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NYC real estate agents explore alternatives to open houses amid coronavirus outbreak

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Brokers are exploring virtual tours and FaceTime in lieu of traditional open houses

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New York City’s real estate market has seen a dramatic shift over the last month due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The stay-at-home order currently in place across New York state means nonessential businesses are on pause, and while the real estate industry is considered essential, the traditional ways of doing business—in-person showings, open houses, and one-on-ones with agents and potential buyers—are no longer feasible.

This has led many brokerages to pivot to virtual open houses and tours. According to StreetEasy, its platform has 2,000 listings with links to video tours, over half of which were added between March 15 and March 30. On Zillow, New York City listings that included a 3D tour were saved 50 percent more frequently since March 1.

To meet the new demand for video tours, several brokerages and listings platforms have launched new online tools for virtual showings. SteetEasy rolled out 3D Home tours, which allows agents and landlords to take 360-degree panoramic photos and create a 3D tour with their iPhone. Meanwhile, brokerages like Ideal Properties Group and Nooklyn launched virtual showing platforms; and Elegran started conducting applications, lease signings, and payments online while offering virtual reality tours.

Compass agent Sean McKenzie says he and his team are partnering with RICOH Tours to stream open houses. Another Compass broker, Caryl Berenato, says she’s invited buyers to contact her via FaceTime to tour homes. “It allows greater flexibility than a listing video in that it is interactive and fully customizable,” she says.

And while the market has begun to slow down—there was a 69 percent decrease in deals signed from March 22 to April 6 compared to last year, according to real estate data firm UrbanDigs—brokers have found ways to close on transactions that were in the works before the pandemic.

“Most of the deals we made before the lockdown are still pushing toward the end zone,” says Steven Gottlieb, an agent with Warburg Realty. “We have to navigate things differently, of course, but buyers and renters still want the homes they’ve set their sights on.”

There was confusion recently about whether or not real estate was considered an essential business, but the New York State’s Association of Realtors has clarified that some activities are still considered essential, with some caveats. For instance, closings are allowed but should be held remotely.

“We are navigating a new playing field, but most of our clients’ goals are the same,” Gottlieb adds. “All of the apartments we sell have a webpage with photos, and our available listings now have videos to complement the other materials. These videos have proven more valuable than we thought they would, now that actual property visits are on hold.”

Arlene Reed, of Warburg Realty, is less hopeful about video showings resulting in deals, but does note that transactions she had begun prior to the outbreak are still moving forward.

“My customers are focused on their safety and health as should we all be,” she says. “There are very few new listings, and I do not believe anyone is buying property based on a video.”