As the coronavirus pandemic has caused ballooning unemployment in the United States, what impact has it had on the local real estate market?
One of Tehachapi's top sellers, Linda Clough, said she has listed three homes on the market in the last few weeks alone.
According to Clough, who is a broker associate at Keller Williams in Tehachapi, business before the pandemic was slow as inventory was low.
"It seems like it has been a little bit busier," she said about recent listings.
The CEO of real estate brokerage Redfin recently said there has been an increase in demand for homes in rural areas as people shift away and look to move out of dense urban areas due to the pandemic.
"We have seen that people are more interested in that house at the foot of the mountains by the lake," said Glenn Kelman on CNBC's "Closing Bell." "Rural demand is much stronger right now than urban demand, and that's a flip from where it's been for the longest time, where everybody wanted to live in the city." (https://www.redfin.com/blog/urban-vs-rural-homebuyer-interest-coronavirus/)
Following Gov. Gavin Newsom's mandated social distancing guidelines and California Association of Realtors' guidelines, Clough said she has had to work a little bit harder as a result.
"I sold a house yesterday, and it was really different trying to meet the buyer. A Realtor's smile is everything. With a mask on, you can't portray that," said Clough, who has a been a Realtor in Tehachapi for 30 years.
The process of listing a house before COVID-19 was already turning to a virtual world; however, it has become essential since the first cases were confirmed in the United States.
Clough said she now sends contracts to her listing clients via email, which they are required to sign and fax back to her. Once the contracts are in place, Clough said, she calls her son, Corey Costelloe, who takes photos and video of the house.
Said Clough about social distancing with her last seller, "I tell all the sellers to leave all the lights on and the door unlocked. They basically sat in their car across the street while Corey did that. I have yet to meet my seller face to face."
However, at this stage of the game, Clough said, if someone calls her and asks to see a house, she's going, especially if the house is vacant.
"I put my mask on, and I take my Clorox wipes with me and make sure the other people have their masks on," she said. "It's kinda crazy. Once this paranoia is over with, I think people will still use precautions."
According to Clough, agents now must have buyers sign a form acknowledging that any given house may have additional risks concerning the coronavirus, and that they agree to hold the agent and seller harmless.
Said Clough, "They sign the form, and the seller has to initial it before they can ever go into the house. We have to do that with every buyer."
In addition, all parties are now required to sign a form stating that they understand delays can occur while the house is in escrow should the buyer or seller become directly affected by the virus by either losing their job or becoming sick.
Diana Williams, owner of RE/MAX Tehachapi, Inc., said she is not seeing a drop in sales. However, she has a number of clients who have chosen to wait until the pandemic is over before they come look at houses.
"They are still calling about the homes that are on the market, but they are waiting until they can go out and look at them," said Williams, who continues to list homes via electronic signatures.
Williams said she is following safety guidelines closely during this difficult time.
"We are asking the sellers to leave their closet doors and cabinet doors open and to leave their lights on so that nobody is touching anything that they don't need to be touching," said Williams.
RE/MAX has virtual tours on many of its online listings, including a matter port which offers a 360-degree view of the home.
Said Williams, "We have the ability to not only put this on our website, but also on realtor.com. That is the goal right now — to get everything up and running on realtor.com so that people can see these video tours."
One of Williams' recent sellers took their own photos, sent them to her and she placed them in her Design Center to create a YouTube video for buyers to view.
"Before COVID, I think it was definitely a seller's market," Williams said. "When people jump back into the market, we will know then what we are facing. No one has a crystal ball, and we don't know what is happening, but we are not seeing price drops at this point."
Costelloe gave credit to local real estate agents for continuing to offer their services to the community.
"I think the local Realtors are managing to do business despite all that's going on. I know that they were designated 'essential' by the governor a couple of weeks back, but that doesn't mean that they continue to do business as normal. I commend them for the changes in the way they do things plus their interaction with owner-occupied homes by adopting a new protocol," said Costelloe, who attended the last virtual Tehachapi Area Association of Realtors' meeting this month on behalf of the city of Tehachapi as its economic development coordinator.
Costelloe foresees paper documents becoming a thing of the past in the days ahead, even after the economy returns to normal.
"This will probably be the new normal for them when this is all over," he said.