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Business Observer Wednesday, Mar. 25, 2020 2 weeks ago

Real estate firm adapts to coronavirus conditions as demand continues

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Despite uncertain times, Michael Saunders says there’s still high demand for real estate.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

The effects of the pandemic on Sarasota-based real estate firm Michael Saunders & Co. haven’t been as clear-cut as they have been for some industries like travel and hospitality.

Founder and CEO Michael Saunders says the firm has closings in progress and contracts being written. Some processes, such as mortgage applications and closings, are just taking longer, she says.

During coronavirus, Saunders says the firm’s primary concern is protecting the Michael Saunders & Co. family, including agents, staff and everyone who does business with the firm. It also wants to support the greater community. “We are urging everyone to support local businesses,” she says. “Try to do an act of kindness every day for someone, be positive and share a lot of big smiles while social distancing.”

For staff, Michael Saunders & Co. is transitioning to work-at-home capabilities. Agents are already used to working from a variety of locations, so they have the tools to work from home. 

The firm is using the Zoom online meeting platform for meetings with its leadership team and trainings. For anyone who has to be in the office, employees are asked to maintain social distancing.

“We are not in a panic mode,” Saunders says. “We are in a very measured, deliberate mode of continuity of business with abundant precautions and the safety of everyone as our foundational guidance. We have all wheels in motion to hopefully foresee what we need to do to continue conducting real estate services that everyone needs.”

Real estate firms and other businesses in Florida are no stranger to preparing for disasters, but those preparations generally revolve around hurricanes. Saunders says the firm has a three-inch book filled with information about how to respond to a hurricane. “We are building that same kind of manual for how we respond to the coronavirus,” she says.

Despite uncertain times caused by coronavirus and fluctuations in the stock market, Saunders says there’s still high demand for real estate. The Michael Saunders & Co. website has even seen increased web traffic. “People are turning more and more to the internet,” she says, because the website allows people to do in-depth property searches without leaving their homes.

Agents are also working to supplement already available information about listings. “What we’re doing is trying to creatively address this by agents doing personal videos of properties that would be in addition to the professional videos and photographs that accompany every single one of our listings online,” she says. Those videos might include an agent showing the outside of a house and then taking viewers on a virtual walk-through of a property. “That kind of dialogue makes it a bit more personal, so we’re encouraging that,” Saunders says.

As coronavirus concerns have grown, some sellers have postponed showings. Others are sanitizing their properties before and after showings. Agents are asking buyers if they’ve returned recently from international travel or if they’ve been around anyone exposed to coronavirus.

Despite uncertain times, Saunders says the firm doesn’t see this impacting property values. “I think we can reassure people that we are seeing no lack of demand, it’s just a pause in the housing market for the moment,” she says. “I think long term, we are going to survive and thrive. I think when things get back to normal, there’s going to be a huge spike in buying activity that we will be ready to serve.”

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