Is it safe to buy and sell homes during a pandemic? Local real estate agents disagree. | KNKX

Is it safe to buy and sell homes during a pandemic? Local real estate agents disagree.

Mar 23, 2020

Last week, Windermere Realtor Darci Gillespie says she had a home sale take an unexpected turn.

"My client was told by his doctor that he had COVID-19," Gillespie said. The client was quarantined. The problem was the client was already in the process of closing on a house, which is a time-bound process that requires in-person interaction.

"He had to sign his closing papers, right?” Gillespie said. “But who's going to sign them?"

The client certainly couldn't come to the escrow company to sign in front of a notary. Gillespie thought she'd just extend the closing date: "Not a big deal. Health before houses.  But then the escrow company found someone who would sign in person. And she said, I will sign you with these stipulations: You wear a mask. I wear a mask. We both wear gloves, and we sign outside."

In the end, the sale went through. But the whole thing made Gillespie uncomfortable. She was worried about everyone's health, and she felt it was wasteful to be using masks for real estate transactions, when they're so badly needed by hospitals.

The novel coronavirus has created new dilemmas for real estate agents in the Puget Sound region — and the industry is divided over how to respond to them.

Gillespie recounted a recent meeting with fellow agents — conducted by video conference, of course. Some said they absolutely needed the paycheck and had to push forward, while others — including a woman who was six months pregnant — begged their fellow real estate agents to just stay home.

Individual clients also are feeling their own pressures. Some sellers have strong reasons to want to sell: death, divorce, relocation. And some buyers might feel that the current climate gives them the advantage they need to get into the market.

So long as sales continue, Gillespie wants real estate agents to do so as safely as possible. She outlined a few best practices: "Have it vacant — and cleaned, obviously." Gillespie also suggests they have a photographer come and do a 3D tour of the property, so people can tour properties remotely. And she suggests the seller hire their own inspector and pay for their own sewer scope, then provide that to potential buyers, so each buyer doesn't have to bring their own inspector and sewer contractors out.

All of those steps, Gillespie says, would reduce the number of people coming into possible contact with each other.

If someone does decide to buy, it may even be possible for the signing process to be done remotely. While, in the past, some lenders required in-person signing in front of a notary, times change. "Now with everything going on, I think there'll be more lenders jumping in to allow that."

Still, Gillespie believes the best plan is for everything to go on pause for the time being. However long it takes, Gillespie believes it's worth it.

"You know, I've been in real estate for 17 years. I've never had a client die from not being able to buy or sell a house,” Gillespie said. “And we're talking about people dying (from COVID-19). So, I think everyone can wait."