Virtual tours have become all the rage.
It provides prospective buyers with a
chance to get a close up glimpse at their future home, allowing them
to view the layout and examine the floor plans — all from the
comfort of their phone or computer. Even before the coronavirus
pandemic prompted Village Properties to alter its operations, the
local real estate company had been pushing digital
Described by agents as what could be the new standard in home sales, Owner Renee Grubb told the News-Press that the videos have been “a life-saver” for both buyers and sellers alike.
“People were concerned about having
people in their properties, and buyers were concerned about going
into properties,” Ms. Grubb said.
The agency has implemented protocols and procedures to continue showing properties on a one-on-one basis, though it may be a while before property visits resume in their former fashion.
“We had been stopped from doing open houses, we couldn’t tour the properties anymore, we couldn’t have agents there to help us price them, so pretty much all of that had stopped,” Ms. Grubb said. “We couldn’t do anything for about two weeks, but then we were able to show one-on-one, which we’ve been doing… for about three weeks.
“I think that’s going to be how it is for quite a while.”
Village Properties deals primarily with residential homes or complexes. A few of its 175 agents also sell commercial properties, but overall the company has a diverse portfolio — including apartment complexes, homes, condos and estates throughout the Santa Barbara area.
“The market, you never know,” Ms. Grubb said. “Sometimes the high-end is pretty flat and not selling, so to keep a company going you’ve got to have all the price points and you’ve got to work the whole area. Santa Barbara, geographically, is easy to be in all the markets. We’ve always, always done that — it’s just the smart thing to do.”
With so much uncertainty and looming questions due to the pandemic, Ms. Grubb said sales have dipped about 50% in the first few weeks of April.
“At the very beginning when this all happened, everybody was a little more frightened than hopefully they are today and we had escrows fall out,” she said. “I think (the concern) caused a lot of the apprehension of either buying or staying in escrow.”
In the past few weeks, fewer sellers have taken their properties off the market and few escrows have been cancelled.
Though things have changed, Ms. Grubb has continued to support the Teacher’s Fund, the nonprofit organization which was once an offshoot of the agency which has awarded more than $1.6 million to teachers throughout Santa Barbara County.
In addition, Ms. Grubb has been able to retain all 12 of her staff members as the company seeks to continue serving the public.
“The one goal I had from day one was to not lay off any of my staff,” she said. “I didn’t have to do it during the Recession and I didn’t have to do it in the debris flow, even though my office was closed then.”
While things have certainly changed from the property owners’ perspective, agents are also having to adjust.
Monica and Collin Hayward have been in the real estate business for the past few years, and both spoke to the News-Press about the drastic changes they have noticed in a short period of time.
“Right now, it’s slow but houses are getting sold,” Ms. Hayward said. “It’s slower, but Santa Barbara is a special market. You see new leases, a lot of activity even though we are not allowed to do open houses anymore.”
In order to do an open house, the buyer is required to sign a document that declares they are symptom and disease free.
“We’ve got a new standard operating procedure right now, and it’s going to change the industry a little bit where people are used to doing it this way and they’re going to probably continue a lot of the things we’ve had to set up,” Mr. Hayward said.
While buyers formerly would spend an entire day touring homes, they are now able to pick two or three that catch their eye. This has made things move a lot faster, while also filtering out the more serious buyers.
(Compared to) an open house… just anybody will walk through. A lot of lookie-loos, a lot of people who are just curious to see what their neighbors house looks like,” Mr. Hayward said.
While face-to-face interactions are few and far between, the couple believes more people will view homes online due to the convenience factor.
“Right now, it’s kind of a bridge between the old way and the new way of doing things,” Mr. Hayward said.
Ms. Grubb acknowledged that things may never go back to the way they were before when it comes to buying and selling homes. Nonetheless, she feels as if there will be plenty of business once the pandemic subsides.
“We’re going to be busy,” she said. “I just think that a lot of people have suffered during this, but there are a lot of people that are going to want to come to a place like Santa Barbara.
“I’m looking very optimistically at things picking up, hopefully in the next couple of months and I think 2021 is going to be a good year for sure.”