There's no doubt that the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is on everyone's mind. And, it will impact housing, if only to make real estate professionals more deliberate in their interactions with others. REAL Trends spoke to brokers from around the country to see how this pandemic is impacting their markets. Mind you: It's early days. A lot can change even in a day.
Right now, most real estate markets have not seen an impact from the virus. But, all say that it's still too early. According to Florida-based broker Dewey Mitchell, "So far we have not experienced any noticeable impact from the virus. Our numbers are up year over year. Admittedly, we are expecting fallout from the events of recent days." Ohio-based broker Mark Meinhardt says, "Houses under $500,000 are still a hot commodity here in Cincinnati. I know of one deal this week for $1.6 million, which is very high for our market, where the buyer backed out as his stock portfolio dropped. Not much other negative at this point. It's still early."
A less-traditional brokerage firm, House Buyers of America, believes that the spring season will be a success despite the fears. “Business owners and home shoppers can see a global outbreak like Coronavirus as a significant threat that brings fears of a market slowdown with it,” said Nick Ron, CEO of House Buyers of America. “If anything, we’re seeing the opposite–and nothing but opportunity ahead. The spring market is off to a white-hot start. We're seeing an increase in bidding wars and larger numbers of aggressive offers to beat out the competition. Many sellers are removing home inspection contingencies to drive faster sales.”
Office Ghost Towns
Where it has seemed to impact brokerages is in their offices. "Our offices are like ghost towns. No one is coming in," says California-based broker Marian Benton. Same for Pennsylvania-based Jack Fry, "We did allow our duty agents to work remotely and not have to come into our office. We're still doing our continuing education class, which is a large group. We're watching what our local government is posting and following its suggestions."
However, in harder hit areas like Seattle, the impacts to the market are already being felt. According to Washington-based broker Kim Piper, "We're seeing impacts on the industry and marketplace in our Seattle market, but not as much in the balance of the State. Since we already have such scarcity in inventory and so little affordable housing, we don’t believe that the COVID-19 issues will impact activity in the long run, but what we’re seeing is a pause, as if everyone is holding their breath and waiting for what’s going to happen next."
She notes that she's seen reports from listing brokers that vulnerable or anxious sellers are delaying bringing homes to market or canceling listings because they don't want strangers in their home, or they're asking for virtual showings only. "We’ve had a couple reports that listings have been delayed because sellers were downsizing and moving into assisted living or communal retirement communities. Now, with the fear of the virus, they’re electing to wait. Buyers are still anxious to purchase and aggressively pursuing home purchases. And, with the interest rate reduction, they’re even more eager."
Preparation is Key
Any broker who's been through the downturn of 2007-2009, knows the value of being prepared. Piper is actively developing an emergency plan should the market be impacted further. "We’re working on scenarios to adapt and respond if our work force becomes unable or unwilling to staff our offices. We may be closing or limiting access to our offices. We will maximize the use of our already-robust paperless, virtual full-service offering to our 10 locations and still fully support the agents in the field," says Piper. "We use a fully paperless transaction management, review and oversight system. We haven’t processed a commission check in years, escrow wires funds, and we distribute to agents via EFT. Meetings, workshops and trainings are on video and available live or via our internal intranet later. The systems that we put into place during the downturn, and have since improved and perfected, so that we could financially survive and ultimately thrive are invaluable now!"