Seattle Culture

Digitizing the American Dream

Real estate hit the pause button due to the coronavirus pandemic

By Georgia Stevens December 8, 2020


This article originally appeared in the November/December 2020 issue of Seattle magazine.

Like many industries, real estate hit the pause button when the coronavirus pandemic prompted stay-at-home and other directives from the governor and public health officials. 

This disruption was short-lived as Realtor associations at the state and local levels together with the Northwest Multiple Listing Service collaborated with state agencies to develop protocols for meeting housing needs. Since the initial mandates were issued, these groups continue to adapt to ever-evolving changes, challenges and phases, with the safety of clients and brokers being paramount. Industry organizations have become the go-to resource, providing guidance, best practices, tools and up-to-date information to help members better serve buyers and sellers.

At the outset of the pandemic, some buyers and sellers opted to postpone their plans, but countless others had a transaction in the pipeline or were in situations necessitating a move, so they too pivoted.

“Virtual” has become the new normal for real estate brokers and their clients. Open houses, a mainstay for Realtors, are now conducted virtually using various technology and tools. Now, house hunters can preview properties from the comfort of their homes, using desktops, smartphones or other devices. 

Listing brokers continue to experiment with tools for showcasing a property. Options range from photo reels, 3-D tours, recordings of video walkthroughs and live stream open houses. Live streaming enables chats and interactions between brokers and prospective buyers, while eliminating worries about social distancing.

“Our video tours, FaceTime and YouTube channel are a hit with many of our clients who prefer those options for previewing during Covid-19,” says Trish Englund, a member of the RARENorthwest team at Windermere Real Estate. 

Virtual tours in various forms are increasingly popular with Northwest MLS brokers. That previewing option is offered on more than 10,000 listings in the MLS database, including active, contingent and pending listings. 

The Milkovich Team at John L. Scott adopted virtual open houses on Facebook Live at the beginning of the coronavirus shutdown. “We have experienced tremendous traction and social media engagement on these videos,” says Kristine Milkovich. As an example, a video tour of a home in Redmond’s Grass Lawn Park neighborhood garnered more than 1,000 views.

In-person tours are still available but must be done in compliance with strict guidelines specific to each county. Those guidelines apply to scheduling tours, with limits on the number of participants, and only if social distancing and proper sanitation measures and precautions are assured. Essentially, brokers strive to have “touchless tours.”

Before scheduling an onsite tour of a listing, buyers can narrow their property search through virtual tours, thereby reducing the need for an in-person showing.

ShowingTime, an online home showing and scheduling tool used by Northwest MLS members and counterparts around the country, is another extremely popular option. The MLS reports an eightfold increase in the number of appointments compared to a year ago. 

Real estate is a business built on relationships, with emotions coming into play throughout the process. Conducting this business virtually has been a major shift, and at times, a very stressful undertaking, particularly for the less tech-savvy among us. 

Brokers have been at the forefront of a changing industry. For many of us, it’s hard to imagine reverting to past practices. 

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