On the Move: Relocation in times of crisis, uncertainty
Relocation in times of crisis and uncertainty isn’t anything new. People moved in the weeks following 9/11, and they moved during the aftermath of devastating weather events, such as Hurricane Ike and Harvey.
So now, as the country tries to stop the spread of COVID-19/coronavirus, and social distancing and self-quarantine have become the norm, the real estate community is once again doing their part to support their clients and keep business moving.
And, while this is anything but business or life as normal, real estate professionals are making necessary adjustments to the way that they conduct business and adopting new protocols to reduce the health risks to themselves and their clients.
Ed Wolff, president of Beth Wolff Realtors Real Living, said that people who are in the midst of relocating need reassurance that they will be able to buy or sell a home and move as planned, and that they will be able to do so with minimal exposure to others.
“The most important thing for our agents to understand is that people are uncomfortable right now,” explained Wolff. “So, we have to provide them with facts and information, and give them options to continue to move forward in whatever stage of the process they are in, without making them feel uncomfortable or providing undue stress on sellers as well.”
To that end, his company has suspended activities such as open houses, and is utilizing technology to serve their clients at a distance.
“We are offering the opportunity to FaceTime with our clients so that they can view properties and neighborhoods virtually. Then, once they narrow their choices to two or three, we can show those properties in person. This limits their exposure and interaction with multiple people and households,” said Wolff.
He added that listing appointments are also being done via FaceTime, which allows the seller to virtually walk the agent through the home and discuss what is needed to prepare it for going on the market.
Likewise, Wolff said that instead of holding office meetings, that his company is now using video to virtually communicate with their agents and staff.
Other real estate companies are taking similar actions and putting safeguards in place.
Ghislaine Thomsen is a Realtor with Coldwell Banker United, Realtors. Earlier this month, she held an open house for one of her listings. And, although only a few people stopped by, she said that certain precautions were taken.
“I had hand sanitizers and antibacterial wipes, so the first thing I did was to wipe off all of the doorknobs and all the surfaces inside and outside,” explained Thomsen. “I also brought soap and had a hand-washing station. Then, as people came in, I kept my distance of 6 feet or more.”
As things progress, she said that her company will continue to make adjustments as needed.
“I think it might be more prudent to do virtual open houses, and to do videos and slideshows and those kinds of things and put them online, and really work on social media,” Thomsen said.
As for the overall impact that the coronavirus will have on the Houston real estate market, it’s too soon to tell. The same is true with regard to domestic relocation activity.
According to Patricia Ann Pollard, director of relocation and business development for United Real Estate Group, the greatest impact will likely be on international relocation.
“We have seen a shift in corporate relocation authorizations, but this started before the coronavirus,” said Pollard. “If companies can hire from the local market, that’s what they are choosing to do rather than spending upwards of $72,000 on a domestic relocation.”
She added that there’s still the need for mobile talent, but that many international relocations and assignments have temporarily been put on hold for now. At such time that things begin to get back to normal, she fully expects international relocations to resume.
“This will affect domestic relocation somewhat this year too, but there is a need to keep business units moving now more than ever, and I think that we will have a reasonable amount of domestic relocation activity.
“Our goal is just to stay focused, keep our agents focused, and to remember what we’re here to do. Communication is the key to staying upbeat, positive, and focused. It’s a time to regroup and reassess our personal priorities, as well as our professional ones,” said Pollard.
As for the big picture, Wolff said that it’s important to remember that this is a resilient nation with resilient people.
“We will continue to move forward and do what needs to be done, but we’re not going to be reckless with people’s health. We can’t stop commerce and business, but we can adjust it,” said Wolff.
Michelle Sandlin is an award-winning writer, journalist and global mobility industry expert. Follow her on Facebook: www.facebook.com/TheMichelleSandlin and on Twitter: @MichelleSandlin. Also visit “On the Move” at blog.chron.com/onthemove.