Area real estate agents adapt to social distancing

Virtual tours, appraisals, electronic signatures are becoming the new norm for sellers and buyers

REAL ESTATE BROKERS Scott Janeshek and Barb Beattie looked at house listings on a computer in their Port Washington office while surrounded by cleaning products used at showings. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press Staff

Area real estate agents say the market remains strong while other industries are being affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

From virtual tours and appraisals to self-guided showings and remote notarizing, real estate brokers are coming up with innovative ways to adapt with the times. 

“It’s not all doom and gloom,” Tom Didier, owner of Re/Max United in Port Washington, said. “For buyers who have job stability, it’s somewhat business as usual and they are seeing opportunity.”

Will Hollrith of Hollrith Realty in Grafton agreed.

“I’ve been in real estate for 28 years and we’re still carrying on business as usual,” he said. “I believe, the month of April will be our test and hopefully good things will happen. I’m optimistic that we will be listing more homes in May.”

The National Association of Realtors recently created the coronavirus addendum, which allows buyers and sellers to mutually agree on extending the time to close a deal. 

“If someone is sick or a title company or lender is closed, they all agree to work together in good faith to extend it because of the pandemic,” Scott Janeshek of Beattie Janeshek Realty Group of Berkshire Hathaway in Port said. “People still want to buy houses, but more restrictions are put in place.”

Some of the restrictions for showings, Janeshek’s mother and business partner Barb Beattie said, include having buyers conduct walkthroughs with no children or elderly relatives present. During the walkthrough, hand sanitizer is available and  buyers must wear gloves and masks and not touch light switches, drawers and cabinets.

“More precautions are being taken because people are more sensitive than they were before,” she said. “Photographers rather have the house emptied and everything turned on so they touch as little as possible.”

Because social distancing is in place, contracts are being signed with electronic signatures.

“We had a closing where the realtors weren’t at the closing because they were sitting in their car outside of the house,” Janeshek said. “We’re seeing a lot more digital notarizing.”

Didier said he is keeping his distance from clients to ensure he isn’t crossing any social boundaries.

“We’re trying to be safe with everything we do,” he said. “I met with a seller and sat outside his porch eight feet away and transferred paperwork back and forth.”

Because of the precautions that are being put in place, virtual tours and appraisals are becoming a popular alternative. Didier said the number of showings last week was down nearly 50% compared to this time last year.          

Didier said he is able to make an accurate virtual appraisal with a couple exterior shots and photos of the kitchen, bathrooms and basement.

“We can actually put together a market analysis and appraisal remotely without coming into the house,” he said. “We’ve done more remote appraisals in the last two weeks than I have done in my lifetime.” 

Rick Schmit, owner of Schmit Realty in Grafton, said interest rates have been volatile for about a month, but predicts a 30-year fixed rate will return to about 3.1%.

“The unknown is more of a factor,” he said. “The rates are still close to the record lows. Buyers see that and that helps drive the activity.”

Hollrith said interest rates have been as high as 4.7% because lenders are seeing an influx of people wanting to refinance their homes.

“The rates have been going up and down,” Hollrith said. “Progressing forward, I think rates will be very good for buyers. The underpinnings of the market are out there.”

Didier and Janeshek said most houses priced at $300,000 or less are selling quickly, but more expensive homes may be on the market longer. 

“If it’s priced correctly, it’s going to have a lot of activity,” Didier said.

Janeshek said there is still a demand for new construction.

“That helps keep the market going as long as the (construction) trades can keep going and their supplies remain strong,” Janeshek said. “There are a lot of property lots available and once this calms down, you’re really going to see things let loose.”

Schmit said there is still a market for commercial property, but said he is worried about some of his tenants. 

“During the last week of March, a lot of our commercial tenants closed. The restaurants are doing carry outs, but that is only a small percentage of their business,” he said. “We have to negotiate with our tenants about rent deferrals and reductions.”

Didier said the commercial market depends on the industry.

“I have some contractors who are busier than normal. Their aspirations are not on hold and they are moving forward with building and remodeling,” he said. 

Janeshek agreed.

“I’m not sure what the long term impact will be for the restaurant and bar business, but there are still office people who are looking around and doing things,” he said. “Once the pandemic is over, I think we are going to see a lot more active movers and shakers in the commercial real estate market who want to create more business opportunities in our area.”




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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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