know for sure, prospective buyers have Google Maps street view and exterior shots, HD and 3-D listing photos, 360-degree drag-and-move panoramic room tours, and full-home video tours. Many agents were offering these features long before COVID, simply to give their clients a better service. As a result, people were already getting used to seeing homes through their phones and computer screens—not just in person.
Real Estate Agents Are Now Global Agents
Technology allows us to share information. It also allows us to share information faster and wider. For that reason, no agent is just a “local” agent anymore—we’re all global agents now, connected to and serving a much broader audience. We have clients who don’t live anywhere near us, and showing to out-of-state and foreign buyers over the phone has become increasingly common, pandemic or not. As agents, we are here to fill in any gaps that technology hasn’t closed; If my client can’t fly in from across the country to see a home, I can be there to see it for her and take her on a tour via FaceTime. If my client wants to buy a home in another country, I can make it happen virtually without requiring him to get on a plane or even leave his home. Serving foreign and out-of-state purchasers is easier than ever before, because we can do it without any travel and minimal interruption to the client’s life.
Convenience and Competitive Edge
Even when a client can view a home in person, virtual tours can be extremely helpful. By showing them a listing over FaceTime, Zoom, or Google Meet, I can save them a trip (and time, and money). Virtual showings also provide a competitive advantage in a limited-inventory market by allowing clients to quickly “see” a home and make an offer, sometimes before anyone else has a chance to. Example: I can set up a FaceTime viewing for a foreign client on an off-market listing and have their offer in by the end of that day, allowing us to beat out offers from local buyers. During the inspection period, which is when I’d typically return with the buyer for a second showing, I can bring in the buyer for their first showing. Others may opt to not see the property at all, and fly in only for the closing or moving day. This was surprisingly common during COVID, but it could easily become the norm for investment properties, job relocations, and more common situations.
Technology has allowed us to serve more people in more places more quickly. It’s helped people stay safe during the pandemic, relocate out of state (or out of the country) with minimal disruption, and it helps us as agents go the extra mile for our clients. A record number of people relocated in 2020, and a huge portion of those deals involved a virtual component, whether it was “meeting” the agent by phone, watching a video tour, having a FaceTime showing, or opting for a virtual inspection or closing. Making an offer on a home without seeing it first isn’t just a COVID trend; it’s a sign of things to come.