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Here’s what open houses look like during the COVID-19 pandemic

Buying Open Houses Spring House Hunt
Open-House-Face-Mask-Reading
Rick Nazzaro of Colonial Manor Realty in Reading talks with a pair of interested buyers in the driveway as a couple waits to enter a property he is trying to sell during a "controlled" open house. Blake Nissen for The Boston Globe

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way people house hunt, but they are still buying in Boston and its suburbs, real estate agents say.

In Greater Boston and its environs, there are more than 900 open houses this weekend, a search in the Multiple Listing Service shows. A letter from Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to real estate agents and landlords said open houses “should not be held,” but some agents have continued showing properties  — under strict guidelines — offering appointments and asking prospective buyers to wear masks and gloves.

“We haven’t hesitated from doing open houses,” Douglas McClure, an agent partner with LAER Realty Partners, said in an interview with Boston.com. He noted that he did reach out to a member of the City Council to talk about open houses when the new guidelines were issued. “To be honest with you, people have to move on with their lives,” he said.

McClure has an open house lined up for 25 Johnswood Road in Roslindale this weekend. The four-bedroom Colonial just hit the market Thursday, and its first showing will be at the open house, scheduled for noon to 1:30 p.m. on Sunday.

There will be one agent outside the property and one inside, according to McClure. All interested people should wear a mask, and will be asked to wash their hands on the way in and on the way out. At a past open house, McClure said his team brought enough pens so that after  prospective buyers signed in, they just kept them.

McClure said his team tries to send in visitors every five minutes, and people are asked to head in one at a time and practice social distancing. If one heads upstairs, the next can go in.

For anyone hoping the competitive nature of the Boston real estate market changed because of the pandemic, McClure assures that it hasn’t. A property will have a weekend open house with offers coming in on Monday and an agreement on Tuesday, he said.

For Karen Guderian, an agent with Coldwell Banker Realty, Saturday means an open house from 1 to 3 p.m. at 4 Homestead Drive in Medway, a four-bedroom Colonial with a screened-in deck.

“In general the real estate market is really active considering the circumstances in the world,” she told Boston.com. “Buyers are out there.”

But showings and open houses are “more time consuming” and “less personal,”  she said.

Human interaction with sellers and prospective buyers is a part of the job Guderian enjoys, but the pandemic has taken away the ability to shake someone’s hand, or even see their face.

But agents, sellers, and prospective buyers have, for the most part, followed the protocols of what’s been dubbed “the new normal,” the agent said. 

“It’s definitely been an adjustment,” Guderian said, noting that Coldwell Banker has sent out an abundance of guidance to protect its workforce.

For her upcoming open house, she said, interested buyers should contact her for an appointment, though she expects some will show up and will have to wait outside for their chance to explore the home.

“We’re adjusting,” she said. “It’s a little strange, but it’s getting business done.”

Appointments are 15 minutes, and Guderian said groups will be limited to two or three people. In the past, people would show up with their entire family, but not now, she said.

Kim Powers, an agent with Coldwell Banker, said she’s noticed that people are less likely to visit a home during an open house if they aren’t already interested in buying it. 

Powers is showing 20 Ventura St. in Dorchester, a four-bedroom Colonial near the Neponset River, via an open house from noon to 1 p.m. on Sunday. Masks and gloves are required, one group will go in at a time, and people have to sign up for a private appointment, she said. “There is still interest in houses, definitely.”

Before the pandemic, people would visit a home during an open house perhaps just to see the inside without a vested interest in buying the home. Not anymore, according to Powers. “People aren’t going to go out and kill time.”

Guderian said she has noticed this, too.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of that going on now,” she said. “There’s people that still need to buy – [the market] is still moving.” Some of these people, sellers and buyers, were probably looking for a change prior to the pandemic and are just continuing moving ahead with it.

Guderian said she hasn’t had anyone buy a home without visiting the property, but she has heard of agents who have. Video tours and virtual open houses have been important: They are just another tool for people to use during their search, she said.

“It just gives more exposure to the house,” she said. “A lot of these things, these behaviors, adjustments we’ve adopted, [we] are probably going to be using these well into the future.”

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