The spring 2020 season was forecasted to be a tornado of transactions in the real estate market with eager buyers waiting to snap up new listings. However, for locals, coronavirus has disrupted or perhaps just delayed that prediction.
Other trends, including an influx of out-of-staters, are shifting the balance despite uncertain times. For those taking advantage of the historically low interest rates to make a move, safety remains at the forefront.
“My company and the industry have adopted protocols in excess of what’s been advised. We’re operating at a very high level of sensitivity around health and safety,” describes Chris Masiello, president and CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate The Masiello Group.
In a recent press release, the National Association of Realtors notes, “Technology plays a vital role as the real estate industry adapts to the new reality of managing deals virtually.” They cite e-signatures, social media, messaging apps and virtual tours as critical tools.
For rare in-person showings, there are clear procedures outlined in advance — masks and booties, no touching, and “lots of disinfectant,” Masiello says.
In other parts of the process, basic adjustments have been implemented to reduce risk, as well.
For instance, only the inspector is present during home inspections, and closings take place one party at a time, welcoming the buyer and seller to the table separately but on the same day.
“Very simple, very common-sense alternatives have developed, and they’re pretty seamless,” Masiello says.
However, for many locals, the comfort level just isn’t there yet.
“Some sellers are pulling their listings off the market temporarily,” notes Marc Tieger, co-founder and president of Tieger Realty Co., Inc. in Jaffrey.
People who planned to list at the start of 2020 have also been holding back.
After conducting a flash survey in April, NAR shared that “Nearly six out of 10 members — 59% — said buyers are delaying home purchases for a couple of months, while a similar share of members — 57% — said sellers are delaying home sales for a couple of months.”
“We haven’t really seen the influx of spring inventory yet because of the event,” Masiello says.
But even with few listings, some movement continues.
“People are buying, and people are selling. We are very fortunate,” Tieger says.
In March, New Hampshire sales were less than 2% behind the previous year’s numbers. The median sales price, $311,545, was also the highest ever recorded in the state in March. Vermont was similarly stable, showing a 6.6% upward median price change over the previous month.
In a press release issued by the New Hampshire Association of Realtors, the organization’s president, Marc Drapeau, says, “It feels like more of a wait-and-see than an outright stop. The $64,000 question, and one that we aren’t prepared to answer with any certainty at this point, is just how long a pause,” Drapeau says.
Meanwhile, the pandemic has created a very interesting set of circumstances.
“You really have one of these moments where I would call it holistically balanced,” Masiello says of the market.
TIGHT INVENTORY, LOW INTEREST RATES
Continued tight inventory has resulted in firm pricing, but in contrast, extraordinarily low interest rates initiated as a result of COVID-19 have balanced things out.
“We really have kind of a very even seesaw. As long as people are healthy and comfortable, this is really a very good time to be transacting your real estate needs,” Masiello says.
“I’ve been in business for over 48 years and have never experienced market conditions like these,” Tieger says.
But he’s optimistic for the months ahead. Current interest rates are attracting confident buyers and homes are in high demand.
“What I’m hearing from our members is that when they have a seller listing or a buyer looking, they’re typically not just testing the market but serious about making a move,” Drapeau says.
While business in Vermont initially seemed on hold, Kate Barry, who works via The Masiello Group’s Brattleboro location, says after receiving instruction from the state and the Vermont Association of Realtors, the market is quite active.
“I’ve been submitting and accepting offers, scheduling showings and inspections, and pretty much conducting business as usual.
Except that I am doing everything remotely and virtually,” she describes.
In Vermont, out-of-state buyers are not allowed to come view properties without first completing a 14-day quarantine. As a result, Barry has witnessed a huge uptick and people submitting offers sight unseen.
“Our market is extremely busy right now both with people wanting to sell, and many, many people wanting to buy, especially from out of state,” she says.
As people realize they can work from home easily, they’re opting for a dream home in the country.
“We really are seeing somewhat of an exodus from New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Connecticut,” she says.
While the buzzing market is a positive, there are caveats to managing sales during the pandemic.
WORKING REMOTELY: UPS AND DOWNS
“Working remotely and virtually has been an amazing experience, but it does take a lot of additional time, and I vastly prefer working with locals in my community,” says Barry, who usually specializes in first-time home buying.
For real estate agents and brokers, it’s all about “sincere motivation … patience; the ability to ‘hang in there,’” notes Tieger.
Masiello echoes similar sentiments, noting that engagement is key.
“How we counseled our people was … this is going to be a longer-term event and a strategy of waiting this out probably isn’t going to serve anybody well. For those who are engaged, the solutions present themselves pretty seamlessly,” he says.
With the market still in motion, realtors are focused on communicating why it’s such an advantageous time to make a move.
“I know that probably seems counterintuitive for people,” Masiello admits. But he says if someone is healthy and feels comfortable, now is an ideal moment. “There’s no reason you shouldn’t consider a real estate transaction.”
Masiello expects the spring rush everyone was anticipating before the crisis will shift into the late summer or even fall.
“We’ll see some of the seasonality adjust to meet the demands of the market,” he explains, suggesting that a lesser focus on season may be a lasting result.
Aside from shaking a Magic 8-Ball, there’s not much to be done but to wait and see. While it’s all a bit surreal in Tieger’s mind, he says his mantra these days is: “This too shall pass.”
In the meantime, the showings must go on.
Caroline Tremblay writes from Richmond, New Hampshire.