Real estate agents can no longer show homes in person in the city of Los Angeles, leaving determined buyers to submit offers sight unseen, while others suspend their searches.
Under a revised “safer-at-home” order issued last week by Mayor Eric Garcetti, real estate transactions are considered “essential.” Buyers can still buy, and sellers can still sell. But open houses are prohibited—and shoppers can no longer venture inside the homes they want to buy.
“It’s a big change,” says real estate agent Tracy King.
The California Association of Realtors had already advised agents to stop hosting open houses. But buyers were still viewing properties. They could go in one at time by appointment. They were screened via a health questionnaire. They donned booties and gloves.
“Before the new order, I was doing self-guided tours,” says agent Angela Acuff. “I would unlock the whole place, turn on the lights, open the closet doors, and I would meet the buyer outside, then they would go in by themselves. One time, I put [a bottle of] hand sanitizer on the steps outside.”
Most buyers now are resorting to virtual tours.
It’s too early to say what impact the new restraint will have on listing prices. But the economic uncertainty generated by the rapid spread of the new coronavirus has thrown cold water on LA’s once-hot real estate market. Anecdotally, agents say they’re seeing fewer new listings and less competition.
“It’s such a stark difference,” says agent Tracy Do. “We’ve gone from 300 mph to 1 mph.”
Clamping down on how homes are shown could further strain the market, but some agents say it’s absolutely necessary to protect communities, and they’re hopeful the market will quickly rebound as soon as the order is lifted. It’s set to expire April 19—but locally, health officials have urged residents to prepare for an extension.
Agent Kendyl Young says she’s trying to dissuade her clients from buying or selling altogether right now, unless it’s critical. And she bristles at agents who are trying to circumvent the new law.
“I’m seeing a lot of dumbass real estate agents threatening the health of our society,” she says.
Acuff says she went back and forth with an agent listing a vacant home in Northeast LA who had put a lock box on the door and was letting interested buyers come through, despite the order.
“It was her assumption that having a lock box was okay,” she says.
The mayor’s order doesn’t get into specifics about when, if at all, a buyer can set foot on the property, so it’s up to brokerages and agents to make those decisions. Various aspects of the home-buying process, from appraisals to notaries, are going digital due to the pandemic.
If someone has an urgent need to buy, Do says, they need to write an offer and be in escrow in order to get inside.
Young says she’s continuing to help a buyer right now who’s crammed into a small apartment with his family and in-laws. He found a house that he was willing to make an offer on without seeing it for himself, subject to an inspection, says Young.
“If that offer would have been accepted, I would have figured out a way to do an inspection,” she says.
Situations like these were tough before shelter-in-place orders, but now, she says, “it’s ridiculously hard.”