Ryan Gorman was appointed CEO of Coldwell Banker at the beginning of this year, just months before coronavirus made business-as-usual impossible in the real estate brokerage world. And while the transition to virtual tours and remote work hasn't been easy, Gorman said that real estate agents have had a lot of practice working outside of the office.
"They've been remote workers forever," Gorman told Business Insider. "They work in their cars, in the living rooms of their clients. They've been working from their phones and their LTE-connected iPads forever."
While this is true, there are parts of the traditional real estate transaction that aren't possible while social distancing. The rise of the virtual tour has been getting a lot of attention, as real estate agents use technology to keep transactions moving.
The virtual tour has been integral for Coldwell Banker agents, but Gorman also highlighted a twist on the concept, the virtual open house. By opening up the virtual home tour to a larger audience, agents are able to show a home more efficiently to a maximum amount of people, whether they're potential buyers or bored onlookers searching for some local entertainment.
Agents have also used them as forums to spread useful information into their local communities by inviting a range of guests, like doctors, local politicians, and lawyers to answer questions about coronavirus in their own communities.
They've also used them as ways to flex their creative muscles.
"Watching TV these days, stars that are typically in well-produced environments are broadcasting in armchairs with their children holding cameras," Gorman said. "Agents are realizing: 'I can do multi-camera production, and I can do better than what I'm seeing on TV."
Coldwell Banker had previously partnered with Facebook to build a social ad engine for their agents, and they're now using that partnership to help agents learn how to use Facebook live to hold events. An internal survey found that 48% of Coldwell Banker agents have used FaceTime for a virtual open house, while 38% had used Facebook Live.
While virtual tours get a lot of attention, an investment that the brokerage's parent company, Realogy, made in 2018 has also been paying off. Notarize, a company that digitizes the paper notary process, makes it possible to close deals remotely. A recent slew of state laws, passed in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, has made it legal to use Notarize in transactions in a much wider range of states.
While the industry won't totally forget paper deals and in-person tools, the tech is here to stay.
"Technology makes our jobs easier, so I think as in-person business opens back up we're going to see a mix of in-person contact and continued use of digital communications," Gorman told Business Insider.
Remote work may be the new normal, but it is impossible to live remotely. This fact makes Gorman cautiously bullish on the housing market, though he made sure to stress how much uncertainty there is.
"Nobody is wondering if people will continue to live indoors after COVID-19, but people may be wondering how much demand there will be for office space once remote work becomes more acceptable," Gorman said.
Coldwell Banker hasn't been tracking any large drops in pricing, and while Gorman stressed the unknowability of the final outcome, he thinks this is a sign of underlying health. Typically, prices drop if a home is unable to sell.
"If it's not selling because of a pause in people being able to get out to view your property... no level of repricing will be able to change that," Gorman said.
Basically, the problem is not that homes are overpriced, it's that transactions are slowing because of the challenge of selling a home in the time of social distancing. While virtual home tours and open houses may help an agent find interested buyers, they're not likely to close the deal.
Guest post by Alex Nicoll, Contributor at Business Insider.
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