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story.lead_photo.caption Logan Gratz, of Gratz Real Estate in Jefferson City, prepares a house to show on the city's east side. Gratz Real Estate has outlined policies and procedures, listed on the company's website regarding listing a house for sale, showing a house, closing and assorted related activities involved in buying or selling a home. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.
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As guidelines to curb the spread of the coronavirus keep people in their homes, the business of buying and selling those homes has been deemed essential. However, concerns about the virus have led to some changes in real estate operations.

Residential and commercial real estate services are considered essential business under the statewide and Cole County stay-at-home orders.

Despite being able to continue their services, real estate agents are encouraged to work remotely when possible and follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

However, in recent weeks, the Jefferson City Area Board of Realtors has seen a drop in new listings and real estate showings.

Nancy Gratz, president of the board and broker associate at Gratz Real Estate & Auctioneering, said business has slowed as people are encouraged to stay in their homes and practice social distancing.

"It really seems like the phones aren't ringing," Gratz said. "Everyone is staying home and doing what they need to be doing, and it's a good thing when you look at it from that standpoint. It's been very quiet."

JCABOR's geographic area includes portions of Cole, Callaway, Moniteau and Osage counties.

From April 1-12, JCABOR statistics show 44 new listings — a 53 percent drop compared to 95 new listings during the same time period in 2019.

"It's only about 12 days, but it really shows a huge difference when all this started, and I think that's important to recognize," Gratz said. "We will always be able to remember this time because our statistics will be down. When we compare this time of the year to next year, or three years from now, we're always going to remember what happened."

The number of sales so far in 2020 is down only slightly from 2019. Between Jan. 1 and April 12, there have been 313 sales, compared to 351 in 2019.

Statewide, almost 19 percent fewer homes were sold in February 2020 compared to February of last year, according to the Missouri Association of Realtors.

One key part of the real estate process is traditionally done in person — open houses. While many agents are simply not holding open houses, the National Association of Realtors has developed a set of guidelines for open houses during COVID-19.

The 2020 NAR Flash Survey: Economic Pulse, conducted April 12-13, found 72 percent of responding members had home sellers stop open houses. The same survey reported 60 percent of clients were delaying the process of buying a home by a couple of months.

Depending on an area's stay-at-home order or other guidelines, open houses may be allowed. Where allowed, NAR encourages real estate agents to consider if holding an open house is advisable, including the recommendation that public groups be limited to 10 or fewer people.

If an open house is held, NAR recommends agents follow CDC guidelines and limit the number of people in the home at once, possibly by limiting tours to one group at a time.

Real estate agents can also make sure guests follow social distancing of 6 feet, sanitize or wash hands upon entering, and remove shoes or cover footwear with disposable booties. NAR also reminds agents to have homeowners disinfect their homes after an open house, especially commonly touched surfaces like doorknobs and handles.

The Missouri Realtors Association provided a flyer for house showings Realtors can use. The flyer asks that, before entering a home, a potential buyer be able to answer "no" to questions about having a fever or other COVID-19 symptoms, having contact with someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19, and traveling outside the United States in the previous 14 days.

NAR also recommends exploring other methods of marketing a house, including virtual tours using 3-D imaging or live-streaming video.

Gratz said real estate agents in Mid-Missouri aren't holding open houses. Instead, people interested in seeing a home for sale can set up private viewings with their agents.

However, lower listing numbers and interest don't mean there aren't people looking for new homes right now. For some, the process started before stay-at-home orders were in place.

"I've found that it's the people who have to have something that are still out there looking," Gratz said. "I have one couple that's from out of town, and their house is already sold and they have to move by May 15 when their house closes. They're really getting in a close bind to find something."

As well as suspending traditional open houses, a lot of real estate work is being done remotely or virtually when possible. Gratz said only a couple of people are working in her office in person, and the rest work from home.

"We're trying to take all the precautions that we can," Gratz said. "A lot of precautions that we're all taking are for our own safety and health, and for the community."

Closings can be done in person if needed, but other steps can now be done virtually. One step that would normally require an in-person meeting is now able to be done online.

"Another thing that has been very, very helpful is we've got the remote, online notarization now," Gratz said. "That's been a huge thing, that documents can be notarized online."

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed an executive order April 6 suspending a statutory requirement that a notary must conduct notarization of official documents while the signer appears personally in front of them. The temporary order allows for the use of audio-video technology to complete the personal appearance requirement.

On April 10, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft announced the first approved vendor capable of providing audio-video services needed for electronic notarization. The list now includes three services — Pavaso, NEXSYS and NotaryCAM.

As for potential long-term effects, Gratz is optimistic the market will come back up once stay-at-home orders are lifted. After all, people will always need a home.

"I think it will come up soon because you've always got people who need to move into a new school district or move in or out of town, that type of thing," Gratz said. "Once the stay-at-home order is removed, it won't happen immediately, but I think the listings are going to start to pick up."

In the meantime, the community and local real estate agencies working together will get them through, Gratz said.

"We're all professionals, and we're trying to do the best for our clients in a very difficult time. We're all working together, and I just think that together we will be stronger," he said.

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