Looking for a pandemic real estate deal? No dice. Just as the Florida Keys real estate market weathered Hurricane Irma nicely, industry leaders say real estate prices have held during the COVID-19 shutdown. In fact, the average sales price was up more than $101,000 over 2019 prices. But, the pandemic has changed how Realtors are doing business.

“We actually did sell a few properties without the new owners stepping foot inside,” said Will Langley, principal broker of Berkshire Hathaway in Key West. “The common denominator was the clients were all very familiar with the Keys. They come every year. They know the neighborhood. They know the market.”

Langley and Joy Martin, broker of American Caribbean Real Estate in the Upper Keys, both used high- and low-brow technology to seal the deals. The 360-degree virtual tours were an essential selling tool, they said.

“When it became apparent that the Keys were closing back in March, the first thing we did was send out our marketing staff to video all our properties,” said Martin. In addition, the brokerage created an interactive magazine where users can click on an digital newsletter to view a virtual tour of a property or a short video.

“We used this time to get better at this aspect of our business,” said Martin. The brokerage continued to have its regular office meetings via Zoom, and incorporated guest speakers and meditations to stay connected.

Langley said his brokerage invested in tech early, before the pandemic. “We were pretty prepared for this day with our virtual marketing system. We had these tools and we pushed them out to all our Realtors who embraced and implemented them.”

While the 3D virtual tours are very informative, buyers wanted something more. “We did a Facetime call with all our buyers, taking them through the property,” said Langley. “For example, they had questions about whether a room was as big or small as it seemed on the video. They wanted boots on the ground, a human for scale.”

While the virtual selling has been successful in a limited fashion, Realtors are eager to get back to the “new normal.” In comparing May 2019 to May 2020, there were 98 fewer home sales in the Keys and 173 fewer new listings. Still, the outlook is good: prices are holding steady, sellers aren’t desperate and demand is coming back, Langley said.

“We knew that demand was going to slow down until people can get back down here to look in person,” said Langley. “We were just making sure the inventory didn’t skyrocket and that didn’t happen.”

Both Martin and Langley believe there is still plenty of pent-up demand for second-home buyers ready to invest in the Florida Keys.

“I think what the pandemic has done is create more of an urgency to buy in the Keys,” said Martin. “They are looking for quality of life. People who were working in cities have learned how to work remotely and the idea of continuing to work remotely is now more acceptable.”

Real estate by the numbers:
Sold: 160
Avg. sales price: $691,706
New listings: 345
Total listings: 2,518

— source: Florida Keys FlexMLS

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