Written by Barbara Pronin for Realty Times.
Restaurants and malls are opening everywhere, even as the uneven path of coronavirus continues to criss-cross the nation. Yet many are operating at less than half capacity, as poll after poll shows consumers still wary despite being given a go-ahead.
At the same time, brokers nationwide report that business is brisk, with most homes drawing multiple offers and selling for more than the asking price.
“We had 847 showings last weekend of 166 listings,” said Colorado broker Joe Clement, CEO and leader of the Joe Clement Team with RE/MAX Properties in Colorado Springs. “One very nice view home listed on Thursday was shown seven times on Friday, drew three offers on Saturday, and sold for $30,000 over the list price.”
It is not business as usual in that showings in most states still require strict sanitary precautions – masks, gloves, social distancing, and a wipe-down of any touched surfaces. But with inventory tight, and rates at rock-bottom, there is an avid pool of buyers, and more sellers appear to be swallowing their fear and listing their homes for sale.
“We’ve been lucky in that unemployment in our market has gone up only four percent from what it was pre-pandemic,” Clement said, “so the buyers are there. We’re very careful, we play by the rules, and if we can bring up the inventory level, the impact of the pandemic on our business will be minimal, if at all, in the long-run.”
In other regions, too, the shortage of inventory that existed before the pandemic now rivals health concerns as the issue most apt to impact sales goals.
“We took a deep breath when the first shelter-in-place order was made,” said Tracy Kasper, broker/owner, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Silverhawk Realty in Boise Valley, Idaho. “But as an essential business, and with the help of curbside closings, we’ve been going gangbusters. The problem is, we’ve had barely a hair over one month’s inventory.”
As restrictions ease, Kasper said, sellers are slowly coming back, and some current new construction is expected to help ease the crunch.
“With enough inventory to satisfy demand,” she said, “the effect of the pandemic will be little more than a temporary dip.”
It’s a sentiment echoed in markets large and small.
“Buyer interest here has never slowed,” said Nancy Malone, principal broker, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Woodmont Realty, which serves the greater Nashville area in Tennessee. “But inventory was short going into the year, and got worse as sellers pulled back in the wake of coronavirus – so multiple offers are the norm.”
But, she added, agents checking in to see how past clients are faring are hearing questions these days about home values and the market.
“People are beginning to be more comfortable about going out again,” said Malone. “We’re hopeful that signals more sellers will be coming into the market.”
In fact, despite the low-turnouts in restaurants and malls, pandemic fatigue may be growing.
“Life goes on,” noted Tim Milam, president and partner of Coldwell Banker Seacoast Advantage Real Estate, Wilmington, N.C. “After three or four months of being shut in, more people are willing to venture out no matter what – and as that happens, we’re seeing listings slowly starting to come back.”
Year over year, he said, listings are up an encouraging two percent in the desirable coastal market, and new contracts are up 21 percent despite persistent low inventory.
The picture is less rosy in Raleigh and other inland areas, where Gary Rabon, one of three Seacoast partners, notes that both listings and closed sales still lag.
“It is not business as usual in the sense that buyers are narrowing their choices online before contacting an agent,” Rabon said. “They are being shown fewer houses than usual, and more of those showings are virtual. But transactionally, the numbers are slowly going up.”
Like many brokers we polled, Milam and his partners find that new listings are often the natural outcome of ongoing communication between agents and those in their spheres of influence.
“Some people are hurting these days,” Milam noted. “But others are doing fine – and most people are well aware this is a great time to buy or sell. We know that agents who are checking in with folks these days are fielding more and more questions about he local market.”
The result, he noted, is that listings are coming back, if slowly, and just in time to satisfy months of pent up, pandemic-fueled demand.
Given the anguish, the record numbers of unemployed, and the collective grief of the American people today, it will be a while before the nation returns to anything like ‘business as usual’ – even longer, perhaps, before an economy in freefall is able to pick itself up and find its legs.
But given the state of the market today, what are the odds that the real estate sector will play a major role in its recovery?