If anyone found a silver lining in the COVID-19 pandemic, it was people working in real estate.
Low interest rates, combined with people working from home and looking for bigger living spaces, even second homes, helped set record sales in the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire during 2020.
Homes flew off the market, often grabbed by folks who did virtual tours, buying the properties without ever physically stepping inside them.
“I kid you not,’’ Michelle Fermin, team leader of The Fermin Group, Century 21 North East in North Andover, said of the high-paced sales. “And the thing is, it’s not slowing down ... You need to be aggressive as a buyer.”
Fermin said her group’s sales are up 39 percent from 2019.
A large inventory of homes to purchase was not immediately available this year, which made the market highly competitive and drove up sale prices.
“As soon as they are listed, they are sold,” said Jill O’Shaughnessy, broker and owner of Jill & Co Realty Group in Salem, N.H.
In Massachusetts, home sales rose 25 percent in November, with the median sale price compared to November of 2019 jumping to $460,000. Sales in November of this year also exceed sales in June, reversing the traditional pattern of an increase in the spring and a drop in the fourth quarter of the year, said Tim Warren, CEO of the Warren Group.
After a pause when the COVID-19 crisis hit in March, the real estate market roared back during the summer. That sales pace continued through the fall as buyers, sellers and the industry adjusted to conditions of the pandemic.
“Buyers are taking advantage of rock-bottom interest rates and the ability to work from home to set their sights on communities further and further from their offices,’’ Warren said.
In New Hampshire’s Rockingham County, the median sale price jumped to $443,000 in November 2020, up from $385,000 a year earlier, O’Shaughnessy said.
Fermin said the majority of homes in Lawrence, North Andover and Methuen are selling above the owners’ asking prices.
During a recent interview, just 11 homes were for sale in Lawrence and 16 were on the market in neighboring Methuen, said Fermin.
From Jan. 1 to Nov. 1 of this year, a total of 732 homes sold in North Andover and Lawrence, she said. Of those, four out of every five sold above the asking price, she said.
Methuen showed a similar trend for the same time period, as 601 homes were sold and three out of every four went for above the asking price, Fermin said.
“A lot of people were stuck at home and said they needed a bigger space,” she said.
While some buyers did take masked and socially distanced tours of homes, following the guidance of health officials, others opted for virtual tours and bought properties “sight unseen,” she said.
In addition to masks, Realtors were armed with gloves and booties. Showings were limited to “yourself, an agent and two other people,” she said, adding “everything is cleaned before and everything is cleaned after.”
“We are obviously taking all the precautions we need to,” Fermin said.
O’Shaughnessy agreed with Fermin, noting that during the pandemic people have been stuck at home and cramped, and have had time to start home searches online.
“The low rates is really what is making everyone buy,” she said. “People are getting sick of their environments.”
O’Shaughnessy herself was among the buyers, purchasing and gutting a new office space at 260 Broadway in Salem for her real estate business.
Her advice to those looking for new spaces: work with a buyer’s agent who has a good reputation.
“Someone who will work hard for you to get your offer accepted,” she said.