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Technology & real estate: How COVID propelled industry forward

Enabling buyers and sellers to move quickly from start to finish

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technology real estate
Technology has transformed the real estate industry, enabling contact-less viewings and sales.

Over the past six months, nearly every industry in our economy was accelerated by technology due to COVID-19. Whether consumers or businesses were ready, the global pandemic forced us to conduct business almost 100 percent virtually. Residential real estate was undoubtedly one of the industries most affected. The entire process from start to finish shifted, and now the future of real estate has never been more technology driven. Follow along as I address how COVID impacted technology changes in residential real estate and take a glimpse of where the industry is headed.

The Cloud Movement: In the past, real estate has always been paper-heavy, so when the economy shut down there was a scramble to set up remote workforces. Paperless transactions became key, and cloud-based systems were essential to survival. In most markets, there was no option to go into the office and pull files or save paper documents. Streamlining the entire real estate process on a digital platform between all parties was the biggest step businesses could have taken to continue serving their buyers/sellers through stay-at-home orders. In some areas, real estate was deemed essential. Therefore, in-person meetings were unavoidable. However, choosing to conduct minimal tasks face-to-face and saving the bulk of the process for digital gave peace of mind to both employees and consumers. From now on you must be forward-thinking on the cloud movement and flexible to support a remote workforce because office days in real estate are long gone.

Productivity Tools: With that said, the technology movement in real estate started a few years back, but COVID placed urgency on the digital drive. The real estate professionals adapting best are those placing the biggest priority on transforming their business with productivity tools. Some veteran real estate professionals are not keeping up with the times, creating a competitive gap between them and the tech savvy. The goal for the entire real estate industry should be to streamline and automate the entire process with technology to make it as painless and easy as possible for buyers and sellers. This is done by integrating the best practices and tech tools into one system. This enables all parties to work in partnership more effectively and efficiently. If you are an investor, your productivity tool should assist in managing your leads, conducting property assessments, making the offers, negotiations and settlement, renovations, accounting, purchasing, scheduling and field management. If you are an agent, your productivity tool should manage lead generation, negotiations, settlement and closing procedures.

Going Contactless: On the consumer side, technology has allowed buyers and sellers to move extremely quickly from start to finish. You are now able to search and view properties on new platforms and even some agents are showing houses via FaceTime. Agents sharpened their marketing with 3D tours and began hosting virtual open houses. Investors with state-of-the-art technology can now quickly analyze property values and provide home sellers an offer within minutes. Signing documents over email using e-sign is also the new normal. Now more than ever, consumers have multiple options to navigate real estate contactless.

Your Technology Platform: The key to ensuring the process is seamless for consumers relies on your technology platform. You must have a deep knowledge of the real estate industry. Some industry veterans are not tech-savvy, and some others who are tech-savvy do not hold industry knowledge. When companies build technology around faulty business practices, the platform fails and vise-versa. Marrying technology with industry expertise will provide the most robust infrastructure. This will maximize workforce productivity and give customers a unified hassle-free experience more rapidly than the pre-COVID days. If you choose to purchase a software package instead of building one, ensure your goals are aligned with the software’s capabilities. For example, firms with significant growth plans should invest in software that can scale with their needs by offering extensive functions for multiple users. Small firms may not need all those extra capabilities. Think ahead and invest in a system that will grow along with your needs.

Looking to the future, technology will continue to evolve and reshape the way real estate is conducted, courtesy of COVID-19. The one factor that the pandemic will not change is the importance of personal relationships. Investors, agents, lenders, and brokers should continue to build their sphere of influence. Technology cannot replace human interaction in this regard. As you map out the future, keep these points in mind and remember that technology is only as good as the knowledge base it is built on. You must understand the best practices and know the policies and procedures to develop the most dynamic package. The companies that develop these integrated systems will have significant productivity advantages and cost savings. They will also recruit the most elite agents/employees because the future of the industry lies in technology.

Nick Ron, CEO of House Buyers of America, is a tech-savvy industry veteran with more than 20 years of experience as a real estate investor. Since 2001, he has bought thousands of homes in the D.C. Metro area through his hybrid real estate model that balances technology with human, on-the-ground expertise.

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Real Estate

A real estate language primer

A few terms to know before you buy a home

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Before you start the home buying process, there are a few key terms to know.

When working with first-time buyers, I often hear them say, “I have a stupid question.” I automatically respond that there’s no such thing. 

What they think may be a stupid question almost invariably has been asked before by many other people in the same situation. The answer to a stupid question almost always makes you smarter, so what they really have may be a “smart question.”

Several questions that were recently asked of me have prompted me to take another look at what I discuss in my initial buyer consultations, so let’s start there. 

A Buyer Consultation is an initial meeting with a buyer, whether face-to-face, by telephone, or by Zoom or similar interactive means, where we exchange information about the buyer’s needs and the services I provide and determine whether we shall work together exclusively and for how long.

