At the onset of the pandemic, Qualia began collecting survey data to understand the impact of COVID-19 on real estate operations. Over the course of 5 months, we’ve collected responses from real estate professionals spanning 35 states. Our longitudinal study uncovers clues about the future of remote work, acceptance of remote online notarization (RON), and the overall outlook for the real estate market.
Kathleen Sullivan, Product Manager at Qualia, recently recapped our most recent survey results (collected in June 2020) along with J. Bradford Linville of Omni Title in Ohio.
Trend #1: Remote work continues even as economies reopen
In March and April, 61% of real estate professionals responded that they were working from home either part or full time. Since then, more than half of the country started reopening or partially reopening their local economies. Despite this, many real estate professionals have not returned to the office. In June, the majority of survey participants (57%) indicated that they are still working from home.
Linville noted that the survey data reflected his own operations at Omni Title. Most of his team and many of his clients are still working remotely. Omni Title’s offices have been open for in-person closings (with extra safety precautions such as curbside closings, face masks, and single-use pens) throughout the pandemic; however, employees primarily work from home.
Trend #2: Interest in remote online notarization continues to rise
COVID-19 and the need for social distancing accelerated adoption of remote online notarization (RON). The barriers that had previously limited RON (e.g. the slow passage of RON legislation along with a lack of GSE and underwriter acceptance) dissolved in a matter of weeks. This led businesses to reconsider their timelines toward implementing fully-digital closings.
“There was some momentum before COVID to take advantage of RON,” Linville noted. “We had trained one of our escrow officers to become a remote online notary and invested some in the technology…but [RON] is now something we expect will increase,” he said.
In June, 75% of real estate professionals responded that they were currently using or were interested in using RON. It’s clear that RON adoption will only continue to grow.
Trend #3: Optimism climbs, uncertainty falls
In Q2, low interest rates continued for far longer than what industry analysts expected at the beginning of the year. Refinance volume spiked across the country as financially-distressed homeowners looked for relief.
“We were busier in March during the outbreak than the months prior [to the pandemic],” Linville said. For his team, refinances drove quite a bit of volume; however, his local market also saw an increase in residential sales during the pandemic. “Everything from refinances, sales, multifamily housing, and new developments has been really strong,” he said.
Linville’s optimism matches sentiment across the industry. Qualia’s June survey data indicates that two-thirds of real estate professionals expect order volume to stay the same or increase in the next 6 months.
What lies ahead?
Qualia’s survey confirms the adaptability of the real estate industry. Within a matter of months, a historically in-office workforce that conducted primarily in-person closings adjusted its sails to adapt to remote work and consumer demand for contactless closings.
To hear more from Sullivan and Linville on Qualia’s survey results, click below to stream a recording of the webinar.