WINCHESTER — The coronavirus outbreak has cast uncertainty on many markets and the local real estate is not exempt.
Beth Medved Waller, an associate broker with Keller Williams Realty, has been talking with other local real estate agents about how the COVID-19 pandemic has been affecting the housing market and what changes, if any, can be implemented.
“Showings on my listings have drastically slowed since Friday the 13th [in March], but I’m encouraged by the buyer and agent calls I’ve received (recently),” Waller said. “I’ve only ratified two contracts in three weeks, but have renewed hope that as we navigate our new normal, buyer activity will increase. I expect to start seeing virtual showings more and more and anticipate having offers from buyers who haven’t physically toured that will include the sights unseen and new COVID-19 addendums.”
Waller shared that numbers from Bright MLS show that housing inventory levels throughout the region are down.
A breakdown of regional data as of Wednesday showed:
Frederick County: 12 units coming soon; 342 active; 252 under contract/pending; 73 closed since March 13; 25 temporarily taken off the market; and 11 withdrawn since March 13.
Clarke County: one unit coming soon; 54 active; 28 under contract/pending; 12 closed since March 13; nine temporarily taken off the market; and three withdrawn since March 13.
Winchester City: four units coming soon; 53 active; 44 under contract/pending; 15 closed since March 13; nine temporarily taken off the market; and 15 withdrawn since March 13.
Shenandoah County: six units coming soon; 171 active; 112 under contract/pending; 45 closed since March 13; 15 temporarily taken off the market; and six withdrawn since March 13.
Warren County: six units coming soon; 181 active; 103 under construction/pending; 43 closed since March 13; 14 temporarily taken off the market; and nine withdrawn since March 13.
“All of us are walking into an unknown time. Realtors and the Association are trying to figure out how to adapt and change. We are still very low on inventory, houses are still selling and our affiliates and members are working on adjusting the way they do business as well,” Cindy Greenya, president of the Blue Ridge Association of Realtors, said. “People still need to buy and sell houses, people are still moving. Now is just a time for us to adjust and change, and at some point in the future life will go back to normal, we just don’t know when that will be.”
Waller said many agents are urging their clients to not delay in getting their home on the market and to go through the process as planned. Greenya said that buyers have more limited options on the market right now but interest rates remain low.
Just this week, interest rates on a 30-year fixed mortgage dropped from 3.87% to 3.64%.
Some agents continue to do in-person showings between buyers and sellers while respecting social distancing practices. But others have taken to showing only vacant properties or doing virtual showings.
“My biggest concerns are for the welfare of our clients and their families. While our job is to sell real estate we are still obligated by our code of ethics to keep the best interest of the client at the forefront,” Sharon Cales, an agent with Remax, said. “Knowing that there may be a silent killer on the doorstep makes it more difficult than ever before. As an industry we are being told to disinfect the surfaces, stop hand to face contact and keep washing our hands. My concern is that this is not enough. Some still appear to think this is a hoax or overkill, Realtors included.”
Virtual showings can be just as beneficial as in-person showings for the buyers, sellers and agents involved, Mike Cooper, principal broker with Cornerstone Business Group, said.
“With technology, you can see a home pretty thoroughly with a cellphone. With many modern MLS photo options, Realtors are able to upload so many pictures to show off their listings it’s almost like being there,” Cooper said. “With the additional technologies, you can see things live, ask questions, have areas of special interest displayed beyond the online photos. A few years ago, I sold three houses and the buyers and one seller never came to my community. It’s a great time to be in this business. Make sure you have permission to use live video if the home is inhabited.”
Cooper said if a client is interested in making an offer on a home during what is considered a quarantine period, a contingency that permits a walk-though approval of the contract at the earliest opportunity can be granted, which could release a buyer from the contract at no penalty.
“With good communication between agents and buyers and sellers, there is always a way to make things work,” Cooper said.
It’s been tough on clients trying to make those decisions, some agents said.
“The phones are very quiet, and although I am continuing to touch base with buyers and sellers, the return calls are not coming in. People seem to be very concerned,” Cales said. “Last week, nobody knew anybody affected, but now everybody seems to know somebody being tested or positive for the virus. Listings are almost down to nothing also. Sellers don’t seem to know which way to go.”
If you had planned on selling but are leery of the current situation, agents recommend talking with them about options. In the meantime, Cooper said sellers can use downtime to get their home ready to sell with these tips: Declutter, clean, don’t perfume the air, fix everything, don’t try to outsmart the home inspector, make your house a museum, paint, make the floors the star of the show, hire professionals for critical work, get an accurate assessment and price your home right.
While future months’ data will be hard to predict, Realtors are working to stay positive and find innovative ways to meet the needs of their clients.
“The real estate industry is the most resilient industry in the world. We work in an ever-changing landscape in an ever changing world, and it changes very quickly sometimes. From economic impacts, legislative requirements, dealing with influxes of foreclosures and short sales, etc, etc.,” Jim Clark, broker and owner of Main Street Front Royal’s Exit Premier Reality, said. “We real estate professionals weather the storm, time after time after time. Coronavirus is another storm. It’s a big scary storm. But we are adapting. From virtual showings, video conferencing with clients, and we’re even working on e-closing so clients don’t have to sign their settlement docs in person. We will get through this, just like we have every other time, every other storm. We’ll be stronger and better for it. Because we are all in this together.”
For more information about the real estate market during the coronavirus, visit: www.virginiarealtors.org/coronavirus. Many agents also have blogs or videos on their website answering frequently asked questions.