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Inslee order shuts down real estate agents from interacting with clients

UPDATED: Fri., March 27, 2020

 (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
(Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane real estate agents are having to change how they conduct business and market homes as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Under Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order, which went into effect Wednesday, real estate agents are restricted from conducting open houses and physically touring homes with buyers for two weeks because brokerage services are not deemed an “essential business.”

The order also restricts home inspections, in-person appraisals and photographers from taking pictures of homes. But, agents are permitted to conduct business remotely and use virtual tours to show properties.

“Obviously, we want to serve our clients and to do that, we have to show houses in most cases,” said Tom Clark, Spokane Association of Realtors president. “It’s a Catch-22. We are sort of stuck and so are our clients.”

Clark said pending home sales are gradually closing because financial services are considered essential businesses.

“They can perform their duties carefully and remotely, so we can still close transactions in the works,” Clark said. “But, it has been difficult to generate any new listings.”

Inslee’s order has a huge impact on how real estate agents conduct business with clients, said Mark Anderson, managing broker for the Top Agent Team with Keller Williams.

“We can’t have human contact with people anymore. Appraisers can’t come to homes. We are on hold for two weeks,” Anderson said, adding he has clients who gave move-out notices on their rental properties and are unsure if they can close on a property during the stay-at-home order.

Inslee’s order restricting real estate activities is anticipated to cause a lag in closing and pending home sales, but it’s not likely to have a long-term impact on the local market or home prices, Clark said.

“I believe it will be a temporary situation,” he said. “The good news is our market and economy was strong before this hiccup, so I don’t see a long-term effect after this is over.”

Clark said agents are able to adapt to the stay-at-home order by helping homebuyers and sellers through virtual chats, telephone calls and email.

“We can practically do a real estate transaction electronically these days without sitting across the table from everybody,” he said.

Seattle-based Redfin, a real estate technology company, reported a 494% increase in agent-led virtual home tours on its website last week.

Redfin launched a push-button tool earlier this month that allows buyers to request home tours via video chat. It has also shifted to conduct home transactions electronically.

Spokane-based Redfin Market Manager Michelle Kendrick said Inslee’s order hasn’t stopped buyer demand.

Sellers, so far, have been open to showing homes via FaceTime, Skype or virtual tours, and a recent buyer from Colorado purchased a home in Spokane entirely online, Kendrick said.

Kendrick said buyers have an option of adding an addendum to purchase and sale contracts that allows them to tour the home in person once its possible to do so.

Several real estate agents were preparing for a shift to virtual tours.

“I feel like we were preparing before the order came down. We were letting people know if you have a listing coming on the market, make sure you have videos done, so we can use our technology for virtual showings and walk-throughs,” said Daniel Dailey, office leader of John L. Scott in downtown Spokane.

Agents are also anticipating pent-up demand for homes after Inslee’s order is lifted.

Anderson said it’s a good time for buyers to get pre-approved for a mortgage to ensure they are ready to make an offer after the stay-at-home order is lifted. He encourages sellers to declutter homes to prepare them for listing on the market.

Dailey advises homebuyers to complete the underwriting process during the stay-at-home order so they are ready to purchase a home once the order is lifted.

But, the most important thing to do right now is to support the order to ensure safety in the community, Dailey said.

“Hopefully, clients understand we want the best for them and the best for the community,” he said.

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