Real estate work goes on despite distancing

By Updated: March 23, 2020 6:42 AM CT | Published: March 23, 2020 4:00 AM CT
<strong>Realtor Brad Vaughan puts out signs to draw prospective home buyers to an open house at his listing on Mesquite Road in East Memphis on Saturday, March 21. The business of selling property continues in Memphis, but with precautions, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.</strong> (Jim Weber/Daily Memphian)

Realtor Brad Vaughan puts out signs to draw prospective home buyers to an open house at his listing on Mesquite Road in East Memphis on Saturday, March 21. The business of selling property continues in Memphis, but with precautions, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jim Weber/Daily Memphian)

Editor’s note: Due to the serious public health implications associated with COVID-19, The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed.

Real estate continues to change hands during the COVID-19 pandemic, but now those hands are often sanitized or digitized.

“Y’all need a little dab of this?” Realtor Brad Vaughan asked when a couple entered his open house in East Memphis on Saturday, March 21.

The Keller Williams agent held out a small, green bottle of CVS-brand hand sanitizer and squeezed some into each of their cupped palms.

As the house hunters started going room to room in the ranch home at 5478 Mesquite Road, Vaughan said in a pleasant tone, “Try not to touch the door knobs.”


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The business of selling property forges ahead in Memphis, but with precautions.

The Memphis Area Association of Realtors shut its office starting Friday, March 13. Its staff of 18 began working from home to serve 4,000 Realtors.

More agents have been discussing holding virtual open houses, in which they livestream a tour of a home and take questions from potential buyers.

Agencies have stopped having sales meetings, especially meetings of more than 10 people. Ten is the maximum number of people who should gather, government and health officials say.

But home sales continue because, often, so much is at stake. It’s by far the largest financial transaction most families ever make.

And besides, said Joel Hobson of Hobson Realtors, “People have to live somewhere.”


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The coronavirus threat creates a sense of urgency. But so do big real estate numbers when homes sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars or when a family must move with a job transfer.

“There are people who have to move,” said Keller Williams agent Natalie Murphy. “I’m working with two buyers whose leases are up in May and June, and I’m working with a military transfer.

“It’s not the people who just want a bigger den right now or an extra bedroom,” she said. “Our industry still has to continue on.”

A seller on Thursday called veteran Crye-Leike agent Steve Boysen asking him to “pull some numbers” on her Germantown home she wants to sell because she’s moving to Destin, Florida.

“I said sure, and figured I’d go over next week. She said, ‘Can you come today?’ ”

Boysen had the home listed for $430,000 by the next day.


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Vaughan hosted the first of 17 open houses still scheduled on realtor.com during the first weekend when dining inside restaurants and even private clubs was ordered to stop. And businesses like gyms, theaters, skating rinks, arcades and bowling alleys also were ordered closed by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s executive order.

Strickland did not include real estate open houses in his list of prohibited activities, but agents proceeded with caution nonetheless.

<strong>Armed with a bottle of hand sanitizer, Realtor Brad Vaughan (right) greets a family at his open house listing on Mesquite Road in East Memphis on Saturday, March 21.</strong>&nbsp;(Jim Weber/Daily Memphian)

Armed with a bottle of hand sanitizer, Realtor Brad Vaughan (right) greets a family at his open house listing on Mesquite Road in East Memphis on Saturday, March 21. (Jim Weber/Daily Memphian)

Vaughan and other agents contacted by The Daily Memphian said they intended to ask open-house visitors to remain in their cars if too many house hunters came to a home at once.

“We FaceTime already,” Murphy said of video calls with clients. “We can close a deal remotely with our attorneys already.”

Social distancing now required because of the pandemic will only motivate agents to better understand and use technology, she said.

“Everyone’s going to Zoom now,” Murphy said, referring to the web-based videoconference service. An agent can show a house to multiple people by walking around it with a camera while answering questions and pointing out details.

As of this weekend, agents can still give private showings and continue to hold open houses. But most are being careful.

“I’ll probably stand outside and let up to two couples walk through,” Boysen said of an open house he was to host Saturday afternoon near White Station High School. “My doctor said don’t let more than 10 people in. I said I won’t, even though it’s a 5,000-square-foot home.”

Topics

Memphis Area of Association of Realtors Realtors residential real estate COVID-19 coronavirus
Tom Bailey

Tom Bailey

Tom Bailey covers business news for The Daily Memphian. A Tupelo, Mississippi, native, he graduated from Mississippi State University. He's worked in journalism for 40 years and has lived in Midtown for 36 years.


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