Photo courtesy of Pardee Homes.
Vista Santa Fe is one of the neighborhoods Pardee Homes is marketing with its new online platform.

Photo courtesy of Pardee Homes. Vista Santa Fe is one of the neighborhoods Pardee Homes is marketing with its new online platform.

Just as the real estate market was getting hit by the coronavirus pandemic, Pardee Homes started a program that allows prospective home buyers do everything but sign closing documents online.

Virtual home tours aren’t new, but Pardee has expanded the practice in mid-March, initially putting homes in three new communities up for sale on a virtual platform where prospective buyers can take a look at the homes and contract for a home without physically visiting a model home.

Next Level Buying

“We’re trying to take it to the next level where you don’t come visit the sales gallery because there won’t be a sales gallery. It will be completely dependent on a virtual reality experience,” said Jimmy Ayala, San Diego division president of Pardee Homes. “The consumer is looking for ways to design a home online, build their home online and put it in a cart like they do on Amazon,”

The new system isn’t quite that simple, but Ayala said it’s close.

In mid-March when the number of COVID-19 coronavirus was accelerating in the U.S., Pardee put homes in the Pacific Highlands Ranch communities of Sendero, Terrassa and Vista Del Mar up for sale online.

Pardee has since added all of its neighborhoods with ongoing sales.

Online Presence Even More Important

“Now we get into this crisis and folks aren’t out and able to be out. Our online presence is even more important,” Ayala said.

In the first week, buyers virtually contracted for two new homes, Ayala said, adding that “They never visited a sales office,”

Pardee had the Masterport (360) project in the works for some time, but the timing on its release came at the same time that the pandemic hit.

Using virtual reality sets or Google cardboard googles, people can view site plans to see which home sites are available, configure floor plans and take a virtual fly-through of the community.

‘It’s Like Being Inside’

“It’s like being inside and outside our model homes. The quality of the technology has gotten so good that it’s just like being inside the homes,” Ayala said. “You could see everything you need in the house. Our website gives a little measuring stick so you can measure where you are and how big that hallway is.”

When it comes to actually closing a sale, people do still need to sign documents in person.

“There are some documents that need to be notarized, there are some documents with the financing where you have to show ID’s,” Ayala said.

He said Pardee has adopted a system to do that while mindful of social distancing in which buyers and Pardee representatives take turns signing apart from each other.

“They sign, they leave the room, we come in the room, we leave and have a notary sign,” Ayala said.

Looking beyond the coronavirus pandemic, Ayala predicted that virtual home sales will become commonplace.

As he sees it, home builders have been slower than other industries to embrace online sales.

A New Habit

“My sense is that after this, when we’ve survived this the consumers in home building will have a new habit which is ‘I don’t want to visit your homes and visit with you folks, I want to transact from home.’” Ayala said. “I do think this is a habit consumers are going to develop.”

At the same time that Pardee is going virtual with home sales, the online real estate listing services Zillow announced that it has suspended its Zillow Offers program to buy and market existing homes on behalf of property owners.

“We have temporarily paused making offers to buy homes through Zillow Offers in response to increasing public health orders and to protect the safety of our employees, customers and partners,” the company said in a notice posted on its website. “Zillow will continue to sell homes where possible, in a way that accommodates today’s rapidly changing environment. We are adjusting our sales processes, encouraging 3-D home virtual consults with partners and refraining from holding open houses.”

San Diego County was the second California market for Zillow Offers when the company debuted the program here in September. The first was Riverside County.

Redfin, a real estate tracking company with similar services, also has stopped buying homes and offering open houses through its RedfinNow program.