The mandatory confinement which we have all suffered to a greater or lesser degree meant that certain changes had to be implemented in our sector. The real estate professionals in Spain and Portugal far from surrendering, revealed their capacity to adapt very quickly, finding solutions to issues that had previously seemed very difficult to solve. Perhaps it would be apt to say that they “Took the bull by the the horns”!!
Although things are still changing constantly as the lockdown measures are eased (Portugal and the Spanish islands and coastal areas are already enjoying more freedom than Madrid and Barcelona) there are certain norms and rules in place that we would like to share with you!
- Agencies reopened
Real estate agencies were amongst the exceptions identified by the Portuguese government that could open to the public on the 4th of May, and in Spain as of the 11th of May in most regions. The following rules and guidelines are currently in place to protect workers and buyers:
- Clients are advised to book an appointment in advance, in order to avoid clusters of people waiting for their turn.
- Social distancing is a must, with an obligatory security distance of 2 meters imposed, and in most agencies, plastic screens divide meeting tables.
- Limited maximum number of people allowed in any agency. For example, in Portugal the maximum is 5 people for each 100 square meters, besides the workers.
- Mandatory use of mask to enter an agency, that can be complemented with a visor.
- An alcohol solution must be available to the public and surfaces must be disinfected after being touched.
- Cleaning must me more frequent and intensive.
- Portuguese agencies may only open after 10am
- Visiting houses
Visiting properties is now possible again all over Spain and Portugal, but extra care should be taken to avoid touching surfaces and cleaning spaces between visits, especially when the properties are still currently occupied. The time for open house events has not yet arrived, as physical contact should be avoided, but many people are anxious to carry out their purchase of a dream home with more open space after having spent time indoors during lockdown, and many agents find themselves extremely busy at the moment.
Additionally, and directly as a result of Covid-19, virtual tours became more common, and even when real estate professionals have doubts about such tools and don’t consider them an effective way of selling a house, virtual tours are an important screening tool, that helps clients to build a shortlist of properties that they want to visit, hence limiting unnecessary visits which are a waste of time for the client and the agent.
The idea that requesting a mortgage should be an in-person activity has been changed by Covid-19 and solutions were found to allow all the mortgage process to be done at distance: virtual meetings, documents sent digitally or delivered by courier, for example.
It’s very important to understand that, even when a client has yet to choose the house they want to buy, preapproving the mortgage can make the process smoother for everyone, ensuring that no time is wasted and avoiding disappointments for buyers and sellers alike.
At UCI we are in the privileged position to be among the leaders in the Iberian Peninsula with regards to digital mortgage processing, and we have remained fully active throughout the lockdown. Also, our advanced IT systems allow every single UCI collaborator to work remotely with ease, whichever department they work in.
- House appraisals
- We haven´t managed to digitalize this part yet, although there is a lot of talk at the moment of special tools being created to enable bank valuations to be done without the need for a physical visit to the property ( and this really isn´t science fiction, as it´s already being done to some extent in some countries, such as the UK).
In the meantime, some alternatives to the traditional appraisals were implemented in Portugal, that avoided the in-person inspection of the house. The appraisals started to be done visiting only the exterior of the house and complemented with information shared by a third-party (videocalls to inspect the interior and access to blueprints, for example). These procedures were validated by the authorities, considering that clients are informed that this type of appraisal increases the level of uncertainty of the value. In Spain, as finance was considered to be a key activity, appraisals were carried out throughout the lockdown with the exception of the 2-week total lockdown.
- Signing the deeds
Being able to sign the deeds remotely is an old dream that has always seemed impossible. But it could become a reality sooner than expected, with the Ministry of Justice and the Order of Notaries evaluating what needs to be done in Portugal and similar investigations also being carried out in Spain. Social distancing affects notaries too, and they are also concerned about so many people unnecessarily milling around their offices unless strictly necessary, not to mention the efficiency improvements available by limiting the number of face-to-face encounters needed for completion.
But until them, the deeds will continue to be signed in person, with some rules that need to be followed such as the mandatory use of masks, respect of social distancing norms and avoidance of sharing objects by, for example, each party taking their own pen to sign.
With all these changes, real estate is more and more ready to work at distance, making sure that deals are done with minimum risk for everyone. The future of real estate has arrived sooner than expected.