Realtors Ramp Up Business Along with Safety Measures

Realtors Ramp Up Business Along with Safety Measures


To combat COVID-19 spread, Realtors adopted CDC guidelines. For many it’s become a habit that hasn’t slowed a steady rebound of the market, and it’s made up of many adjustments, such as increased sanitizing, mandatory masks, fewer conference chairs and more.

NAPLES, Fla. – With coronavirus cases still on the rise in Southwest Florida, real estate professionals have been practicing extensive safety measures – and will continue to for the foreseeable future.

Florida became the state with the fifth highest number of coronavirus cases in the nation after 5,226 were reported Monday and 10,109 on Thursday. And as of Tuesday, the state reached a total reported case number of more than 150,000.

Despite the rise, real estate activity in recent weeks has also seen an uptick in Southwest Florida after previous coronavirus-fueled dips in business. Therefore, the need for safety measures are as important as ever, experts say.

One way that Southwest Florida real estate agencies have been working to slow the spread while continuing to sell is by relying heavily on virtual means of showing homes. Many area Realtors have been using virtual tours, showings and open houses while working under restricted operations.

VIP Realty Group’s Fort Myers sales manager Robin Driskill pointed to the company’s 3D virtual tour options as a great way to “eliminate some contact initially” between Realtors and potential buyers.

The Fort Myers-based company has its own tool with the trademarked name “Visit This House from Your Couch,” which allows potential buyers to talk live with an agent while doing a 3D, 360-degree virtual home visit any time of the day. She said this is something that has allowed the agency to easily show properties while also minimizing traffic into the homes.

Driskill said the company, which has 150 agents, is being diligent in encouraging clients to utilize these 3D tours amid the rising cases.

The company, however, has guidelines for in-person open houses and showings, involving social distancing, hand sanitizing, wearing masks and gloves and minimizing the amount of objects that are physically touched in the homes.

Realtors are also opting to travel to homes in separate vehicles from potential buyers.

Additionally, Driskill stated that anyone on the VIP team that travels by plane is required to self-quarantine when they return and wear a mask when they reenter the office.

“I think we need to stay diligent,” she said. “I would like to see us stay diligent with that until we get a vaccine … We’re not going to breathe a sigh of relief until we see those numbers way down and a vaccine is implemented.”

“We just initially took the bull by the horns and said, ‘Hey, we need protocol and everyone following the same playbook here,’” she added.

Driskill recommends that any buyers engaging in an in-person home search ask their Realtor what they are doing to minimize risk in order to “make sure that they’re taking this seriously.”

She noted that some clients are now being more cautious and have decided to wait on listing their homes for a few more months.

Naples-based Premier Sotheby’s International Realty has been working under a four-phase plan during the coronavirus pandemic, in which certain restrictions are lifted over time as cases subside. The first phase involved a shutdown of all the offices with everyone working from home, and phase four represents business operations resuming as normal with everyone back at the office.

“Instead of just selecting dates for when we were going to do things, we’ve been effectively monitoring new cases across our markets,” said Budge Huskey, the CEO of Premier Sotheby’s.

With cases previously seeming to taper off, the company has moved into phase three but is now “paused there” as new cases have been on the rise in the state. Phase three involves certain staff members and managing brokers working in the office. However, agents are still working from home. Open houses have also resumed with safety measures after previously being restricted.

“We’ve been in a holding pattern at phase three for approximately three weeks,” he said, adding that he announced this week that the company will continue to stay in phase three for now.

Huskey doesn’t know quite when phase four will be implemented, as the company is continuing to monitor the state of the virus and make decisions based off the data.

“Unlike people that are simply picking dates out of the air or going by public opinion, we’re going by the data,” he said.

Some of the other precautions the company is still taking include: requiring clients to make appointments if they’re meeting in an office, removing some chairs in conference rooms, requiring clients to wear masks in the offices, consistently sanitizing offices and household items, agents wearing face coverings and gloves when out in the field, reduced capacity for showings and open houses and agents riding to homes in separate cars from the clients.

“It’s all about minimizing interaction and guaranteeing safe distancing,” Huskey said. “(The measures are) responsible, but it’s not impeding any of our progress in the recovery.”

Phil Wood, the CEO of Naples-based John R. Wood Properties, said that in the company’s offices, visitors and employees are being asked to wear masks, hand sanitizer is available and social distancing is encouraged. He said that most John R. Wood representatives are now back in the offices on a full-time basis. The company has around 650 team members across 18 offices.

For open houses and showings, John R. Wood agents have a notice they provide to buyers that states the buyers have to wear a mask and are not allowed to touch anything in the homes. The notice also questions the buyers on whether they have symptoms.

“We’ve still got some breakouts going on,” he said. “We’re trying to be very cautious with the potential for increased outbreaks … We’re really trying to get people to wear the mask … We’re really pushing that hard. It’s not about protecting themselves. It’s about protecting other people that they’re around.”

Wood expects the precautions to dissipate gradually over a few months once a vaccine is known to work.

Bob Quinn, a Realtor with Cape Coral’s Re/Max Realty Team, said he’s seen a varied response from the public in how cautious they are feeling at this point. Quinn noted that he has gone into homes for showings or new listing appointments with a mask but has found some say, “‘No. I’m not going to wear a mask if you don’t mind, and we can just do social distancing while we meet.’”

He recalled, however, a certain owner-occupied home that had a table set up with face masks, plastic gloves and hand sanitizer for potential buyers, as well as instructions stating that masks and gloves are required to enter the home.

“We’re always being aware of peoples’ distancing and comfort levels,” Quinn said.

To continue to keep business going in safe manner, Premier Sotheby’s has implemented a rigorous process for when agents or staff members test positive for the virus.

Huskey said that if any agent has any symptoms at all, they are encouraged to separate themselves and to be tested. If they’re tested, they’re required to inform their managing broker and, if the test is positive, they are required to quarantine for two weeks. It is then the managing broker’s job to step in and pick up some duties that the agent will not be able to do during that time if needed.

“Our mission is to ensure that, if they do test positive, that they truly have no customer interactions for two weeks and we have others assist in their absence,” he said.

With agents and staff members, Premier Sotheby’s has almost 1,400 people in office locations between two states, making a positive test almost inevitable. Huskey said there have been two times so far in which an office has been shut down for a period of time for sanitization due to a coronavirus-positive event occurring.

The company has put into place a policy in which people coming into the office are required to sign in with the time they arrived, which is then kept in a record. In the event of a positive test, this provides the company with a way to notify all those who were around the positive individual without identifying the individual, which would break HIPAA privacy guidelines.

If it is found the agent who tested positive had interacted with a customer outside of the office in recent days, the customer would also be informed that they may have been exposed. Huskey, noted, however, that there has not yet been a situation in which a client was exposed.

Currently, Wood said that there have been “one or two” instances in which a John R. Wood representative may have been exposed to someone who had the virus, leading to a shut down and cleaning of office locations.

Wood stated that, similarly to Sotheby’s, the John R. Wood offices have a sign-in and sign-out list for those who come in so they can backtrack and locate the people who are potentially exposed in a positive test situation. And, for the agents in the field, their “memory of who they came in contact with is also important so that we get everyone covered.”

Driskill said no VIP representatives have tested positive yet, but if they were to, there would be a follow-up with that person in which they’d be asked where they were and who they may have been in contact with.

© 2020 Journal Media Group

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