Covid-19 and the Real Estate Business

Yes, real estate business is still being conducted in the State of Oregon, just with some modifications. The Governor’s Stay at Home order comes down to two important ideas:

  • All work must be done from our homes whenever possible.
  • If it’s not possible for us to get our work done from home, then we can go out, but we must remain six feet from other people at all times.

What this means for the real estate business:

TRANSACTIONS ALREADY STARTED

Folks with transactions already started will find that most everything can be done remotely. Escrow and title companies have been moving in this direction for years, so they are well set up to handle their part of things.

Important: You are going to get warnings from your real estate agent and escrow officer to be very careful when wiring your downpayment or earnest money to the escrow company. Criminals could send you an email or text that looks super legit, like it’s coming from someone in the transition you know and trust, but is actually directing you to wire your money to the criminal’s personal bank account. Unfortunately, bad people are using anxiety over this pandemic to create a sense of urgency designed to overcome people’s normal wariness. They might claim that someone has come down with the virus so plans have changed, or that the county’s recording office is closing down, so you need to get your money to them right away! Don’t fall for it.

Only use wire instructions you received over the phone from someone you trust. If you get a weird email or text, do NOT click on any links or call phone numbers in the text or email. Instead, call your real estate agent who can get the proper information for you. If you want to call escrow directly, either call the number you were given by a trusted source back at the beginning of the transaction or go directly to the escrow company’s website and look up the escrow officer’s number from there.

Even if you receive a phone call from someone, if you don’t recognize the person’s voice it would be a good idea to get their name and tell them you need to call them back, then look them up on the escrow company’s website. If you can’t find them, call your escrow officer. It’s possible the person who called you is an assistant, but your escrow officer will not mind at all that you are being extra cautious. That’s exactly what they want.

Inspections and appraisals will have to be done at the house. You will not be there for the bank’s appraisal, but you might choose to be there for the inspection. If you choose to be there, you should expect that all the professionals you come in contact with will not get closer than six feet from you. Please don’t feel offended—it’s to comply with the law and keep everybody safe. And everyone present should feel comfortable reminding each other if they start moving closer than six feet. It’s human nature to be social, so it will happen. We just have to agree that anyone who notices it should speak up for the benefit of all—and we will all appreciate it.

If you’re a seller and you know that an inspection or appraisal happened that day, it’s very likely that everyone involved was using plenty of hand sanitizer and avoided touching surfaces. Many professionals are even using sanitizing wipes to disinfect what they’ve touched, and the inspector was probably wearing disposable gloves. However, it would not be unreasonable for you to go around with sanitizing wipes or alcohol on a paper towel and wipe down common touch points such as door knobs, attic pulleys, water faucets, and light switches.

MARKETING & SHOWING YOUR HOME

Marketing properties remotely can be a bit of a challenge, but your Oregon First agent is up to the task! There are plenty of online solutions that allow us to get the word out about your home without holding an open house, which have been banned by the State of Oregon. Virtual tours, video tours, YouTube videos, etc. are all options—and have been used by us even before the ban!

Once a buyer has reached the point where they are seriously considering making an offer on your home, they can be given a personal tour by appointment. Normally, if a buyer has their own agent, that agent would conduct the tour and your agent would not be present so the parties could speak freely. However, in these unusual times, it would be perfectly reasonable for you to make it a condition of the tour that your agent be present so they can sanitize any parts of the home the prospective buyer or their agent touches.

The important thing is to have an honest conversation with your agent about what you need to feel comfortable with the process. You will find that real estate agents across the industry are working together to ensure that all our clients stay safe and that their concerns are heard and obeyed. We take this situation just as seriously as you do.

Once a buyer makes an offer, Oregon First already uses digital signature technology so you won’t have to meet with your agent to sign documents in person. Discussions with your agent can be conducted over the phone, through emails and texts, or via teleconferencing solutions like Zoom or Skype. We are happy to conduct business remotely, however works best for you.

BUYING A HOME

Lucky you! You are buying a home at a time with excellent interest rates AND the ability to do the bulk of your shopping from home. Your Oregon First agent can send you properties that fit your desires as they come on the market, and there is so much information about homes online these days that you can easily narrow your selection down to just a few. Once you’ve done that, we recommend you drive by the home and around the neighborhood to make sure this really could be “the one.”

At that point, your Oregon First agent can make an appointment for you to see the house in person. Remember that they will comply with the law and their desire to keep you safe by not getting any closer than six feet from you, so be prepared for that. The seller may require that their agent be present at the showing sanitizing anything you touch, so be prepared for that, too, and don’t be offended. This is going to be the new normal for just a little while.

Also, as mentioned above in the “Transactions Already Started” section, people find it difficult to stay six feet apart. Drift may happen. No one should hesitate to speak up and point it out, and no one should feel offended if it’s pointed out. That’s the social compact we need to make with each other right now. We should assume everyone we come in contact with has it but doesn’t know it; and we need to be sensitive to other people’s particular situation. You don’t know if the person you’re with has a child with an underlying health condition that could make them more vulnerable to the virus, or they could be the primary caretaker for an older parent, so they’re extra sensitive to not becoming a carrier.

When you’re ready to make an offer, Oregon First already uses digital signature technology, so nothing in preparing the offer needs to be done in person. Discussions with your agent can be conducted over the phone, through emails and texts, or via teleconferencing solutions like Zoom or Skype.

ECONOMIC OUTLOOK

Separate from any concerns we all have about our health and the health of our loved ones—because as you read above, there are many solutions to stay safe—should you have anxiety about buying or selling right now?

We are going to have an economic downturn. That’s just a fact. It’s simply not possible to have everyone stay home and not have it affect the economy. A lot of people will get laid off because the businesses they work for cannot operate. On the other hand, some businesses are desperately looking for workers—delivery companies, grocery stores, meal delivery services, etc. And when the pandemic subsides and people can start going out again, if anything, we’re likely to have a flurry of economic activity as pent-up demand searches for satisfaction. Businesses will need to hire people back, further contributing to a surge in economic activity.

It will be vital that the federal government come up with good plans for getting us through this, but it’s important to understand that there was nothing wrong with the workings of our economy that caused the unemployment we will be seeing. This is not like 2008 when the financial sector was the source of a virus that rippled throughout our economy. This time, the source of the virus is Mother Nature, not us. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with our economy, so if we have the will and leadership to ride this thing out there’s no reason for it to cause a horrible collapse lasting years. Vaccines are already being tested, herd immunity will develop, and people are going to long to return to normalcy as soon as possible.

Each person has to make their own decisions about risk, but buying and selling always involves some amount of risk. Sellers will figure out pretty fast if they can get the price they want once they put their homes on the market. Buyers’ main risk will be the possibility of job loss, but even then, protections are already being put in place to keep people from losing their homes. There is no “painful reset” that any economist feels like we need to go through for our own good, so we will not be hearing arguments about “moral hazard” and the like. Everyone understands this is temporary, highly unusual, and not related to anyone’s “bad” economic behavior.

When we look back on this time years from now, we’re not going to remember this as a time of economic upheaval. We’re going to think about loved ones we lost, loved ones we grew closer to, loved ones who drove us crazy because we were around them 24/7—but ultimately learned to love even more. We should try as much as possible to not put our lives on hold. If you’re working from home, get out of your pajamas! Shave! Take a shower! If you want to buy a house, buy a house! Just do it safely. We are not choosing between living in denial or fighting to the death for the last can of spam in a zombie apocalypse. We can be prudent and still live our lives. Please reach out to your Oregon First agent with any questions or concerns. We are here to help.