The COVID-19 pandemic has closed down large segments of the business community, but real estate transactions are continuing in the Golden Isles.
Realtor Roland Daniel, owner of Roland Daniel Properties on St. Simons Island, said social distancing has changed the way his brokers are conducting business. His employees are working from home and communicating electronically while they are doing their jobs.
“We’re all enjoying it,” he said. “It changes the game a little bit. The surprise is we’re having a pretty good time.”
His business has had fewer inquiries about available properties this past month, but the ones who do contact his office are serious buyers, he said. Some customers can’t wait until social distancing ends because they may have already sold their old homes and need to buy a place quickly, or they are relocating for a new job.
Normally, many people who look at listed homes this time of year are tourists who Daniel said “just want to kick the tires” and tour a home they aren’t serious about buying.
“The people who are not here are the people who waste your time,” he said. “The people I’m working with are serious. I’m enjoying the respite from the craziness of this business.”
Customers are more willing to list their homes at a fair price. It’s also easier to show the many vacation homes on the market because they can’t be shown when they are occupied by tourists, he said.
“You can’t beat the combination of factors going on right now,” he said. “Interest rates are great; prices are good; it’s a better shopping experience.”
Daniel said he is also using video to take customers on virtual tours of some of the listed homes
“People love the video but they aren’t signing contracts until they can see it,” he said. “What the video does is help customers determine how much interest they have in a particular house.”
When customers tour a home, Daniel said he wears a mask, has plenty of hand sanitizer and practices social distancing.
Daniel and his employees are also doing their part to help local charities through donations to Manna House and Sparrow’s Nest.
“I encourage people to use practical common-sense ways to stay safe,” he said. “This is a really good time to be alive and think about the things they think are important and what isn’t important.”
Realtor Missy Neu, vice president of business development for Hodnett Cooper Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, said her employees are staying in close contact with customers, while they practice social distancing at the same time.
“They are communicating on a much greater level with current and prior clients,” she said. “We’re here to provide as much information as we can.”
The inventory of available homes is tight but they are still selling in the Golden Isles, Neu said.
“We’ve had some properties were everything has been done electronically,” she said.
When customers do ask to tour a home, masks and sanitizers are used, all the doors are opened and the light switches are on so customers don’t have to touch anything.
Neu said the Golden Isles Realtors Association has donated money to the Boys & Girls Club and FaithWorks as a way to help the community during the health crisis.
As for the employees, Neu said they have participated in lots of training sessions to learn new skills. They’ve also had a chance to get to know each other better on a personal level, she said.
“We’ve all bonded in different ways,” she said.
Neu expressed confidence the real estate market will rebound and help the local economy.
“I do think the real estate industry will be a huge driver,” she said. “The interesting thing is there are buyers who are looking. There are buyers under contract. There are buyers who need to buy and want to buy.”
Christi Johnson, marketing director with DeLoach Sotheby’s International Realty, said the company’s real estate brokers are working online to meet the needs of customers.
“Right now, with shelter in place, we’re not doing a lot of showings,” she said.
Home tours are conducted online and most of the transactions can be done without face-to-face meetings, she said.
The company is also helping the community with donations to the Firebox Initiative, which will help local restaurant employees weather these uncertain times.
“We wanted to give back in that way,” Johnson said.
The business is also working with the United Methodist Church on St. Simons Island to fill backpacks with food for children normally dependent on school meals.
Johnson said she and her co-workers regularly meet via Zoom, which was confusing at first with as many as 30 people at one time. They quickly learned to mute their phones unless they were speaking.
Johnson said she listened to a consultant speculate on the impact the coronavirus outbreak will have in rural areas after the pandemic ends. She said there could be a mass exodus from of people from cities to live in areas where social distancing is easier. And areas like the Golden Isles could be attractive to many.
“Lots of city people may want to move to rural areas,” she said.
Chandra Kendall, a sales associate at DeLoach Sotheby’s International Realty, has spent much of her free time volunteering for No Kill Glynn County.
She has taken out half-page ads in Coastal Illustrated featuring four dogs currently housed in the county animal shelter as a way to find adoptive homes for them.
“This is a huge undertaking,” she said. “Right now it’s difficult to adopt the dogs.”
She has volunteered at No Kill Glynn County the past six months and said the dogs adopted are mostly delivered outside the state, often to Virginia.
“Some of the transports aren’t working because of the virus,” she said.
Kendall is concerned about a growing number of animals coming into the county shelter with no place to go.
“I’ve been trying to get the dogs adopted locally,” she said. “It’s a real problem.”
She believes this is actually an ideal time for people who have temporarily lost their jobs to adopt a dog or cat because they will have time to bond with their new family member.
“Now, since people are at home, this is the most opportunistic time to adopt one,” she said. “This is the best time in the world.”
Kendall said she is among the many volunteers who are worried the animals waiting for adoption in a shelter that cannot operate under normal conditions because of social distancing guidelines.
“I’m just a small player in this,” she said. “I just care about the dogs. It takes a whole community working together to get these dogs adopted out.”