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New Massachusetts restrictions on crowd sizes could impact open houses

Gov. Charlie Baker has banned gatherings of more than 25 people due to novel coronavirus

A hand opening a door. Shutterstock

Just before the weekend, real estate brokers were reporting that attendance at open houses in the Boston area remained steady and strong despite concerns over the spread of novel coronavirus.

Brokers and their clients were taking precautions such as regularly wiping down oft-touched surfaces and using hand sanitizer. Otherwise, though, it seemed that a key ritual in the region’s hyper-competitive housing market was going on as usual in hundreds of properties in neighborhoods throughout the area.

New restrictions on crowd sizes that Gov. Charlie Baker issued on Sunday, March 15, could upend that. The restrictions not only shuttered public and private schools statewide for three weeks and closed restaurants to on-premises service, among other measures, it banned gatherings of 25 or more people.

Baker had previously banned gatherings of 250 or more to stem the spread of novel coronavirus. That probably exempted every open house in the state. But the 25-person cutoff adds a layer of complexity for brokers, who must now ensure that no more than 25 people are clustering in a property at once.

This could be especially difficult at openings for new developments, the usually catered events at set times that often draw larger numbers than open houses, where brokers await prospective buyers for a quicker walkthrough.

Brokers seemed to anticipate a possible drop-off in attendance, even before Baker’s restrictions and despite strong numbers the past couple of weeks.

“Next week may be a different story,” Jason Gell, a Keller Williams broker and president of the Greater Boston Association of Realtors, said on March 12. “Unfortunately, any decline in open houses or listings is likely to make the conditions for buyers even more difficult.”

For now, there are several dozen open houses scheduled for around the region this week—perhaps at least more than 200, according to listings site Estately. Meanwhile, the number of confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases in Massachusetts stood at 164 as of late Sunday afternoon.