WINCHESTER — Buying or selling your home can be a stressful time. Add a global pandemic with plenty of uncertainties to the mix? Some would say those conditions create a less than ideal housing market.
But there are silver linings, and Realtors have been working to find glimmers.
“If I had to pick one word to describe surviving real estate during COVID, it would be adapt,” said Julian Gordon, a Realtor with Greenfield & Behr Residential in Winchester.
Gordon said the market was rocked in late February and early March when COVID-19 began to spread throughout the region. As businesses started to shutdown, Realtors — like many other professionals — had new guidelines to follow almost daily from the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation, the Virginia Association of Realtors, Bright MLS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Four essentially unaffiliated agencies with varying purposes and different objectives,” Gordon said.
“So getting a clear understanding of what real estate during COVID would look like was really difficult,” she said. “Just like most other industries, we were having to adapt day by day to both the changing regulations and the needs of our clients.”
Home inspections and appraisals temporarily came to a halt. Housing inventory went down, with many homeowners removing their listings, leaving buyers with fewer options. There were banking uncertainties.
“One consistent issue all around was that nobody has ever dealt with this before,” Gordon said. “How do you buy or sell a home if nobody can leave the house?”
But the industry quickly adapted.
“The initial fear that Realtors and industry professionals [and] buyers and sellers had in mid-March was not long-lasting,” said Beth Waller, a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty in Front Royal. “We all worked together to find ways to protect ourselves and carry on our ability to facilitate the sales process from start to finish.”
Gordon said it took “some serious creativity and ingenuity at times.”
Initially, home showings moved to virtual three-dimensional tours or video tours, with Realtors working with other industry professionals. When interested buyers were allowed into homes, many showings required masks, gloves, removing shoes at the door, using Clorox wipes to open and close doors with limited touching, and sometimes a signed waiver.
FaceTime and Zoom were used with taping capabilities to send to buyers.
Homes were still able to be sold and the market picked back up, creating what Waller referred to as an “ideal scenario for sellers to get top dollar for their properties.”
Despite home sales still being down across the state, Virginia Realtors predicts the market will see a “significant upturn” during the summer months.
May sales showed 10,411 homes were sold across the state, which is down 20.5% from the same time last year, with the biggest drop in the northern region of Virginia. Inventory of available homes dropped, too, and there were only 26,828 active listings, which is down almost 14,000 as compared to numbers from the end of May last year.
“In my experience, we are about a month and a half behind, and though summer has arrived, we are still technically in the midst of the spring real estate rush,” Waller said. “I encourage all homeowners who have been pondering a move to contact their Realtor to learn how they might be able to take advantage of this unique market.”
Virginia Realtors’ Vice President of Communications and Media Relations Robin Spensierie said in a press release that "the constrained housing market is also a result of continued low housing inventories, not solely due to COVID-19 and the economic downturn.”
But “homes are selling very quickly, indicating that there are still many home buyers competing for listings," Spensierie said.
In May, homes sold in an average of 38 days in most markets across the state, she said. That number is about nine days faster than the same time last year.
Virginia Realtors Chief Economist Lisa Sturtevant said that as Gov. Ralph Northam continues to ease COVID-19 restrictions, buyer and seller confidence will continue to increase, leading to a possible uptick in market activity in June and the coming months.
“Also, the strong demand in the market that we saw prior to COVID-19 will still be present,” Sturtevant said. “Those who delayed purchasing their home this spring will be back in the market this summer.”
Waller expects much of the same.
“I've found that the pandemic has prompted homeowners and buyers to engage in serious soul-searching that has prompted them to now get off the fence and start planning the potential moves that they have been putting off for months or even years,” she said. “The real estate industry is typically a fascinating mirror to the current events of the world and this crisis has again revealed a similar reflection. And the 'mirror, mirror on the wall' is showcasing some very happy endings and new beginnings.”