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Imagine buying a home you’ve never seen with the help of a real estate agent you’ve never met. Scenarios that would have seemed preposterous pre-COVID are suddenly not that uncommon. Limitations on travel and personal safety concerns have driven real estate firms to pivot on practically all aspects of their business — from the safety of showing homes in person to the creativity of selling homes that buyers have never seen.
Masks, gloves, booties and sanitizer are standard protocol for real estate firms across the Queen City. And agents are getting resourceful to accommodate clients.
Mechelle Harris, a Realtor with AllenTate Realtors, recalled looking at homes with client Ashley Brown before Brown decided to build. “We both had on masks and wore dishwashing gloves, and in my mind I was hearing MC Hammer’s song, ‘U Can’t Touch This.’”
For those who are relocating to Charlotte or unable to see a home in person, technology has saved the day. “Virtual showings, virtual open houses, virtual tours … virtual everything is second nature right now,” said Catharine Pappas, director of relocation and client services at Dickens Mitchener.
“We have had more than 10 out-of-town buyers put homes under contract sight unseen this summer due to corporate travel restrictions. People continue to be attracted to Charlotte because of our quality of life and relatively low cost of living compared to cities that offer our same amenities.”
House shopping in Belmont — from New Jersey
Michael Wilson and his wife, Marilyn Glinka, are two of those people. The couple had been considering a move from New Jersey for several years and had just settled on the Charlotte area to be near family when COVID-19 hit. As they researched from afar, a house popped up in Belmont — an area they had never visited but appealed to the couple because of its access to the river and its quaint downtown.
Wilson and Glinka contacted Realtor Marcy Basrawala of Dickens Mitchener, who they had been working with virtually. Despite meeting them only via phone, Basrawala had taken the time to get to know the couple and understand what they were looking for in their first home. So when she saw the house and felt good about it, Wilson and Glinka took a virtual tour over FaceTime and decided to put in an offer.“We put in an offer in April, did a virtual closing from New Jersey — wearing masks outside with a notary — on June 3, and saw the house in person for the first time on June 12,” Wilson said. The couple made the two-day move in two cars with their 3-year-old son, Wiley, in tow.
“We rolled into Belmont over the river and thought, ‘Oh, this is our town — it looks cool.’ Then we turned into our neighborhood and thought, ‘Yea, this is really cute.’ Finally we pulled up to our house and we were ecstatic. We were literally jumping up and down, and our son couldn’t wait to get in and see his room.”
Although they didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to all of their friends in New Jersey, the Wilsons have taken their move in stride, meeting some new neighbors and singing the praises of the virtual home buying process. “If you would have told me we would buy our first home without ever having seen it, without ever meeting our Realtor, I would have thought you were crazy. We actually still haven’t met Marcy in person,” Wilson said.
From New England to Charlotte
Jennifer Hanes-Schromm and her husband, Michael Schromm, had a similar experience. A decade ago Hanes-Schromm’s sister relocated to Charlotte, and her mother and stepfather followed suit soon after. So when she and her husband began looking for a second home to escape the winters in New England, Charlotte seemed like the natural choice.
“We love living in a historic Massachusetts town and enjoy the warm summers on the ocean, but we’re excited about skipping the snow and ice in winter,” Hanes said. “Our plan is to split our time between both locations.”
The couple had been casually looking for a home when they would visit Charlotte over the years, but it wasn’t until the COVID-19 lockdown started that the perfect home — just across the street from her sister — got listed. “When the house first came on the market, we immediately fell in love. The location was great, and it had everything we were looking for,” Hanes-Schromm said.
Unfortunately, travel restrictions prevented the couple from seeing the house in person. Instead, they did a virtual tour over FaceTime with their Realtor, Margo Wells of Dickens Mitchener. They were a little unsure about completing the purchase having never seen the home, but the virtual tour, professional photos and videos, and insight from Hanes-Schomm’s sister — who was able to see the home in person — ultimately helped make the decision easier.
“It was impressive that we could conduct the inspection, mortgage processing and closing all virtually and in less than six weeks,” Hanes-Schromm said.
Limitations and additional protocols have not stopped the Charlotte real estate market from seeing movement. According to the latest stats from Canopy Realtor Association, in July, the months’ supply of homes for sale decreased 50% in the Charlotte region, leaving just 1.3 months of inventory (single-family properties, townhomes and condominiums) on the market. In comparison, a balanced market has about six months of inventory.
Homes on the market don’t stay there for long. Real estate marketplace Zillow is showing a days-to-pending average of seven days in Charlotte through Aug.1. This means that from the time a house is listed on the market to the time a sale is pending it is taking just seven days. For comparison, in January, the day-to-pending average in Charlotte was 29 days. In addition to speeding up the sales cycle, the low inventory is driving multiple, often above asking price, offers.
With stats like those, virtual home shopping sounds like a pretty efficient idea. “All-in-all, it was a fantastic experience and a real lesson that we can pivot when we need to in these exceptional times. Our new home is everything we hoped it would be, and we’re so delighted to be spending more time with our family in such a great city,” Hanes-Schromm said.