Real estate agents turn to technology for help

HARLINGEN — Virtual tour houses are not uncommon, but it has now become the norm for real estate agents.

Because the real estate industry was named an essential service by Gov. Greg Abbott, its services did not stop. Instead, they changed.

Based on information provided by the Harlingen Board of Realtors, Texas Realtors and active agents in the area, it is understood that although sales went down at the beginning of the shelter-in-place orders, after a few weeks home buyers steadily showed interest.

The first quarter of 2020 saw 75,052 homes sold in Texas, jumping 7 percent compared to the first quarter of 2019, according to a news release by Texas Realtors.

However, the global pandemic became a challenge for the industry and it is uncertain whether continued sales will be as successful as the first quarter.

Harlingen agents say the key to keeping sales steady is keeping up with technology and communication.

Social media applications, such as Zoom, and virtual house tours have become key tools for agents to use to market houses.

Ana Becerra, the Harlingen Board of Realtors Association Executive, said the board has shared tips and resources with agents about how to best showcase homes.

Becerra said by looking at data and feedback, the experience of buying a home is not as personal anymore.

“They are working to make this as smooth as possible for buyers and sellers, but by looking at the numbers there has been impact as to how they are working with clients,” Becerra said.

However, the tools provided by the board have been useful resources for real estate agents who have been forced to change their usual procedures.

Noe Valdez, a Keller Williams Realtors team leader, said social media has become a great tool to use for consultations.

“This is something we had already been doing, but it wasn’t catching on. When you see a home, part of it is seeing it in person and (driving) by the neighborhood. But this shelter in place situation forced everybody to go online, but it gained momentum,” Valdez said.

Going online for research is the first step when looking for a home, he added. It used to be that once an appointment was made, everything was usually in person. Now, the relationship between buyers and real estate agents is mostly virtual, if possible.

“I think there is still a desire to see the house in person, but there is also the consumer who quickly adapted to do the steps online,” Valdez said.

“I don’t think this will replace the old way, but will be a bigger part of the process moving forward,” he said.

In the past, using virtual methods for selling homes was mostly reserved for marketing process or out-of-town clients. Now, it’s the new normal.

However, Valdez said when a home is still occupied it becomes difficult to showcase virtually.

“We have to sanitize, (ensure) social distancing, or if a couple wants to see one, the agent would have to wait outside,” he said.

Real Estate agent Zintiha Loya said her company told her at the beginning of Spring Break to not host open houses. But as essential workers, realtors were able to still showcase and discuss offers.

“When somebody started virtual open houses, that’s when we got the idea…we are showcasing without exposing anybody,” she said. “I can guarantee from my virtual open houses I began to get offers.”

Loya would publish on Facebook a live open house and invite people to see the house she was showcasing.

“People would ask questions and I would answer and tell people to schedule an appointment. From my first one, a client messaged me (that) she wanted to see me the next day, and she did an offer,” Loya said.

Though COVID-19 has affected the business aspect of many markets, Loya believes home buyers will keep sales going.

“…I think it’s going to be a really good market. It is more than I expected, actually,” Loya said.