Hand Sanitizer - use before entering open houseOpen houses are returning to the California real estate scene, and private showings are also becoming more relaxed, but it won’t be a return to pre-pandemic practices just yet. The announcement that open houses would be permitted caught most of us Realtors (and our managers and brokers) by surprise a couple of days ago, and all of the details are not yet published, but I’ll share what I have learned so far.

Required protocol and open house paperwork

First, a home seller must decide whether or not to permit an open house (and a listing agent if he or she wants to do it). Naturally, there’s a form for that – an addendum to the listing agreement, LOHA (LISTING AGREEMENT OPEN HOUSE ADDENDUM OR AMENDMENT). Here’s a bit of a screenshot to give you a sense of what is required if the seller agrees to have an open house at the property:

Part of the new listing agreement addendum for open houses, LOHA.

If the seller wants the home to be held open, and the listing agent is willing to do it, there’s a bit of protocol to follow. Visitors to an open house must sign in for contract tracing purposes. If you’ve been house hunting over the last 14 months, you are probably used to signing the PEAD-V form for visitors. With that document, the listing agent got your name and saw your electronically signed signature, but that is it. Only your buyer’s agent had your contact info.

As open houses are returning in this transitional phase, the new Property Sign-In (PSI) will ask you for your name, phone number, and email address. This is not for marketing purposes, but for contact tracing purposes only. (Some agents may opt to still use the PEAD, but if so, they’ll need a way to contact you should you end up exposed to COVID-19 at the open house.)

You should expect that at an open house there will likely be a table set up before you can enter where you sign in and use hand sanitizer, which is required. The agent will make sure you are wearing a mask. Some sellers and / or listing agents may have additional requirements, such as your wearing shoe covers (usually provided) or gloves (not usually provided).

You should also expect that it’s possible you’ll need to wait to get inside. This is very important to keep in mind if there’s a heat wave. More on that below.

Socially distanced, masked open houses

The California Association of Realtors states that “Showings, including open houses, are somewhat relaxed under the new social gatherings guidelines but still include social distancing between members of different households while attending an open house, and are subject to capacity issues depending on the tier of the county where the house is located. Please refer to local guidelines for this information.”

That means that we cannot have packed open houses. You should be able to see the home and be able to keep 6′ of distance between different households. This is where I am most skeptical since I’ve seen people coming and going down narrow bedroom hallways or even doorways in pre-Coronavirus days, and unless the number allowed in at the same time is very restricted, I don’t think this will be possible to always have 6′ between groups in a typical 1500 square foot house.

In smaller condos, townhomes, or houses, agents may try to direct the flow of traffic by having a second real estate agent indoors to keep groups appropriately distanced. Perhaps in houses they can go in through the front door, see the house, and exit via the back yard and side gate.

Right now we have a high level of interest & demand among home buyers – the Santa Clara County real estate market is white hot and some homes get so booked up that not every buyer can even see it before it sells. Open houses may help to get people in better, more efficiently that a strict and rigid 15-30 minute showing window.

How many people can be in the home at once?

What I find most helpful with this week’s adjustments is that now with showings we can bring in more people than just 2 buyers and 1 agent per group. For the last year, my clients with kids or other family members had to take turns with who could be in the house at once. Now, whether it is for an open house or for a private showing, it’s much looser.

Per CAR, and per the California Dept of Health:

“…There can never be more than 50 in the yellow tier, 25 in the orange tier, and 10 in the red tier. For the purple tier, allow no more than one buying party at a time. Click here [https://covid19.ca.gov/safer-economy/] to see what tier county the property is in. Your city or county may have more restrictive rules in place.”

Anything else regarding open houses returning to our Silicon Valley real estate market?

Open houses are returning – my final thoughts (for now)

I’m expecting more refinement with the regulations and guidelines in the coming days or weeks. Right now, I’m not at all excited at the prospect of open houses (attending or holding) or of increased risk by having more groups from different households in the same place at once. We won’t know, and cannot ask, if anyone has been vaccinated, so the idea that my clients or I could be spending time in a home with unvaccinated people seems like an unnecessary risk to me at this point.

I’m also not thrilled that if my clients go to an open house, they’ll be requested to provide their contact info. Most agents will be respectful and won’t use it for marketing, but pardon my pessimism if I express concern that not all will behave.

On a practical level, it seems like real estate professionals will be working as part bouncer (no, you cannot go in without a mask or signing in), part traffic director, and part cleanup crew. For an effective, safe open house, that will be needed (and probably by at least 2 people). Somewhere in that mix we need to be able to do actual marketing and to talk up the home. With a big crowd, that may end up getting lost in the shuffle.

And I have to add that I am very grateful that we can now show larger household groups the property at once. It’s not a free for all when home buyers want to have siblings, parents, best friends, or others see a property to validate the decision to write an offer, or to advise against it.

Open houses are returning, and hopefully a little more normalcy is on the way. Buying and selling homes during the pandemic has been an interesting adventure. My hope is that a year from now we will be a lot closer to normal than we are today.