Close the real estate deal? Don’t shake my hand!

By Maja Beckstrom

Any other year, Steve Townley would be in the middle of the busy spring real estate season. Not now.

Townley, a RE/MAX agent who has worked for decades in the Saint Anthony Park neighborhood, says home-for-sale inventory is down 25 to 30 percent. The downturn comes in what is usually the busiest selling time of the year for real estate agents—spring and summer.

Homeowners are holding off on putting their houses on the market, unless they have an urgent need to sell, Townley said. They’re concerned about strangers walking through their home, potentially touching surfaces and shedding coronavirus.

“There is virtually no inventory because sellers are so nervous about all the consequences,” he said. At the same time, many buyers are skittish because of financial uncertainty.

“We’ve already lost a couple transactions this year because buyers either lost their jobs or got so nervous they couldn’t contemplate the possibility of a closing,” Townley said. “Deals are tougher to put together.”

For the people still in the market, logistics are complicated. Open houses have been canceled, and potential buyers are viewing properties by appointments to ensure they don’t overlap with other potential buyers. There is much greater use of online photographs and video tours. Some appraisers will not appraise homes that are currently occupied.

Townley thinks buyers may start putting in offers on homes they haven’t even seen in person and combine their first walk through with the building inspection.

“But that’s also going to make a transaction less certain, when you accept an offer if someone hasn’t physically seen it,” he said.

Townley also has had to get creative to get paperwork signed. He’s had three closings involving sellers who live in assisted living or nursing homes, where visitors aren’t allowed for the safety of residents. In one case, a gloved and masked notary public passed paperwork through a door and then watched through a window while the seller, also in gloves, signed the papers.

Closings are now handled with as few people present as possible, seated 6 feet apart and wearing masks, Townley said. Buyers and sellers are in different locations and don’t meet.

“The old idea of a closing where everybody shakes hands at the end—and you pass keys across the table and talk about the neighbors—and all that stuff is gone,” he said. “Everything is remote. There’s almost no face-to-face contact. There is no closure at a closing.”

Maja Beckstrom is a journalist/writer and a resident of St. Anthony Park.

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