Tom Landry, broker and owner of Benchmark Real Estate, shows a condo’s kitchen during a recent Facebook Live tour. Brianna Soukup / Portland Press Herald

PORTLAND — Leanne Nichols has been a real estate agent in Maine for 30 years and has weathered her share of market volatility, including that caused by the Great Recession of 2008. It still didn’t prepare her the realities of the market during a pandemic.

“How I would describe it is, it is a revolution in the industry to change and adapt to keep everyone safe and meet people’s needs,” said Nichols, president of the Greater Portland Board of Realtors and one of the founders of the Keller Williams Maine franchise.

This is also unprecedented territory for Lisa DiBiase, broker/co-owner of Landing Real Estate, who has been selling homes in the greater Portland area for more than a dozen years.

Face masks and Purell wipes have become tools of the trade for Portside Real Estate Group Associate Broker Danny Reali. Courtesy / Portside Real Estate Group

“In my 20 years of selling real estate, I have never experienced anything like this in having to regulate a shutdown and still try to sell real estate,” said DiBiase, who was a broker in California prior to starting in Maine in 2007.

On top of that, the coronavirus has dealt a blow to sales and housing stock.

According to statistics from Maine Real Estate Information System, transactions are 16 percent down in Cumberland County, although homes that are selling are going at prices of 18 percent higher than last year.

Listings have continued to drop this month.

Between April 1 and April 15 Cumberland County listings were down close to 64% compared to the same time last year, according to Dava Davin, principal broker at Portside Real Estate Group.  In Portland listings are down close to 72%.

The coronavirus social distancing requirements have changed the way agents approach showings of residential and commercial properties. According to regulations from Gov. Janet Mills, agents are encouraged to show listings as much as possible virtually and use gloves, masks and disposable booties when showing houses in person.

Davin said Portside Real Estate Group agents are requiring prospective buyers to watch a video tour of the property, thoroughly review the seller’s disclosure form and drive by the property prior to seeing it in person.

Landing Realty is taking the same approach.

“What we are trying to do is provide as much information as possible upfront so people can determine if they want to look at it to reduce as much unnecessary traffic as possible,” said DiBiase, who has provided all her agents with booties, gloves and masks.

Companies are also staggering in-person showings to allow for more time to disinfect the properties in between, and closings are done with as much social distancing as possible.

Nichols said she expects the real estate market to pick back up again.

“I’d imagine as people lose their jobs and need to recalibrate their lives, it will involve real estate,” Nichols said. “Keeping the market moving at some level is really important for us.”

Davin said “even if the stay at home order is lifted, how we do real estate is going to be changed for a long period of time.”

Real estate agents say they are challenged by differing requirements and regulations between municipalities. Real estate activities, for example were only deemed essential services in Portland on April on April 14, despite the governor considering them as such in her earlier emergency order.

DiBiase said this made it difficult for her company because it has offices on Tanberg Trail in Windham and Exchange Street in downtown Portland.

“We told all our agents any transactions you have in Portland need to stop. We can’t show properties,” she said.

Showings in Portland have resumed, but the city still has additional guidelines that the state does not. On April 14, the City Council amended its emergency order to prohibit real estate activities in occupied residential multi-family properties of more than four units, in an apartment unit occupied by a tenant and in a building where the property owner is not a resident.

These new restrictions will remain in effect from now until April 27, when the city’s emergency order is set to expire. The order may be extended by the council.

They are measures that Davin said she understands.

“Everyone is trying to put safety first while attempting to flatten the curve and keep the economy going,” she said.

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