Coronavirus fears turn real estate open houses into virtual tours

The coronavirus is shutting the door on NYC open houses, but opening a digital window: Virtual home tours.

As the novel disease continues to spread globally -— forcing Broadway to go dark, halting stock trading and infecting public figures — the New York real estate market has begun to be impacted, too. Buyers and sellers alike are increasingly canceling open houses, brokers tell The Post.

“I had a seller, we were having our first open house, but she has two children who have compromised immune systems and she actually knew the lawyer in Westchester” linked to an outbreak in the area, Keller Williams NYC salesperson David Kong tells The Post. “She freaked out and had me cancel.”

Halstead’s Open House index reports that traffic dropped by 15 percent two weeks ago, the first weekend coronavirus fears hit NYC, and 14 percent last weekend. The stock market, and not just fears of contraction, should be taken into account as a factor in this, the report notes.

“I do have buyers and sellers reluctant to attend closings if it involves taking the subway,” House-N-Key Realty broker Janine Acquafredda tells “One closing was postponed by an attorney because his client was very ill — exhibiting flu-like symptoms — and didn’t know what she had.”

Rolling up the welcome mat

While their industry depends on getting potential buyers in the door, brokers can’t be so welcoming now. Kong says his colleagues report a significant increase in coronavirus-related open house cancellations, with many implementing new safety policies.

“Now, before you show anyone, I have to screen them, I have to ask them questions,” about their health and recent travel history, says Kong, adding “not that I can verify it.”

In his 12 years in the industry, he says it’s the first time he’s seen anything like this.

“I had a seller in Manhattan say, ‘I can’t allow anyone who’s recently been to Italy, South Korea or China’ to enter his apartment,” says Kong.

Fear of infection has also limited those still looking.

“We do not have any casual lookers coming by because screening is so tight,” says Kong. Queens and Long Island buyers, he adds, were quicker to become cautious than those in Manhattan. “We’ve been dealing with this for a couple weeks now in Long Island,” he says, while the Manhattan market only became impacted in the last week.

At the open houses that aren’t cancelled, social distancing is on full display.

“In the open house itself people are not shaking hands, there is always Purell,” says Kobi Lahav, senior managing director of Living NY. “Some brokers I noticed refuse showings right now — don’t want to get exposed.”

Going digital

As an alternative to in-person viewings, some agents are turning to tech, offering buyers virtual tours. On Thursday, the NYC-based Ideal Properties Group launched a virtual listing viewer called Showings on Demand.

While Kong previously reserved virtual experiences for larger and pricier homes “where the owners don’t want people parading through their apartment, or if I think the property might be appealing to foreigners,” he’s begun offering remote 3-D tours for a wider array of units.

“It’s not as good as being there,” says Kong, but it works for now.

Remote listing providers are seeing their business flourish. Roman Caprano’s company, Sky Blue Media, provides virtual tours in the Washington, DC area and Caprano says he’s seeing an uptick in demand for more elaborate tours.

“In our market, homes sell in days, so many agents typically only invest in photos, but now they are purchasing more content,” Caprano tells

People are even settling for FaceTime to check out prospective homes.

“I discourage the FaceTime tour — it makes everything look smaller,” says Realty Collective broker Victoria Alexander. But with demand staying high and caution levels increasing, it’s become necessary these past weeks. “People that have to move have to move,” says the 18-year industry veteran.

As for how long the open house cancellation craze will last, “I don’t think anyone has that crystal ball,” says Kong. But when it’s over, he anticipates a spike in activity. “I think this’ll make for a lot of pent up demand for when things get safe again,” he says.

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