From listing a home to closing a deal, COVID-19 is shaking up Fort Wayne's real estate industry

This is the time of year when our real estate market usually takes off. At Regan + Ferguson Group, our 2020 goals, budget, and payroll were based on market predictions and a strong financial position from 2019’s successes. Those projections are no longer what drives our business decisions.

New listings in the month of April are down 22 percent from 2019. May and June’s numbers will likely tell an even bleaker story. Last week, my business partner Heather and I hand-delivered succulents (from our friends at The Honey Plant—a fantastic local treasure) to our team members to show them how much we care about them. This time last year, our days were packed with listing homes and servicing clients, so we had less time to focus on our team.

Crisis brings about change, and COVID-19 is shaking things up.

Leslie Ferguson, center, is co-owner of The Regan + Ferguson Group at Keller Williams Fort Wayne.

There are many in our industry who have been operating under the same routine for decades, but we’re being forced to adapt. From listing a home to closing a deal, we are adopting technology, video, and digital tools and it’s actually making buying and selling a home easier. I think COVID-19 is the catalyst that’s creating permanent change in our industry.

 

Progressive local agents and teams outside our market have used video as a marketing tool for years, and our team added video to its marketing arsenal several years ago, too. Even so, it’s still not a regular practice for many agents. In a thriving market, maybe it wasn’t necessary. But now that the internet is the primary way many people are exploring homes, we’re finding that virtual walk-through technology, video, and 3D tours tell a much broader story than 1-page flyers. These tools will continue to be an integral cog in our team’s home selling process going forward. 

So will video conferencing. Since Indiana’s stay-at-home order, I’ve experienced Zoom happy hours with friends, my Dad’s 80th birthday “party,” and reunions with childhood friends. We share laughs, stories, and empathy. In real estate, it’s all about making those human connections, and video conferencing is a unique medium that allows us to do it more efficiently. Our team is already thinking about how we can integrate video conferencing into future client communications.

As we keep working through the pandemic, I see COVID-19 impacting other aspects of the real estate industry, as well.

On Friday, I had a closing in the parking lot of Metropolitan Title. Carla Boerger, an industry pro, was masked and gloved and greeted my masked clients at their respective cars. The week prior, I had another closing that was inside the office, but set up with an iPad and the “closer” was virtual.

Metropolitan Title offers title insurance and escrow services.

These closings were in sharp contrast to my previous experiences where buyers and sellers shake hands, pass keys and openers, and sometimes awkwardly share stories about neighbors or nuances in the alarm system. But virtual closings may be the way of the future, too.

Carla says business is steady right now thanks to low-interest rates and home refinances. But daily operations during the pandemic have changed dramatically, as has the office environment, with the need for separate rooms for closings, time for sanitizing, plexiglass for the front desk, and other adaptations to keep the process smooth and safe for the client.

Along with these temporary precautions, Tiffany McIntosh, a lender partner with Fifth Third Bank, sees possible permanent changes ahead, as well. This spring season has been robust in volume for lenders (thanks to low-interest rates) with a majority of the loans consisting primarily of refinances versus purchases, McIntosh says. She and other lenders believe that as Indiana opens back up for business, we will see a move toward a larger percentage of purchases over refinances. Her parent company has been quick to adapt to change, providing the necessary tools for virtual closings, as well.

Each week, our team works to evolve and become more refined. We are also becoming more conservative with budgeting and forecasting, as planning for three to four months of reserve has evolved into planning for six to nine months. These days, diving into the numbers, analyzing costs, and asking ourselves, “Is this really necessary?” is probably a good thing.

Overall, we’re learning it’s imperative we remain nimble, intentional, and positive in the face of change. And to show how much we care about each other a little more often.

This blog is part of an ongoing, weekly series in Input Fort Wayne, following local small business owners as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Read Leslie's previous blog here.

Read more articles by Leslie Ferguson.

Leslie Ferguson is co-owner of The Regan + Ferguson Group at Keller Williams Fort Wayne. She is one of Input Fort Wayne's small business bloggers, sharing her experience during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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