As you would expect, COVID-19 has created a lot of change in New Hampshire’s economy. But you might not have expected what those changes are for the real estate industry.
“We’ve been open for 15 years; March was our single best month for new orders,” said Matthew Neuman, owner of Absolute Title, a property title company with offices in Concord, said last week. “And April — we’re not even done with the month, and it’s our second biggest month ever.”
Despite economic uncertainty caused by business closings and the complications that social distancing has placed on document signing and house tours, the business of buying, selling and refinancing residences hasn’t slowed at all.
“I’ve had four drive-through (closings) today. … Real estate is booming in New Hampshire,” said Robin Mooney of Broker’s Title of Londonderry, speaking at a closing in Concord’s Fisherville neighborhood on Thursday.
“It was a hot market before COVID, and it’s still (hot),” said Kristine Braley of Starkey Realty, the seller agent for that sale, adding one proviso: “It’s currently not a seller’s market for a great big huge mansion on the lake, but anything under $300,000? There are multiple offers.”
The sale was special to Braley because it came from the last open house she held before the shutdown occurred. “It went under contract in seven days,” she noted.
The buyers, July and Thomas Clark, are moving from East Boston, nor far from Logan International Airport, to be near their grandchildren.
“No more airplanes!” said July Clark.
This is the first house they’ve ever bought, after a lifetime of renting, and they were a little dazed by all the documents they had to sign. “It seems like 100,” joked Thomas Clark.
Getting documents signed and notarized is one thing that has changed dramatically in the past month.
Absolute Title’s offices, for example, have installed 4-by-4-foot clear acrylic panes on desks, like vertical versions of “sneeze guards” placed over food at buffets.
“They have a slot underneath. People sit on each side and we slide papers underneath, kind of like banks used to do,” said Neuman. “Some folks are not comfortable coming in the office, they prefer to stay in their car. We have the closer stand outside the car, pass the paperwork to them.”
Neuman says he was inspired by restaurant workers who wore transparent pods, sometimes called “backpack tents,” when carrying food out to cars. He bought some for the company’s three offices so paperwork, and employees, will stay safe and dry during such car-side signings in the rain.
The trickiest part is notarizing signatures without being face to face. One of Gov. CHris Sununu’s earliest emergency orders — No. 11 — covered this topic by allowing “secure remote online notarization.”
“They have a video phone call with the closer, prove their identify … then we watch them sign the document — ‘wet sign’ them. They return those to us. Sometimes the Realtor drives and picks them up, or we do. Then my notary, the closer, who witnessed it, has to wet-sign notarize those documents,” said Neuman.
Not all of New Hampshire real estate is booming, however. Residential may be shrugging off the uncertainty but business and commercial sales are not keeping at the same clip.
“Investors are gun shy. They don’t want to buy a property with 10 units and then people are not paying rent,” said Greg Levitt, the buyers’ agent at the Fisherville sale, discussing the current market. “And commercial — who wants to buy a big building when they don’t know when business is going to pick up?”
Neuman said he thinks the current residential market is a function partly of incredibly low interest rates plus the usual increase in sales and refinancing that comes each spring, goosed somewhat by concern about future job losses.
“If you were on the fence before and now you’ve got a little bit of job insecurity, I think it has pushed people to make the decision,” he said.
Does that mean he expects this surge to continue? Good question.
“The way our business has gone here, I keep telling people, don’t worry it’s going to slow down a little, we’re going to be able to breath. But I don’t see that on the horizon. All the lenders and Realtors are busy,” Neuman said. “I see a strong spring market and a strong summer market … After that, it depends on what happens.”