As spring arrives and the COVID pandemic (hopefully) continues to wane in NYC, life feels like it’s beginning to return to some semblance of normal - including in the real estate industry. One sure sign is the return of the open house, long a mainstay of apartment sales that all but disappeared from the landscape these past two-plus years. The open house is back, albeit in a slightly altered state.
Altered for Safety
Pre-pandemic, the open house was a Sunday staple in New York City real estate, providing brokers and their sellers a spotlight to capture potential buyers. Interested purchasers could spend an afternoon visiting apartments, comparing properties and prices. To the delight of sellers (and brokers on commission), a covetable offering would often ignite a bidding war between motivated buyers. Nothing sells better than the feeling that you may get outbid by the anonymous couple measuring the closets while you watch.
While the dangerous realities of the pandemic erased the possibilities of open houses, they are returning - with minor changes. Enter the Open House By Appointment, or OHBA. Benjamin Dixon, an associate broker with Douglas Elliman says, “Open houses are back, but mostly as ‘open-house-by-appointment.’ There’s only one viewer at a time, sometimes two, and you need an appointment for a specific time. We had one this weekend, with 10 viewers booking 15-minute appointments each.”
The rules are fluid, explains Dixon, especially with evolving COVID guidelines. “We follow REBNY guidelines,” he says, “and their guidelines are based on state guidelines. We also consider what the seller wants. If the seller wants masks to be worn during a viewing, we require masks. The majority of the time, buyers are masked and show proof of vaccination. There’s no limit on the number of people in a viewing party coming in at any given appointment.”
On the seller side, Dixon reports that there is little if any hesitancy on the part of sellers to the return of the open house in its current incarnation. “There’s no resistance to open houses by appointment, because it’s a controlled, private showing.” There still does seem to be some hesitance to traditional open houses, however. Before COVID, Dixon says that most sellers welcomed a busy, lively open house with lots of viewers and offers. “Now,” he says, “they prefer a more controlled environment. And a lot of that shift seems to relate to their neighbors. Sellers understand that their neighbors don’t want a lot of unidentified foot traffic in the building. People are still concerned about the potential for viral spread.”
While open houses are making a comeback, new methods of showing property will likely remain with us, no matter what future plot twists the pandemic may throw at us. “Virtual tours and video previews are a permanent part of the process now,” notes Dixon.
While it’s unlikely that most buyers would be comfortable closing on an apartment without ever setting foot in the property they’re buying, video tours and previews have become a useful tool for both buyers and brokers. The quality of these videos has improved to the point where a prospective purchaser can get a virtual experience close enough to being there to eliminate properties from their list that don’t meet their requirements. That opportunity to preliminarily screen properties makes virtual tours extremely convenient, saving home-hunters a good amount of legwork when they’re ready to hit the pavement to view prospects in person.
But, says Dixon, “Today’s buyers start with virtual. The trend was happening before the pandemic anyway, and the pandemic greatly accelerated it. There’s more and more emphasis on video and virtual, but that won’t necessarily sell an apartment without a viewing.”