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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

COVID-19 changes business: From selling homes to counseling clients

Real estate professionals, like Heather Teems, a realtor with 10 years of experience, are finding themselves doubling as a counselor for clients as the COVID-19 virus changes the business world.

“The last couple weeks have been lot of managing people’s expectations,” said Teems, a part of the leadership team at LEAGUE Real Estate. “There’s a lot of counseling and talking. Peoples’ real lives are being affected. I had to sort of shift to that mentality.

“Buyers that I thought would be on a contract soon, or list soon, I’ve had to talk through some major, important things affecting their life, their jobs,” Teems said.

The longer-term financial concerns are weighing down on her clients, Teems said, as much as the risk of getting sick or exposed to the virus.

Some of Teems’ clients previously looking to sell now don’t wish to invite people to open houses to limit spreading the virus.

A lot of cleaning and wiping with sanitizer is taking place at vacant houses that Teems currently has listed and is actively showing.

And she is also experimenting with a few digital tools, like Facetime or the video conferencing app Zoom, to continue providing services to her clients. LEAGUE is also offering virtual tours of homes.

Other organizations are having to readjust and adapt similarly. Agents at real estate company Compass’ Fort Worth office have started using a recently launched company-wide virtual platform to temporarily serve clients during the social distancing period.

“Because each community is different, the offerings in the Virtual Agent Services suite will vary slightly between markets,” Compass CEO Robert Reffkin said in an email to all agents. “But the philosophy remains the same: providing you with everything you need to operate 100% virtually during this extraordinary time. “

After issuing a declaration of local disaster due to the widespread illness from covid-19, Tarrant County officials enforced a stay-at-home order on March 24. The order considers real estate transactions and housing to be “essential businesses.”

Concerns over the pandemic have impacted a wide range of real estate-related transactions. For instance, Hillwood, developer of Fort Worth’s AllianceTexas development, canceled all realtor events and classes for the near future. The company is advising its agents to make online appointments and provide virtual tours of homes whenever possible.

“I just feel like things have just come to a halt as far as new clients, new buyers and people wanting to list their homes,” Teems said.

April is considered a busy time for home buying and selling. In a typical year, Teems would be actively working with six to 10 clients this time of year.

She currently has one, who is also uncertain of how things will end up.

According to a report by Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, Texas existing-home sales increased 2.6 percent year over year in February, a record high. The growth was fueled by a strong labor market and historically low mortgage rates.

But eight months of continued growth came crashing down in March when the virus took a foothold in the country.

“The economic and public health response to the novel coronavirus will drastically affect housing market activity in coming months,” the center’s chief economist, James Gaines, said. “Social distancing and self-isolation will reduce the number of homes viewed and shown by real estate agents, keeping both buyers and sellers on the sidelines for some time.”

Staying on the sidelines during one of the strongest residential real estate markets in years was not what the industry expected.

“I don’t think anybody around the world predicted this to happen,” said Robert Gleason, CEO of Greater Fort Worth Association of Realtors.

Fort Worth home sales were up 0.4% to 856 homes in February 2020. The median price for homes also increased by 3.8%, year-over-year.

“Eventually once this situation comes back to normal, there’s going to be a lot of pent-up demand that is being shifted from these months to those later months,” Gleason said. “So, we may see a downturn over the next several months as the virus progresses and restrictions remain in place.”

Basic economic principals suggest the price of a commodity will rise when its demand increases. So, the already hard-to-find homes below $300,000 might become even rarer later in the year in the Fort Worth area, which is known for its affordability.

“Because that demand is out there, for sellers it would be an excellent time to put their home in the market,” Gleason said.

“But even before this situation, we had very low inventory,” he added. “Anything that can improve our inventory situation – put more homes on the market – is best for the buyers and help things level out.”

For now, Gleason is optimistic the local real estate market will ramp up to full speed once the pandemic subsides.

“This is still a very desirable place to live. People have to have shelter,” Gleason said. “We’ve had a very strong market here and I think that will continue as long as people continue wanting to move to this area.”

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Neetish Basnet
Neetish is a writer and digital content producer for Fort Worth Business Press. He has been covering businesses of all shapes and sizes in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex for several years. After graduating with a journalism degree from University of Texas-Arlington, Dow Jones News Fund selected him for a digital media fellowship. He still likes the smell of a freshly printed newspaper.

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