Tampa Bay’s luxury real estate agents, who sell $1M and up homes, say the market is overcoming the challenges of coronavirus — so far

In the weeks since the global coronavirus pandemic took hold, luxury real estate agent Jeff Shelton has moved ahead with several multimillion-dollar home sales — from new listings to closings.
Shelton, an agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in Tampa, closed a $2.15 million South Tampa home sale on March 26; that same week, his $3.875 million new construction listing in Sunset Park Isles went under contract. He’s also finalized an offer on former HSN personality Joy Mangano’s Culbreath Isles home, which was listed at $2.225 million on March 4.

“Flexibility is my new favorite word,” Shelton said. “The nice part about it is that real estate agents are entrepreneurial by nature, so we were very quick to adapt to the changes.”

Tampa Bay’s luxury real estate agents say they’re seeing few effects of the pandemic on the top tier of the region’s housing market. While many of the closings happening in recent weeks are sales that started before the pandemic halted the economy, agents say there’s plenty of new activity as well, from listings to offers. Like every other industry, buying and selling houses has been changed by coronavirus, but buyers, sellers and builders have been quick to make the shift to virtual, three-dimensional home tours and closings that respect social distancing guidelines.

At Shelton’s $2.15 million closing, for example, the seller had already relocated to Texas, so their documents were sent electronically. Only the buyer and an escrow agent were present when the buyer signed their documents, Shelton said.

“Typically, it’s an exciting day for both parties, with lots of hugs and handshakes and everybody was present,” Shelton said of closings before coronavirus. “Obviously, now all of that has changed, and we must keep a minimum of 6 feet apart.” He says he’s heard of agents who’ve had buyer’s cancel contracts, but it hasn’t happened to him.

He says he’s heard of other agents who’ve had buyers cancel contracts, but it hasn’t happened to him.
“The luxury market may not be as affected as those markets where people could literally not have a job when this is over,” he said.

Between March 15-21, 23 homes in the $1 million-and-up price range went under contract in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, according to the Multiple Listing Service. In that same period, 32 sales above $1 million closed — higher than the same time period in 2019, when 26 sales in that price range closed.

“I believe that any reduced numbers we see in upcoming weeks are going to be affected by safer-at-home [orders] — not because there is a reduced demand for real estate,” said Jennifer Zales, Shelton’s associate at Coldwell Banker. “If people were panicking, you would see no closings happening, and people would be walking.”

Even in January, before the pandemic made its way to the U.S., luxury home sales were staying on pace with 2019. In January, 40 home sales over $1 million closed between Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, said Nikki Phillips, vice president of real estate at Smith and Associates Real Estate.

Smith had six of those listings. In 2019, there were 61 home sales above $1 million in January — 17 of which were in One St. Petersburg, a luxury condo development in which Smith was the listing agent on the new condos. Smith had 25 of the 61 listings, Phillips said.

“If you give consideration to the One inventory Smith offered the market in 2019, there is very little difference in the analysis, in my opinion,” Phillips said.

At Premier Sotheby’s International Realty in Tampa, Facebook and social media traffic to home listings has doubled in recent weeks, said agent Paul DeSantis.

“Transactions are still closing, but many aspects are being done virtually, with constant communication and attention to details being the key to maintaining exceptional service,” DeSantis said.

None of the technology real estate agents are using is new, Shelton said, but the pandemic is forcing them to rely on it much more frequently.

This week, Shelton listed a $4.5 million new construction home on West Neptune Way for sale. The appointment was conducted on FaceTime, and all documents for the listing agreement were signed electronically.

On Davis Islands, he represents Madison Construction in a new construction listing. Madison, he said, offers buyers virtual reality goggles where they can see the home down to the finishes they’ve chosen.

“Three-dimensional technology and virtual tours are not something that were new,” he said, “but what we’re doing now is utilizing them more so buyers really get a sense of a property.”
All of his initial meetings happen virtually, and all buyers tour homes online so that they and Shelton are only entering homes that are true contenders. He now carries gloves, masks, wipes and a digital thermometer.

“As a Realtor, I want to make sure I fully vet a buyer,” he said. “Where have they traveled recently? Do they have any symptoms? Have they been around anyone who’s tested positive? We have to be proactive.”

By Ashley Gurbal Kritzer – Senior Reporter, Tampa Bay Business Journal Mar 31, 2020, 2:10pm EDT