COVID gave way to a work-from-home culture that had been unprecedented in scale. This sudden shift to remote work affected many industries, including real estate. Agents who were used to in-person showings had to rely on virtual tours, online open houses, and even drone footage to market their listings.
Now that the pandemic has largely subsided, many agents are returning to in-person showings in a market that has barely slowed down. But what about their clients, many of whom continue to work from home?
How to Handle In-Person Showings in a WFH Environment
Buyers and renters need to envision themselves living in the home before they can commit to it. This is difficult to achieve without seeing the space in person.
So, how can you manage in-person showings when your clients are glued to their laptops and working from home?
The following tips are based on my personal and professional experience, as both someone who bought a condo in LA during the pandemic and a former real estate agent in NYC who had his fair share of apartment showings gone wrong.
1) Keep a schedule for showing the home that you and the renter/homeowner can stick to.
When I pre-leased apartments at a residential conversion in Lower Manhattan, I worked with the building’s residents to get what we in the leasing world called “PTE” (permission to enter). Pre-leasing, by the way, is renting the apartment to a new tenant before the current renters move out, something I found was crucial for maintaining the golden number in real estate: 98% occupancy.
Keeping a consistent showing schedule that everyone living in the home could agree to was also crucial to renting the apartments before they vacated. I asked residents to provide me with a few windows during the week when I could show the apartment on short notice. Most residents picked Monday through Friday from 1 PM to 4 PM (whether they worked from home or not) and Saturdays from 11 AM to 2 PM (when they were usually out for brunch).
This same concept can be easily translated to homeowners. Work with them to come up with a schedule that suits everyone’s needs. If they’re not available during the day, try evenings or weekends. The key is to be as accommodating as possible while still sticking to a set schedule.
2) Don’t be afraid to ask your renter/homeowner to tidy up or leave the property before a showing.
Uncomfortable, yes, but this is something that real estate agents, leasing professionals, and property managers discuss with their clients and residents all the time. Take it from me: there’s nothing more jarring than walking into a bedroom, living room, or kitchen that’s cluttered with knickknacks and smells like last week’s take-out. On one occasion, I had to stand in front of a closed door and tell my clients, “imagine there’s a closet behind me.” No way was I going to open the door to a scene from “Hoarders.”
When I sold co-ops and condos in NYC, I always urged my clients to declutter, declutter, declutter, as it gave the illusion of more space. I also asked them (nicely) to deep clean or hire someone who could take the legwork out of it. It’s hard to wow a potential buyer when the home smells like last night’s fish curry.
The key is to be direct and honest with the renter/homeowner of the space you’re showing. Explain that you want their help. After all, you’re both working toward the same goal: getting the home sold or rented as quickly as possible. Offer them suggestions for local cafes where they could kill time during tours rather than asking them to straight-up leave. Then, draw back the curtains to let in some light and de-personalize as much as possible (with your client’s help). Keep picture frames, diplomas, refrigerator magnets, and other personal touches out of sight. Renters and buyers don’t want to envision themselves living in someone else’s home.
3) If the home is dirty or in disrepair, be upfront about it or don’t show it all.
Sometimes, sellers and landlords don’t have the time or resources to clean or fix something before a showing. That’s understandable. In some cases, it’s expected of homes that are sold “as-is.” Not showing these properties is out of the question for most sellers who are looking to move on as soon as possible, so give your clients a heads up when showing properties that aren’t up to snuff. Doing so can ease them into these situations and reduce the shock of seeing a home in disrepair.
By contrast, showing an apartment where the renter living there could care less about the home is a different ballgame. In my experience, one renter was so “burned” by his landlord that he decided to sabotage all of my efforts to pre-lease the apartment to new renters. He purposefully left glue traps and Raid baits all around the apartment (even though there were no pests), refused to take out the trash, and didn’t bother to hide his dirty laundry. Needless to say, I didn’t show the apartment again, not while he was living there. Sometimes, it’s just not worth the hassle.
The Bottom Line on Showing Homes in Today’s WFH Culture
In the current work-from-home landscape, real estate agents, leasing professionals, and property managers should be understanding of their clients’ and residents’ needs. That means being flexible with showings and, when needed, asking for a little cooperation from those who own or rent the home.
In cases where the space is cluttered, dirty, or in disrepair, it’s best to work with sellers and landlords to get it ready before showings. Otherwise, be upfront with potential buyers and renters about the home’s condition, but be careful not to scare them away from the listing. Keep it light. Tell them they’re in for a treat, open the front door, and let them take everything in at their own pace.
Finally, if the homeowner or renter works from home and can’t step out for a showing, don’t be afraid to call the shots: ask them to keep surfaces free of clutter, store away clothes and other personal items, and work in a space that won’t detract from the potential buyer or renter’s experience of the home.
At the very least, tell them not to pace the living room in their pajamas while shouting into the phone. That won’t help anyone.
Ivan Suazo is a copywriter and SEO blogger with over ten years of experience in the real estate industry. He's also the founder of a wellness blog, QWERTYdelight.com, and writes sleep stories for the Slumber App.