The COVID-19 crisis isn’t over, but new guidance gives people significantly more freedom to gather without the encumbrances of the pandemic. That could prove liberating for real estate agents.
Almost exactly a year after the coronavirus pandemic began forcing North Americans apart, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offered a ray of hope Monday: Fully vaccinated people can safely gather indoors, and they don’t need to wear masks while doing it.
The CDC’s new guidelines were celebrated as further evidence that the seemingly endless grip of the pandemic was finally loosening. After nearly 30 million cases and more than half a million deaths in the U.S., there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel.
But the new guidelines — along with growing vaccination rates — also have important implications for real estate. Though sales in many areas have remained strong in recent months, that’s mostly in spite of an array of restrictions that required things like ubiquitous masks and hand sanitizer, and which forced many real estate professionals to do their jobs remotely. The guidelines don’t singlehandedly reverse those rules (which varied from place to place), but they do hint that some degree of normalcy may return and that things like open houses may be on their way back.
For Andrea Geller, that means there’s hope for parts of her market that have lagged during the pandemic. Geller, an agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Chicago, told Inman Monday that more suburban areas of her market have lately seen robust sales. Sales are so strong that “you just need to put it in the [multiple listing service] and be alive to get multiple offers.”
However, the core urban market in Chicago hasn’t experienced such robust demand. Part of the problem is that high rises require elevators, which would-be homebuyers have seemingly been reluctant to use during the pandemic.
And Geller said that even after the state began allowing limited open houses last year, some higher density buildings continued to disallow them for safety reasons. Many urban buyers also like to “graze on their own” sans agents, according to Geller.
“Those are properties I’ve typically sold by open houses,” she said, adding that having the chance now to do open houses at such properties “is a huge benefit.”
Geller — who has had both doses of the Moderna vaccine — went on to say that as vaccinations have continued, more and more buildings have opened up to practices like open houses. And now things are looking even better.
“Saturday when I was doing showings, it was the first time in a year that I actually felt some normalcy,” she continued.
Of course, the CDC’s guidelines still call on people to be careful. Fully vaccinated people, for example, are still encouraged to wear masks and social distance around unvaccinated people. Medium and large-sized gatherings are still discouraged, and the agency ultimately pointed out that “the vast majority of people need to be fully vaccinated before COVID-19 precautions can be lifted broadly.”
At the institutional level, it appeared Monday that major players in real estate were still figuring out what the new rules meant.
Asked about the guidance, for example, a spokesperson for the National Association of Realtors told Inman in an email it was still digesting the information. The email added that the CDC’s guidelines provide “some hope for normalcy,” though “it’s important to note that there are specific criteria for vaccinated people to interact with others without a mask.”
A spokesperson for Realogy — parent to brands such as Coldwell Banker and Century 21 — told Inman “health and safety remains a priority.”
“We continue to encourage all employees and affiliated agents to follow CDC guidance as it evolves, including these latest updates, and adhere to local mandates,” the spokesperson added.
Inman reached out to several other major industry firms and will update this story as they respond.
But even if the new CDC guidelines didn’t immediately change the policies for major real estate institutions, they do contribute to an evolving tone on the ground. Angela Morsa, a Compass agent in Philadelphia, told Inman that she recently went into the office for the first time in a long time, and she now welcomes the chance to get out of the house even more.
“I fully expect we will be going into the office more frequently,” she said. “Maybe two days a week, just to get out.”
Morsa — who along with her husband recently received her first dose of the vaccine — said that she has started to see more and more open houses in her area. She isn’t quite ready to hold them herself, saying that “in this market, we’re so crazy busy I don’t think there’s a need to have open houses.” But by summer she anticipates being comfortable with holding open houses if clients want them.
Not everything is back to normal for Morsa. In her region, Compass still isn’t having in-person meetings, and she recalled the ongoing challenge of working with older clients who haven’t gotten vaccinated yet.
But those struggles notwithstanding, she was optimistic and said the improving conditions may prompt her to reach out to clients this week and encourage any fence-sitters to jump into the market.
“I feel more hopeful and positive,” Morsa concluded, “than I have in a really long time.”