Irish estate agents are promoting virtual viewings of properties in a bid to keep the housing market functioning through the coronavirus crisis. DNG and Sherry FitzGerald are among the agencies to have completely ended physical viewings of residential properties for now.
DNG chief executive Keith Lowe said the agency had initially moved to viewings by appointment only, but decided last weekend that it would suspend these too.
“We are doing everything online,” Mr Lowe said. More than 100 properties will be viewable through 360-degree videos that it will place online every three hours.
The agency has also started a free online-only valuation service. If sellers send its representatives their Eircode, agents will use Google StreetView in conjunction with any supplied interior videos, to value the property.
Mr Lowe said it had been a busy week for sales, but that the deals being struck now were based on viewings that took place before the crisis escalated.
“Sales are going to completely slow down over the next two weeks,” he said, adding that housebuyers are unlikely to proceed to a sale based on an online viewing alone.
In the event that the Government’s guidance on social distancing extends beyond March 29th, which Mr Lowe expects it will, DNG may eventually explore ways of safely returning to one-on-one physical viewings.
Sherry FitzGerald, which has likewise closed its offices and ended all physical viewings, has launched what it is calling “virtual viewing Friday”, with househunters invited to register their interest for timed viewings of the agency’s properties. These will be conducted over a video conferencing platform throughout the day.
Other agencies are grappling with the same issues. In a video message posted on its website earlier this week, Lisney managing director David Byrne said its "utmost priority" was "to protect our most valuable asset, our people" as well as clients and customers.
It has closed its offices, but remains operational, and has also begun “agent-led” virtual viewing with pre-recorded tours, with one-to-one FaceTime viewings available on request.
Mr Byrne added on Thursday evening that there had been “strong activity” in requests for viewings this week, but “obviously we are having to take a very prudent approach”, taking all HSE and Government guidelines into consideration.
A “pause in activity” is inevitable as buyers “take in what is happening” and it may not be possible for viewers to gain access to properties for a short period of time, he said.
Understandably, certain buyers have also pulled back. “We have had a few cases of buyers withdrawing from sales as their area of employment is high risk in the context of the economic consequences of the pandemic.”
A number of contracts and have been signed and sales closed this week, however. “I think what you see in a situation like this is a mix of reactions.”
Overall, it is too early to gauge the impact of the crisis, Mr Byrne said.
Meanwhile, MyHome.ie managing director Angela Keegan described it as "an unprecedented time for the property sector and for society as a whole", but that the company would do what it could to "help our colleagues get through this spell of uncertainty".
MyHome.ie has cut estate agents’ listing fees by 50 per cent backdated to March 1st for a period of fourth months, the company said on Thursday. The property website, which is owned by The Irish Times, said the arrangement would be reviewed monthly.
“We will continue to work on enhancing our online features so agents can have the best possible platform on which to virtually showcase their available properties.”