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March 23, 2020

What Buyers and Sellers Can Do During the SIP SF

We’re all easing into the new normal—limiting trips outdoors to essential activities like gathering groceries and exercising, videoconferencing with family, friends and co-workers, and catching up on sub-par Netflix shows.

Guidelines for citizen conduct haven’t changed since the our shelter in place (SIP) began one week ago on March 16th, nor have the recommendations for real estate agents set forth by our local San Francisco Realtor Association. I’ve spoken with a number of my colleagues, and we are all heading into Week Two wondering if there is anything we can do with respect to helping our clients and generally doing business.

Here’s an overview of market conditions, and what you can do as a buyer and seller in Week 2:

What’s Going On: Our market currently consists of listings that are on hold (and not showing up online), and ones that are active in the MLS and therefore on syndicated sites like Redfin and Zillow. Agents aren’t holding open houses, broker tours or otherwise showing properties. There are some agents who are actively marketing properties and using virtual tours or going rogue and allowing lockbox access. (I can’t stress enough that inviting people to come and go at a property absolutely violates the spirit of the SIP. Activities like showing property in person can easily contribute to spreading infection and, ultimately, lengthening the SIP.) It’s also worth mentioning that I’m hearing numerous anecdotes from other agents about people breaking into lockboxes and stealing items from the property. Interest rates are higher right now, and buyers are likely not feeling flush if they were depending on money in securities accounts for down payments. The buyers who are actively looking seem to think they can find a “deal.”

What You Can Do: If you absolutely need to be on the market, make sure you have a virtual tour available for prospective buyers. It also may be wise to communicate the price you’re looking for vs. listing lower than your target price. If you’re not entertaining lower-than-list-price offers, make sure your agent communicates that to other agents. Otherwise, keep your listing on hold or wait until we are out of crisis mode to list. If you have a lockbox on a house, remove the For Sale sign so it doesn’t attract thieves. And finally, if you’re a homeowner who’s just lost your job, contact your mortgage servicer to see if there are any payment plans available to get you through this year.

What’s Going On: There could be some deals lurking out there, but it’s still somewhat of a sellers’ market because a seller who doesn’t get his or her price will most likely wait until the market normalizes again. Sellers who were already on the market for several weeks or months before the SIP went into effect may be open to a lower price. Interest rates are not great, nor is the stock market.

What You Can Do: If you see an active listing that looks good, ask your agent to investigate. Some sellers may be open to lower offers, others will not. (Remember that these active listings went on the market with the typical list-low, sell-for-more strategy.) Ask your agent to round up any “on hold” listings in the MLS that might work for you. Check out virtual tours, and respect agent and sellers’ responsibilities to adhere to SIP orders and not show property in person. Check in with your lender on where you currently stand in light of higher interest rates and a volatile stock market. If you do write an offer, have your agent verify what players will be available (e.g., appraisers, home inspectors) and what you can expect in the escrow process (how you’ll sign loan documents and how long your close of escrow should be).

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