The residential real estate market, like many industries, feels the negative economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. But locally, it had not ground to a halt as of the beginning of April.
“I’ve listed two [houses for sale] this week, and I’ve got a third one coming possibly,” said Don Harris, Realtor with Wilmington-based residential real estate firm Intracoastal Realty, on April 7. “They’re all vacant so the people who have properties that are vacant and are ready to sell, want to sell or need to sell, we’re putting those on the market.”
And as in times past, the popular price range is still popular.
“Anything under $300,000 is going rapidly,” Harris said. “The dayson- market are in the single digits [for that price range] a lot of times depending on the house.”
The rates of showings for the state and locally are down, Harris said, but some people are still looking for homes to buy, particularly because of low interest rates.
Realtors are taking this spring’s selling season week by week because of the impact the coronavirus pandemic is having on the economy.
Home showings slowed during the first week of April in the Cape Fear region.
“If we look at our 2020 weekly average for the year, we’re down 34.5%,” said Anne Gardner, CEO of Wilmington-based Realtors’ association Cape Fear Realtors, referring to showings.
According to a CFR news release at the start of April, March began as a strong month for the Wilmington area.
In the tri-county region of New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender, the overall median sales price was up 5.7%, to $260,000, from March 2019, the release stated.
Closed sales increased 4.6% among all property types over last year as properties continued to sell quickly with an average of eight fewer days on market, according to the release. The pace of pending sales remained steady.
“By the second half of the month the effects of COVID-19 were apparent in housing market activity,” the release stated. “To prevent the spread of the virus, rapid changes were made in the way Realtors conduct business to protect the health and safety of their clients and customers.”
Changes have included limiting face-to-face interactions for real estate tasks whenever possible.
State and local groups lobbied to be deemed essential before more restrictions were put in place to help slow the spread of coronavirus COVID-19.
“Through the efforts of Realtor advocacy, real estate services, including brokerage, were declared essential under the governor’s stayat- home order,” said CFR President Tony Harrington in the release. “This order will allow pending transactions in our immediate area to continue without interruption.”
He added, “Realtors are taking actions every day to protect their clients and community while making sure that essential housing is available to everyone.”
Had certain essential pieces of the puzzle not been declared essential, real estate activity could have stopped altogether.
In addition to working as a broker and owning The Property Shop real estate firm in Wilmington, Harrington is also an appraiser.
“I’ve only had one property that a client said that they did not want me to come in the house. Others have given me the opportunity to get in the house. But of course I’m wearing face masks, gloves, the whole ball of wax. Doors are open and lights are on, so I don’t touch anything as I go through,” he said. “So as an essential service from the appraisal side, if I hadn’t been able to go in, that might’ve stopped the cog of the wheel moving.”
Other key players include the register of deeds, attorneys who facilitate closings and inspectors, to name a few.
“There’s so many different aspects to what lead up to making the transaction happen,” Harrington said. “And if we didn’t have all of us as essential services, the market would’ve stopped, and it would’ve been a huge economic impact.”
Gardner said state estimates put that impact of pending transactions statewide in March at $1 billion.
Even for the first week of this month, there appeared to be bright spots in local housing statistics, she said.
On April 9, Gardner said, “We still have a strong amount of pending business that already is coming in the pipeline for April.”
Realtors are doing more virtual showings, Harrington said.
“I think all of the firms are embracing and advertising that we can do more virtually ... We’re marketing it more now than we ever have been,” he said.
Harrington said he’s told his brokers, “We needed to be maintaining the safe guidelines and making sure if it’s at all possible that you can hold right now and not show properties in an environment where homeowners are still living in the residence and that we need to practice the guidelines that are out there or we’re going to lose the essential services label by not following the guidelines.”
As challenging as the new economy is for Realtors, it also presents some opportunities, Harris said.
“This is a time for us to do the chores in our daily business that we don’t normally do or we’re too busy to get to, like cleaning out the databases, reaching out to our sphere of influence and making sure they’re OK,” he said. “We’re not trying to contact our clients and trying to get them to sell … It’s all about care and concern.”
Harris and other Realtors in the local market are remaining optimistic about the future, even as it is unclear when stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines might be eased.
“We’re confident,” he said, “that once they allow us to open back up and start the economy going again, we think real estate is going to be an integral part of the recovery because of the pent-up demand for housing.”