"Hello," came the phone call early Monday morning, "My husband and I are standing out in front of the house on Echo, and wondering if you can show it to us now?"
Uhhh . . . no, I cannot. (Have you been social-distancing on Mars?)
Instead I said, "I'm so sorry but Shelter-in-Place mandates have made showing homes very difficult, and certainly, impossible on such short notice. Do you happen to be working with an Agent?"
"No," she said, "We live in an Eichler now and have always wanted to see this house; it's really special."
And so it is. At the risk of being just a tad bit crabby about Real Estate's evolving and weighty showing protocols (and yes, I understand they're meant to keep everyone safe), the days of looking at houses just for curiosity's sake are now a thing of the past, and long gone for the foreseeable future. In short, those of you who visited public Opens as a weekend hobby (and you know who you are) will need to find something else to do come Saturday and Sunday afternoons until we return to a world of "business as usual" (assuming that we do).
"I'm sorry to disappoint you," I said, but house viewings are now limited to prospective Buyers ONLY, and ONLY after you have seen the home online, and ONLY after you have driven by the property, and ONLY if you have received & reviewed a disclosure package, and ONLY after you and your Agent have signed an entry waiver (also known as a Coronavirus Property Entry Advisory Disclosure or PEAD for short), and ONLY after we receive a pre-approval letter, and ONLY after an appointment has been set, and ONLY after your first-born has been turned over (Okay, you can keep the baby, but don't plan on bringing him inside.)
With respect to 34 Echo Avenue in Piedmont, the response has been so overwhelming that Sarah and I are in the difficult position of having to make a distinction between scheduling appointments for those who are actually in the market for a new home, and those who are merely curious (and there's A LOT of curiosity)!
I can't believe I'm saying this, but I miss Open Houses. While I have long believed that Sunday Opens are actually the means for Agents to gain an audience (the home is already online), what I failed to appreciate was the "weed out" factor that Sunday Opens provide to prospective Buyers (and neighbors alike), not to mention the pricing context these same Buyers gain by seeing LOTS of homes as opposed to just a few. The truth is that the learning curve for buying a home involves a fair amount of rejection - on both sides of the equation.
Along the way, motivated Buyers usually figure out what doesn't work, before understanding what does. Once that is established, they soon discover where in the equation they are willing to compromise, and more importantly, where they are not. Without public Opens, every new possibility must be seen in person, accompanied by a local Agent, their Supra-Box key and often, a pass code. (You'd think we were entering Fort Knox). Furthermore, without Brokers' Tours, Agents can no longer eliminate the bad apples, thereby saving our Buyers the trouble of climbing into their cars and racing over the bridge (kids in tow) to see a house that makes no sense for them on any level.
"Oh, I see what you mean. You were right." (Thank you. I've been at this a long time.)
While local governing bodies that set the rules for how we practice Real Estate in the county of Alameda have suggested that viewings should ONLY take place if it isn't feasible for prospective Buyers to see a house any other way (video, matterport, floorplans, etc.), In my experience, it truly isn't feasible for Homebuyers to plunk down their hard-earned cash without stepping through the door. (Please wash your hands for 20 seconds when you do, and don't touch anything!) If ONLY the people who set these policies understood the meaning of "only."
As a result, Realtors are busier than ever chaperoning clients around town, irrespective of what the orders are actually trying to achieve - which is to keep everyone safe and secure at home. Ironically, single showings are having the very opposite effect. (I've never been busier.) Last weekend, I gave a tour of Piedmont via speaker phone while the family behind me followed in their own rental car as we tooled around . (That actually worked fairly well.)
"On your left is the Piedmont Planning Department, the high school tennis courts, and the community pool . . ."
So with the understanding that seeing the INSIDE of a home is difficult AT BEST, and practically speaking, requires a beekeeper's regalia, a space suit, or a deep-sea divers' get-up, please don your masks and gloves, drive by the house first, check out the neighborhood, read through the disclosures, take the virtual tour, AND THEN give me 24-hours' notice to set up a few appointments on your behalf. I might grumble about the rules (there's no 'might' about it, I'll definitely grumble) but I'll arrive with disinfectant and sanitizers in hand and do my best to take you to your selected few (while keeping everyone safe, of course).
However, you'll need to leave your friends and parents behind. Only two people who reside in the same household, are allowed in the listing at a time. Oh, and we ALL need to be six feet apart. (Does that still apply if you share the same bed?) No wonder I'm crabby; the rules have gotten very odd . . . and some are virtually impossible to implement, but I do give a good tour.
"On your right is Witter Field, the track, the baseball diamond, and the girls' softball field . . ."
How can I help you?
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 600 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.