The 2 pandemic-inspired trends that are here to stay
Digital tools and remote work aren't going away, and that has reshaped buying, selling and how agents work with clients.
- "When Covid hit, the need for technology just exploded," said Endpoint's SVP of operations.
- Borne out of necessity, digital tools like virtual tours and e-signing have become a permanent part of the home-shopping experience for many.
- Remote and hybrid work options continue to influence buying decisions, allowing buyers to look beyond major metros.
From faster closings to redefined buyer expectations, some changes in the real estate marketplace that started during Covid have become permanent features post-pandemic.
In particular, two aspects of buying and selling appear to have shifted for good: Digital tools and processes that gained momentum during Covid, such as online contract signings and virtual title services, are becoming commonplace today, and buyers are less tied to specific geographic areas because they work remotely or are on a hybrid work-from-home schedule.
Buyers have adapted to tech tools
Heather Cook, who leads the Curated Group of The Real Brokerage in the greater Charlotte area, says clients are embracing the digital trend. More buyers and sellers use web-based signing platforms and see them as "a safe and reliable alternative" to physically signing paper documents, including contracts, Cook said.
Cook also said that video conferences with buyers and sellers throughout the real estate process are now a regular part of doing business, when face-to-face meetings had been the standard. "Where so many consultations were done in-person prior to Covid, buyers and sellers are now comfortable meeting over Zoom for discussions," she said.
Andy Biggers, an agent with the Gaskins Team based in Falls Church, Virginia, also sees the use of digital tools that accelerated during Covid providing greater convenience for today's buyers and sellers, from video tours to remote signing.
Clients are "able to sign remotely via an online notary if they are out of town or just don't want to drive to the settlement office," Biggers said. "These aren't big changes in and of themselves, but they make things easier for clients."
More automation in closings
There also is more automation to speed closings. At Endpoint, the digital title and escrow company has seen an increase in demand for services that accelerated during the pandemic and continues today.
"When Covid hit, the need for technology just exploded; it was a little bit of a push the industry needed to catapult into a more digital mindset in how we do our work," said Shawna Hernandez, senior vice president of operations at Endpoint.
Real estate remains a people-first industry, she said, but professionals began leaning more into technology in more meaningful ways. Post-pandemic, the industry and consumers have seen how tech-empowered processes improve the real estate experience.
"We were positioned well to lean into this need for digital transformation in our space. For Endpoint, it was a considerable turning point. People began listening more intently."
'Permanence of work-from-home'
The interests of buyers also changed post-Covid, as remote and hybrid work gave many people more flexibility when considering their housing options.
"For buyers' interests, I think most people do want a little bit more space than before, and some are willing to take on a little bit longer commute since many people can work remotely a few days a week," said Biggers about his experience serving the Washington, D.C., metro area.
In the greater Charlotte area, Cook of the Curated Group is also seeing an uptick in buyers looking for more space and the amenities to go with it. "Being cooped-up indoors during Covid gave buyers a new appreciation for outdoor living amenities," Cook said. And that trend continues, she said.
"The demand for things like pools and outdoor kitchens sharply increased in early 2020, and the value for the increased demand is directly reflected in higher adjusted values on appraisal," Cook said.
Charles Nathanson, an associate professor of finance at the Kellogg School at Northwestern University, said he is most surprised by "the permanence of work-from-home. If you look at how many people are going to the office, it has decreased significantly," Nathanson told KelloggInsight.
Nathanson's research shows that as more people work remotely, they are migrating from expensive metro areas to communities with more space and cheaper housing. "Demand for more space in certain areas of the country has increased, which has boosted house prices," he said.