What are real estate brokers in Tokyo doing in response to the second state of emergency?

In response to a surge in coronavirus cases, a second state of emergency was declared for greater Tokyo from January 8 until February 7. This one is less comprehensive than the one last spring, and is currently targeted towards restaurants and bars. However, businesses are being urged to have staff work from home, and residents are asked to avoid going outdoors unless necessary. There are no guidelines issued for the real estate industry, but many brokerages have taken it upon themselves to enforce some stricter measures this time around.

Some major brokerages still held walk-in open houses over this past weekend, although the majority have switched to appointment-only opens.

Developer Tokyo Tatemono has reduced their weekday closing time to 4pm for sales centers across greater Tokyo from January 12 onwards. Although there are no government-issued directives, the developer realizes that they need to consider staff commuting hours and limit customer outings. Sumitomo Realty & Development has not reduced operating hours but is recommending that customers use their online virtual tours. The developer has introduced a no-contact system from inspection to delivery for their new condominium projects.  Mitsui Fudosan is planning to shorten the closing time of sales centers to 8pm. Until now the brokerage had been accepting customer consultations until late in the evenings but need to consider allowing time for their staff to return home at a reasonable hour. Tokyu Land’s new project showrooms are open by appointment only, with visitor numbers limited to allow social distancing. They are not reducing their operating hours.

The first quarter of the year is typically the busiest season for real estate agencies in Japan both on the sales and rental side. The school year begins in April, so many families want to be settled beforehand. Universities too, which means a lot of students are scrambling for rental housing. Companies also start new hires in April.  Essentially, everyone is on the move. It’s the most profitable quarter for realtors, and many cannot afford to take this time off. 

During the first state of emergency in April 2020, many brokerages had their agents work from home and developers temporarily shuttered show rooms. Things returned to full swing in June.

Some properties now have 3D-walkthroughs available to allow prospective buyers to inspect from the comfort of their own home, however this is still very limited. People still need to inspect in person to check ceiling height, views, sunlight, noise, and the actual condition of the property, as these are all things that cannot be easily understood over video.

Measures against the coronavirus risk are still haphazard and there have been coronavirus cases at several brokerages in central Tokyo over the past year. Some agencies will temporarily ventilate the apartments they have listed. Customers are asked to wear masks and social distance, although that can be a challenge when packing into a crowded elevator in an apartment building and cramming into a small apartment at an inspection. Only the essential decision makers should be present at an inspection, although this is difficult to enforce and not followed by everyone. 

Source: The Nikkei Shimbun, January 8, 2021.

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