Stopping by an Open House sign on a Sunday afternoon and wandering through a potential new home is temporarily on hold. But real estate professionals are creatively working through the dilemma—just in time for an uptick in activity.

This Sunday afternoon from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., for example, dozens of Michael Saunders & Company real estate agents will be opening the doors to their area listings—live on Facebook—in a Virtual Open House.  

Interested home buyers will be able to click on this link that afternoon to be connected with participating agents, who will be giving virtual tours of their listings and interacting with viewers via the comments section of each Facebook page. In addition, a unique QR code is placed on each participating property’s For Sale sign and in the company’s newspaper ads that provides a link to the website.  

The company tried its first virtual open house event on May 3, with more than 35 agents taking part.

Company president Drayton Saunders says the Virtual Open House concept “is a compliment to everybody in the industry who has creatively adapted to new protocol that allows people to understand there is a way to [show properties] safely.

“Adversity tests people to bring out their best selves,” he says. “We had a job to do, to help people achieve their goals. If people had asked me, ‘Do you like to be on video and do that 10 times more than usual,’ I would have said no. [But] we had to be creative and get out of our comfort zone. I’m helping people stay informed. If I have to do that virtually, so be it.”

Saunders sees virtual open houses continuing in some fashion even after the coronavirus pandemic recedes. "It's not 'either or,' he says. "It's 'and.' We’re using technology that’s been there, [but] that we hadn’t paid attention to. This blend of online and offline was the silver lining of making lemonade out of lemons.”

Until mid-March, 2020 home sales were on track to outpace 2019, says Saunders. After seeing bookings for showings plummet from an average of 240 per day in-season to just 23 per day at the end of March, a few weeks after the coronavirus epidemic shut down most businesses, daily bookings for showings bounced back in April to an average of 130 per day. “The strong news is we saw buyers wanting to look at homes in greater numbers every week in April,” says Saunders.

Another sign that the real estate industry is ticking back up, he says: in Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties in April, there were 1,332 new single-family listings. Twenty-four percent of those new listings went under contract that same month.