BusinessHow have realtors adjusted to virtual buying and selling?

Jamie QuadrosMay 27, 202111 min

Now that there appears to be a (somewhat distant) end to the COVID-19 pandemic on the horizon, you can’t help but wonder about all the things that may have changed too much to go back to the old status quo. Sure: with enough time, our comfort with human contact and general proximity to other people will most likely revert to pre-pandemic levels–that’s pretty much a given. But other societal shifts such as remote working and zoom meetings have allowed folks to reconsider a lot of assumptions about the way things needed to be to function.

Just as other industries whose business models draw heavily on in-person activity, the real estate industry has faced a considerable degree of disruption. Realtors in particular have had to rapidly adapt to the challenges presented by the pandemic. But, just as others have discovered, some of the solutions they’ve employed to overcome those challenges might end up redefining what “normal” looks like for their businesses once we put this all behind us.

What kind of challenges have realtors faced?

To start with, everything that used to be done in-person became a lot trickier (if not impossible) to do. Now, while real estate does fall under the “essential service” category, that isn’t the case for many of the practices that were part of normal operation.

  • Depending on the number of cases and associated caution levels, property viewings and open houses would either have to take place under strict safety protocols, or were banned altogether (during full lockdowns).
  • Buyers naturally want to avail of any opportunity to evaluate a place in person, but increasing COVID-19 numbers often meant having to severely limit or halt access to properties.
  • Property showings were (and still are) possible by appointment only “when required”, although the rapidly-changing nature of pandemic guidelines and measures meant that erring on the side of caution was often the best course of action.

How have realtors adapted to these challenges?

The volatility of the virus’ spread required flexibility from all professionals, and realtors were no exception. The ability to adjust processes and practices to best serve clients became an absolutely vital part of doing business. Part of that adjustment involved embracing existing practices in new ways, such as:

  • High-quality photography

    When photos were just one of the many ways a prospective buyer could interact with a property, the spectrum of acceptable picture quality was much larger. As long as people could form an accurate composite idea from photos, videos, and in-person visits, then none of the individual parts needed to be exceptional. However, now that site visits are often restricted or just physically impossible, realtors have opted for much higher quality photographs to compensate.

  • 360 degree videos and 3D modelling

The inability for clients to see a place in person has increased demand for virtual tours or walkthroughs. As a result, alternative options such as 3D rendered interiors or 360 degree videos which allow a person to browse a property’s interior have become go-to solutions for realtors.

  • Virtual Tours

In lieu of meeting in person, realtors have used video conference software to virtually walk clients through spaces. This allows for a measure of normalcy, as clients still have the benefit of having their realtor on hand to answer questions, provide input, and highlight anything of interest/importance.

The upside of virtual buying and selling for realtors

While the circumstances are far from ideal, the pandemic has resulted in some interesting opportunities and unexpected benefits for realtors.

Time and money saved from switching to virtual options

Cutting back on (or completely forgoing) in-person showings has meant a lot of time and money saved on travel and preparation. With a switch to virtual viewings, a property only needs to be staged once instead of multiple times, which can save a tidy sum. More importantly, the time saved by being able to interact with clients from one central location (whether that’s at home or the office) allows realtors to improve other facets of their business.

Improving relationships with clients and brand management

To build upon the previous point: with additional time at their disposal, realtors have had the opportunity to better connect with their clients to understand and cater to their specific circumstances. This is of particular importance, as any impressions they form will be based almost entirely on online interactions. User experience and exposure to real estate websites, social media presence, and emails all inform that impression, so successful realtors have ensured that their digital presence accurately (and favourably!) reflects their brand and service.

Enhanced listing content and analytics

Virtual tours and photographs can only go so far towards filling in the details about a property. Certain aspects, such as the nature of the neighbourhood or nearby points of interest which used to be easily evident from in-person visits, are now harder to glean from a standard property listing. Savvy realtors have begun adding more details about the surrounding area and considering the holistic elements of a listing’s location. This is driven by investing in improved analytics, now that so much client traffic is necessarily routed through online channels.

A paradigm shift for the industry

One of the most interesting outcomes of real estates sales during the pandemic is the number of people willing to buy property without an in-person visit. For one, buyers find themselves in fierce competition with each other, and many are resorting to riskier buys to avoid getting locked out of the market.

But the forced break from open houses and visitations as a normal part of the selling process has led many to rethink their necessity. Buyers so far seem comfortable with remote decision making, partly thanks to much higher standards in photography, video, and other digital sales tools. Sellers and renters who may be living in the houses have appreciated a much less disruptive process. Over a year into this new way of doing things, realtors are starting to think about which temporary changes to real estate practices they might want to make permanent.

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Jamie Quadros

Freelance writer and communications professional at the University of Toronto. He’s an avid cinephile, voracious reader, and a terror at karaoke bars.

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