Open houses go ‘virtual’ during coronavirus pandemic
Column by Jaymes Song
As seen in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on March 28, 2020
Hawaii has initiated an unprecedented lockdown, leaving usually bustling streets, business districts and Waikiki’s famed beaches hauntingly desolate like never before.
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Hawaii have surged to more than 100 in just the past few weeks, with many more cases expected in the coming weeks and months. This has prompted government leaders to essentially shut down the Aloha State to tourists and order stay-at-home restrictions for residents in hopes of preventing further spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.
While real estate transactions are continuing and closing in Hawaii, the global pandemic is impacting the local housing market, and the home buying and selling process as we know it.
For one, traditional open houses on Oahu have been suspended.
Sunday there will be no open houses to attend for the first time in recent memory. With health and safety as its primary concern, the Honolulu Board of Realtors instructed its membership that “in-person open houses must stop immediately.” Further, the board’s HiCentral site has suspended all open house information through May 1.
Many listing agents are going “virtual,” with video or virtual tours of their listings. In-person private showings are still being conducted by appointment only while using social distancing and other safety precautions such as providing hand sanitizer to visitors and wiping down surfaces.
Some home inspection companies are also trying to go virtual — limiting their inspections to vacant homes only or using video conferencing for their reports. Instead of the traditional face-to-face reports where they would walk through the home with buyers, some inspectors are going over their summaries by video chat or phone.
Agents are also using FaceTime, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other video conferencing platforms to communicate with their clients.
The staggering number of Hawaii workers losing their jobs also will affect the housing market and possibly derail transactions already in escrow. If a buyer is in escrow and loses his or her job or has work hours reduced, it may negatively impact that person’s financing or the amount the person can qualify for. And a prolonged work shutdown could make it difficult for people to pay rent or make their mortgage payment.
State offices critical to real estate, such as the Bureau of Conveyances and Land Court, remain open for business. The bureau is accepting electronic and paper filings, but there may be delays if it becomes short staffed. Land Court petitions are being processed but are expected to take longer than the usual two weeks turnaround time.
Professional services, such as real estate, were included as “essential businesses” by the city, which provides workers an exemption from Honolulu’s emergency shelter-in-place restriction. However, it will be far from business as usual for agents, escrow/title officers, lenders, inspectors, appraisers and thousands in the industry who are doing their best under the challenging circumstances to serve their clients.
If you are a home buyer or seller right now, remember to be patient, expect delays, and communicate closely with your agent, loan officer and real estate team.
But most of all, stay safe and healthy. We’ll all get through this together.