Coronavirus forces Zillow Offers, Redfin and other major brokerages to cancel open houses

Under no circumstances should you cancel an open house, realtors have oft-advised sellers. But the COVID-19 health crisis has changed how realtors do business.

Major brokerages, including Redfin, Zillow Offers and Keller Williams, are canceling all open houses to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“In recent weeks, open houses are being canceled left and right to protect both the safety of potential purchasers as well as the homeowner and their respective families. The pace of cancellations has certainly increased in the last week as the COVID-19 Coronavirus continues to spread across the country,” said Michael Romer, managing partner at Romer Debbas LLP, a New York City-based real estate law firm. 

Zillow Offers, online listing service Zillow’s new brokerage that projects $20 billion in revenue by 2025, is temporarily suspending open houses for Zillow-owned homes in all markets, said a company spokesperson Wednesday. Most listings will offer virtual home tours. 

“Our first priority is the health and safety of our employees, customers and partners. These are unprecedented times and we are actively monitoring our communities, public health authority recommendations and local housing markets to adapt to conditions as needed,” said a Zillow spokesperson.

The emergence of virtual tours

Seattle-based listing service and brokerage Redfin, with a revenue of $780 million in 2019, announced Monday that it would cancel all open houses for homes listed by Redfin’s brokerage. They will, however, offer private in-person tours for two customers at a time. Additionally, they will offer video chat tours and interactive, virtual tours of any home for sale.  

“We’ve spent a decade preparing for this day… No brokerage has invested more in preparations for virtual open houses, virtual tours, virtual contracts and closings. The coronavirus has just made the future we’ve been preparing for come sooner,” said a statement from the company.

Keller Williams, an Austin-based brokerage that generated $531.2 billion in North American sales last year, has not banned open houses but is promoting virtual tours and live virtual open houses amidst the coronavirus pandemic, Keller Williams chairman and chief executive officer Gary Keller announced on Monday. 

Denver-based brokerage RE/MAX, which had $282.3 million in revenue in 2019, has “strongly recommended” to its approximately 85,000 agents that they postpone open houses until further notice, while smaller brokerages, like the about 80-agent New York-based brokerage Modern Spaces, has closed offices and sales centers, instead offering virtual walk-throughs and tours. 

Meanwhile, the National Association of Realtors issued guidance on holding open houses, instructing realtors to assess local risk, promote alternatives and require deep cleaning and sanitary measures. 

“In challenging times like this, all parties involved in the real estate market have to adapt and find another way,” said Romer. “With respect to showings, this means a push towards no in-person showings and an emphasis on virtual showings… Offices are closing but that does not have to mean that all business must pause.”

Sarah Paynter is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @sarahapaynter

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