If we decide to go forward, we sign an Exclusive Buyer Representation Agreement, which allows an agent to be the buyer’s advocate by solely representing the buyer’s interests in a real estate transaction, protecting the buyer’s confidentiality, and providing essential services reserved for a client-based relationship. In the DMV, absent such an agreement, agents must legally represent and owe allegiance to a seller they have never met of a property they have never seen.

In D.C., our real estate contracts consist of 33 paragraphs of boilerplate language vetted by a committee of agents, brokers, and attorneys, updated as needed to comply with legislative changes and regulatory requirements. In other words, they contain a lot of “legalese.” In addition, there are a plethora of addenda that may apply to a real estate transaction.

It is important, therefore, for clients to understand what they are reading before signing and, rather than simply having buyers sign an offer electronically, I believe in providing them with a sample contract package and reviewing both the documents and the process with them to explain terms, market norms, and potential consequences of making certain choices.

The terms below seldom change in any meaningful way and learning them can be a good way to begin to understand the contract process.

Time is of the Essence, which is found at the top of our purchase contract, means that deadlines are fixed. There is no “wait just a minute more” unless both parties agree to an extension of time in writing.

An Earnest Money Deposit, generally an amount in excess of 3% of the offered price, accompanies or follows an offer and is held by a real estate brokerage or settlement firm until needed at closing. 

The terms Settlement and Closing are interchangeable and denote the signing and recording of documents transferring the property from seller to buyer.

A Contingency is a condition that must be met for the contract to proceed to settlement. An example might involve a satisfactory home inspection or appraisal, sale of a prior home, or receipt of financing. Compare it to a situation unrelated to real estate, such as “if you wear a mask, then you may enter the grocery store and shop.”

Home Inspections are typically conducted after a contract is Ratified, meaning all parties have agreed to the price and terms. They may allow for repairs to be negotiated with the sellers or for simple acceptance or rejection of the property based on the findings. Some buyers opt for a Walk-and-Talk inspection, which is conducted prior to submitting an offer. The cost is less, since buyers take their own notes and no report is issued. The offer the buyers make will be well-received by the sellers without the delay of a contingency. 

An Appraisal is ordered by the lender to determine the value of the property and whether that value supports the amount of the loan being made to the buyers. Don’t confuse this with an Assessment conducted by city assessors to determine value for property tax purposes. 

A Title Search is conducted to determine that there is nothing in the chain of ownership that would prevent the sale of the home. Title Insurance insulates the lender from issues such as fraud, forgery, liens, and other items that may not have been discovered in the initial search. The buyers may also purchase title insurance to similarly protect themselves.

In closing, a word about Closing Costs, the amounts paid to lenders, attorneys, brokers, and municipal offices at settlement for expenses incurred in completing the property transfer. The earnest money you have on deposit will be credited to you for these one-time costs or for the remainder of your downpayment. As J. G. Wentworth says, “It’s your money. Use it when you need it.”

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs

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Real Estate

How end of foreclosure moratorium may impact LGBTQ homeowners

Help is out there for those still struggling

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Almost anyone who has ever purchased a home would agree – it is a very special and meaningful moment in life. For most of us, and often perhaps especially for those in the LGBTQ community, a home can be a place of refuge – a place where you can be part of a community and a neighborhood of others to whom you feel connected. It can be a place of support, celebration, and a starting point from which to thrive and grow with others you care about. 

Understandably, then, the idea of losing that home that you love so much can be overwhelming, to say the least. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the predicament that many homeowners found themselves in as a result of the recent pandemic and all that has accompanied it. 

Until recently, under the Cares Act, homeowners across the country who found themselves in a difficult financial position as a result of the pandemic and were having difficulty making their mortgage payments were offered two types of protection: first, a foreclosure moratorium that prohibited banks from foreclosing on homes, and secondly, the right to request and receive a forbearance, which would permit homeowners to temporarily stop making mortgage payments. Both gave homeowners the option to breathe a little easier as they tried to navigate all of the unanticipated life changes that accompanied the pandemic.

Recently, however, after being extended several times, the federal moratorium on mortgage foreclosures ended. Understandably, many homeowners, including many in the LGBTQ community who relied upon the moratorium may now find themselves feeling overwhelmed and anxious about what this means from a practical perspective. Does it suddenly mean that homeowners will find themselves faced with thousands of dollars of overdue payments that had been on hold for more than a year? 

