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November 28, 2020

Realtors turn to the web to keep sales strong during COVID-19 crisis

WATSONVILLE—While Santa Cruz County’s shelter-in-place order has kept residents in their homes, real estate agents have had to rely on their technical prowess to move their customers into new ones.

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Some realtors have turned to Facebook Live, a video feature that allows users to livestream and then post the broadcast as a permanent entry for prospective buyers to view later.

Others, such as Keller Williams Broker Associate Jordan Thorpe, have turned to programs such Matterport, a high-tech, three-dimensional walkthrough that allows customers to peruse every nook and cranny of a house at their own pace.

“All of these virtual tours have, even before [the COVID-19 outbreak], been slowly becoming more popular. It’s been a big win for us,” Thorpe said. “It’s not business as usual. It’s business until usual.”

That method will have to do for the time being.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on March 28 updated its list of essential services to include residential and commercial real estate, among other professions.

With Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide stay-at-home order basing its essential services off the CISA’s growing list, some California realtors were able to return to their typical day-to-day routines. The California Association of Realtors, however, has continued to encourage its members to conduct most, if not all, of their showings virtually. The association has also halted all open houses.

Realtors in Santa Cruz County, however, are still restricted from any face-to-face sales, as the stricter local shelter-in-place order supersedes Newsom’s order.

Santa Cruz County spokesman Jason Hoppin said it is unlikely that the county will make any substantial changes to its order in the near future. If neighboring Bay Area counties update their shelter-in-place orders, the Santa Cruz County will likely follow suit, Hoppin said. But with Santa Clara County being one of the state’s COVID-19 hotspots, changes to the order do not appear to be on the horizon.

Despite those restrictions and the economic whirlwind caused by the COVID-19 crisis, the housing market in Santa Cruz County has remained strong during the first two weeks of the shelter-in-place order. 

Local realtor Renee Mello said there have been roughly 40 pending sales—12 of them new—and 49 new listings since March 17. 

In addition, there have been less than 20 withdrawn sales since that date.

“At the moment, there’s not that much of a difference,” Mello said. “People are still buying homes.”

Thorpe, however, said there is still hesitation from buyers who are adamant about conducting an in-person walkthrough before the final sale. In an effort to soothe buyers’ worries, agents have made some sales contingent on their first in-person viewing, which in some cases won’t come until sometime in May. 

“We’re trying to make the buyer as comfortable as possible with their purchase,” Thorpe said. 

Mello said the county order has thrust the industry into a new era and forced sellers to embrace technology to continue their operations. That transition, she said, was inevitable, though some realtors were not expecting to make the change this soon.

“This forced economic change is going to have an impact on [the industry],” she said. “I don’t think real estate is going to be the same after this.”

Tony Nuñez
Tony Nuñez
Managing Editor Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor for five years before entering his current role in 2019. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus, he covers the city, business, housing, entertainment and more.

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