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Pandemic spurred real estate ‘perfect storm’ | News | bedfordgazette.com – bedfordgazette.com

Marilyn Otis, an agent associated with Re/Max Olde Towne, has been selling real estate in Bedford County for more than 35 years.

In that time she’s seen a lot of changes to both the market and the sales process, but nothing nearly as volatile as what she and her colleagues experienced during the pandemic.

“We’ve never seen drastic price increases, it’s always been a slow incline or decline, but never the peaks and valleys like we saw this year,” Otis said.

It was the result of a perfect storm of buyers looking to enter the Bedford market, homeowners waiting to see what happened with their jobs and financial situation during the pandemic, and material shortages.

“People look to build when there’s a shortage of homes, but materials were in short supply and their costs skyrocketed,” Otis said. “When you’re quoted $600,000 to build a house, then see a home normally valued at $300,000 going for $400,000, it’s a steal by comparison.”

Evolving Process

Prices weren’t the only thing affected by the pandemic. The sales process also evolved.

At first, agents supplied booties and facemasks and asked visitors to sign waivers attesting that they hadn’t been exposed to anyone diagnosed with COVID, but eventually many sellers simply refused to allow potential buyers inside.

“Things slowed down for five to six months and people weren’t even listing their homes, but they opened up once the vaccines were available,” Otis said. “Even so, I found I had to market differently.”

In the end, it was a combination of learning new ways to represent clients who couldn’t show their homes and a lot of creative thinking that made a difference.

“I adopted new principles and practices, which was costly, but the cost was worth it and paid off in the end,” Otis said.

She began hosting live Facebook tours, walking an audience of potential buyers through houses virtually.

“I also created an interactive storybook with video to go along with the online listing so that people could see what it would be like to live in the house,” Otis said. “With so many people looking from outside Bedford County, I needed to incorporate a couple of interactive pages about Bedford County, showing some of the restaurants and Bedford Springs and overhead drone footage of the town.”

Big Results

Re/Max Olde Town may be one of the smallest agencies in town, with five agents under the umbrella, but Otis has achieved big results.

“I’ve been the number one producer in sales volume in our whole region for the last six years straight, I’ve won awards for being the top agent in Eastern Pennsylvania, and I’ve also been one of the top agents nationally in the Re/Max organization,” she said. “I think the premise that has made me successful is the feeling that the level of performance my customers want is for me to be a turnkey service.”

That means going beyond just taking a picture of a house and putting it on the market.

“I have a staff that cleans and declutters, painters, and an auctioneer who will remove unwanted furniture and other items,” Otis said. “I’m a professional stager and I take professional photographs and do a video production for my listings, which are different than what you would see in other agencies. We have a very strategic plan for our listings, and it works.”

In fact, she said, the pandemic helped make her more successful because it made her think differently about how to attract business and bring new people into Bedford who were looking for homes.

“I took a deep look at what I was doing, because business as usual was not working and I had to change,” Otis said.

Volume Back

Volume is always an issue in the sales business, and in the first five months of the year Otis found herself down 95 percent compared with the previous year, but things have turned around since May.

“Volume has really increased and is now better than it was pre-pandemic,” she said. “It’s only taking me three months now to register the same amount of volume that I had during the entirety of 2020. Everything stalled, and then it came back with a fury.”

Realistically speaking, the residential real estate market has to stabilize soon, Otis sad.

“Once building material prices come down I think we’ll see an increase in building and then existing home prices will also come down,” she predicted. “You can’t sustain this.”

Meanwhile, she said, Bedford’s charm will continue to attract homebuyers from outside the area and will be even more in demand once broadband coverage is extended throughout the county.

Through the pandemic, it was the challenge that kept her focused and resilient, Otis said.

“COVID had a way of kicking you down and there were so many emotions playing into it,” she said. “It made me value life a little more and people a little more, where they are with their own lives, and how we all work to overcome so many negatives and make something positive out of it.”

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