If you find yourself asking this question, know first, that you aren’t alone. It’s estimated that around 1.75 million homeowners, or approximately 3.5% of all homes, are in some stage of the foreclosure process with their bank. While it’s understandable to wonder and feel worried, try not to panic. While the end of the foreclosure moratorium does mean that lenders can proceed with foreclosures, LGBTQ homeowners who find themselves in a difficult situation can still reach out for help, and there are resources available.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has advised that those who received forbearance under the Cares Act and who are still experiencing financial hardship as a result of the pandemic may have the opportunity to ask for and receive an extension. The federal government has also offered a series of measures that are intended to help prevent foreclosures, including:

• Providing qualifying homeowners with what roughly amounts to a 25% reduction in monthly principal and interest payments;

• Continuing the requirement that mortgage servicers give those borrowers who can resume payments the option of moving missed payments to the end of the mortgage at no additional cost;

• Offering assistance to those who are making less than they did before the pandemic, which will help them to seek work and catch up on missed tax and insurance payments.

It’s also important to keep in mind that ultimately, banks don’t currently have much incentive to foreclose on those homeowners who are behind on their mortgages. Housing prices have been steadily rising, meaning that few homeowners owe more on their mortgage than the overall value of their homes. As a result, banks are often more likely to restructure a loan, or possibly place missed payments on the back end of a mortgage. In some circumstances, a bank may attempt a forced sale instead of a foreclosure – allowing the bank to get some of its money back, and the homeowner to receive the equity they built in the home, and to move forward without a negative mark on their credit report.

In addition to helpful options offered by the government, LGBTQ homeowners facing foreclosure should reach out to their local communities and explore options that may be available there as well. Talk to realtors who know the community well and who may be aware of local assistance, counseling, or other resources. Reach out to family and friends who have been through this situation before. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes, we all need it.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that any legal proceeding takes time – typically, a foreclosure proceeding takes at least 120 days per federal law, as well as additional time for court proceedings. For that reason, instead of panicking, remember that you have time to plan. Reach out to family and friends for leads on places that you may be able to rent or stay at while you work to get back on your feet financially. Take advantage of any offers that your bank or lender may make to work through your current financial issues and come out in a better place on the other side, if possible. Most of all, remember that this time, like all difficult times in life, is temporary. You will find a way forward, and there is a better and brighter chapter ahead. At GayRealEstate.com, we’re here to help you get there.

At GayRealEstate.com, helping the LGBTQ community through every aspect of the real estate experience is our passion. In many cases, this means offering assistance with the home buying and selling process and connecting LGBTQ home buyers and sellers across the country with realtors who know and love their communities, and who can ensure that the buying and selling process is the best it can possibly be. In other cases, it means being there for our LGBTQ communities across the country and helping existing homeowners continue to love and live in the homes that they own. Whatever your real estate needs, we would welcome the opportunity to speak with you and learn how we might be able to help. Contact us at any time.

Jeff Hammerberg is founding CEO of Hammerberg & Associates, Inc. Reach him at 303-378-5526 or  [email protected]

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Real Estate

What to do when your house floods

Be ready to negotiate with insurance companies

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Hurricane Ida reminded us of the dangers of flooding this week.

So, what do you do if your house floods due to rain, or a busted pipe, or a backed up sewer? Well, I learned from a colleague the other day that you DON’T just call your favorite contractor. You DO call a company that will immediately come out, rip out wet or moldy drywall, any part of the house that is affected by the water damage, and install fans to help the situation dry out. Then after the wet stuff is removed and your place is dry, you can call the favorite contractor to come out and start to replace or rebuild what needs to be repaired.  

For example, the homes that were affected in New Orleans and Louisiana this week due to Hurricane Ida will need to go through this first step. The damage has to be assessed and then the drying out has to occur before the next step of repairing and rebuilding begins.  

The first step is to call your insurance company. They usually move slowly, so you’ll want to get that process started immediately. Depending on your exact policy and carrier, they may have restoration companies they will want you to use. 

The next step is to call the restoration company. These companies don’t usually specialize in the repairs as their name would have you think, but they are experts in identifying damage, drying it out, and demolishing what needs to be removed. They will come to your house, use moisture meters to assess how extensive the water damage is, rip out damaged walls and flooring, and set up industrial fans to help dry the space out.

Once the restoration people have begun drying your house out and removed the trash, it’s time to call your contractor. They will want to come out and assess what needs to be repaired and provide a quote for you to take to your insurance company. You’ll want this quote to be detailed and broken down as much as possible so that it’s easily deciphered by your claims agent. Make sure your contractor is taking precise measurements, as the insurance company will go through the quote with a fine-tooth comb to find any discrepancies.

Depending on your insurance company and policy details, you may need to negotiate a little once you have submitted the contractor’s quote to your insurance company. Insurance companies generally use national averages to compile their internal estimates. As you know, D.C. is one of the most expensive cities in the country, so naturally contractor pricing is also more expensive. This means the insurance estimates sometimes don’t line up with the real-world costs, and you may need to haggle a little bit. 

We hope this information will help, should any homeowner face moisture issues in any upcoming storm or flood. 

Joseph Hudson is with the Rutstein Group at Compass; and Alex Phillips is senior sales manager with Beautiful Home Services.

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