Boulder Valley Real Estate: The rise of virtual in real estate after COVID-19

It is evident that the world was woefully unprepared for a pandemic like COVID-19, and local real estate was no exception. COVID-19 wrought fright, confusion, and uncertainty on buyers, sellers, real estate agents, and legislators, as everyone tried to discern how best to navigate the crisis unfolding before them. Many contracts to buy and sell real estate that were then in-process fell through or were renegotiated, and the legal fallout from that may stretch on for years.

And yet, life marches forward, and people continue to need to move and buy/sell real estate, so all of the players have learned to adapt in order to help people move on with life. Some of these adaptations will likely become enduring features of the new normal, while others may fade with time. The following is a brief look at some of the most prominent trends to emerge from this pandemic and whether they are likely to last.

The real estate industry has been notoriously slow to modernize its practices, but one surprising benefit of the pandemic is that it appears to have pushed the industry into the 21st century.

  1. Marketing.Before COVID-19, a small minority of properties were marketed using 3D technology, relying instead on photos and, perhaps, static floor plans. Now, however, virtually every buyer expects (and sellers demand) an immersive 3D tour of a listed property. Pre-pandemic, buyers would likely visit many homes in-person before deciding on which home to make an offer. Now, buyers are almost certain to “tour” a number of homes virtually and then select the one (or few) that they actually want to see in person. We are even seeing this trend emerge in commercial real estate, as being able to tour a property virtually can save companies time and money in assessing whether a potential commercial space will fit their needs.

This 3D marketing trend will almost certainly continue for the duration of the pandemic, but it is less clear if it will continue after or slowly fade back to “normal” as people begin to feel safer again.

  1. Remote transactions.Before this pandemic, a large portion of a real estate transaction could be accomplished electronically, with agency agreements, purchase contracts and property-related disclosures all commonly being signed electronically. However, when it came time to close the transaction, the parties still had to physically attend a closing and physically sign documents in front of a notary public. This was the case for two primary reasons. First, Colorado’s previous attempts to pass remote notarization legislation, which would have removed the requirement of physical presence and allowed parties to sign documents via the internet, never made it through the legislature. And second, many lending institutions continue to require physical “wet” signatures and in-person notaries to minimize the potential for fraud. To solve the first problem, Gov. Polis signed an executive order allowing remote notarization. However, as we soon learned, even with remote notarization now allowed, lending institutions (inexcusably, in my view) persisted in requiring in-person physical signatures. Thus, we experienced the phenomenon of “curbside closings,” wherein the parties would drive to the title company and sit in their cars while a notary in a mask and gloves would hand them the document, watch them sign, and then notarize their documents. Having witnessed such “curbside closings,” which are clunky and awkward, I can predict that buyers and sellers will demand that the government and lending institutions allow fully remote closings in the future. Once in place, I believe this trend will be here to stay because it is vastly more convenient for people.
  2. Shifting consumer preferences.With most employees (those fortunate enough to keep their jobs) being forced to work remotely, many people and companies have discovered that, not only do they like working from home, they can actually be more productive. As a consequence, an emerging trend we are seeing is that buyers are looking for homes with an office (or workspace) more than before. And they also seem to be favoring rural (i.e., private space) over dense and urban. This may also portend a coming shift in the commercial office market, as companies realize that they can get by with much less space than before. This trend is likely to continue as more people become accustomed to being productive from home; however, the strength and reach of this trend will be limited by the fact that some jobs can be done only in person and more space at home costs more money, so not everyone will be able to realize this desire.

These are just a few of the trends emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is likely that others will develop as things continue to unfold. It will behoove buyers, sellers, and landlords to track these trends carefully to best position themselves for the future.

Originally posted by Jay Kalinski is broker/owner of Re/Max of Boulder.

Posted on June 16, 2020 at 7:00 pm
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