real estate agents plan for the future

When COVID-19 turned the world upside down, real estate agent Karen Heath did something she had never done before: she made a video. We’re not talking TikTok here — there was no viral moment, no celebrity retweet. Heath only sent it to past and current clients. She spoke about the real estate market a bit and reminded people, “I’m still here.”

Heath said the feedback was encouraging and one person sent her a video in response.

Heath is looking forward to meeting people in person and, hopefully someday, shaking hands again. But videos, as well as digital tools provided by her broker, Howard Hanna, are something Heath plans to continue post-pandemic.

Real estate agents are included in the state’s second phase of reopening New York’s economy. As of Wednesday, Realtors will be allowed to resume in-person interaction with buyers and sellers – under a long list of rules restrictions posted at Realtors and their clients must wear masks unless they can stay 6 feet away from each other. At open houses, only one party may enter an open house at a time, everyone has to wear a mask, and prospective buyers are encouraged not to bring children or “extraneous people” — in other words, take a lot of pictures to show your mother-in-law later.

When touring a house, people will be asked not to touch anything — go ahead and test the faucets but ask the Realtor to turn them on and off, with a gloved hand.

There are a lot of rules, but going back to work is a relief for a business hit hard by COVID-19. Sales dropped by nearly 50% in the Capital Region during the 11 weeks the shutdown order was in place, and the pool of new listings has also shrunk significantly.

Rick Gargiulo, also a Howard Hanna salesperson, said the shutdown was especially hard because it came just at the spring selling season started.

“A million things went through my mind: ‘What’s going to happen to my business, the market, property values, my contracts already in place?’ But I didn’t want to have a knee-jerk reaction. I took a step back and worked methodically,” Gargiulo said. “Technology has never been my friend, but I picked what I could get my head around and use.”

Gargiulo said he saved time with a program that automatically matched buyers with houses that fit what they were looking for — neighborhood, size, number of bedrooms, etc. — and when a buyer found something they wanted to see, Gargiulo went to the listing and filmed video. He is also the Realtor for Craw Farm, a development in Wilton by McPadden Builders. In the past, buyers came to appointments to choose kitchen appliances, roof tile, flooring. Now, Gargiulo sends pictures of everything to the buyer.

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