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Sam Island for Money

One day in October, Sosan Samarneh stepped out of her three-bedroom home in Jacksonville, Florida, locked the front door and dropped the key in a secure box. Navigating the process online without an agent, she had just sold her house to real estate company Opendoor.

“The next day, the close was final,” said Samarneh, who works as a financial analyst for a hospital. “It was just such a pain free-experience. I still can't believe how easy they made it.”

Opendoor is one of several so-called instant-buyers — often referred to as iBuyers — that have emerged in the last several years. Others include startup Offerpad and branches of bigger companies like Zillow Offers and RedfinNow. These companies buy homes in select markets for cash, make necessary upgrades and then resell them, aiming for a small profit per house. Relying on software to tell them which homes to buy and for how much, their goal is to eventually buy and sell enough homes to make billions.

Because other homes in her neighborhood lingered on the market and she hoped for a quick sale, Samarneh contacted Opendoor after reading about the company online prior to the pandemic. “It made more sense to do it that way,” she said.

But then, the coronavirus swept across the country, disrupting the housing market.

In a pandemic that has upended daily life and discouraged sellers from inviting strangers in their homes, iBuyers offer nearly contactless transactions and a degree of certainty. Yet, selling to an iBuyer during the pandemic bears financial and logistical risks. For one, these companies adjusted their operations and pricing to match the market dynamics.