Real Estate in the Time of COVID-19
By: Renee Cohen
We’re starting Week 4 under the Shelter-in-Place order. The past three weeks have ushered in a range of emotions for everyone – everything from exhilaration during a bike ride on a beautiful spring day to despair while watching the news, only to hear the number of COVID-19 cases climbing exponentially higher day after day. Facebook posts have compared what we’re dealing with to a grief process, and these posts, unfortunately, are not far off. For a quick refresher, the stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. There is not a linear or formulaic way to progress through the stages, and we are all feeling all five of these stages to different degrees and at different times during this unprecedented time in our lives.
Every person and every industry the world over has been impacted in some way, and the real estate industry is no different. The rules seem to change daily, and the messages run the gamut from “it’s business as usual” to “the market is crashing”; when describing the impact to real estate in the Denver market, neither statement is accurate. So what is factual in terms of real estate right now? It’s a question being asked by everyone, both those in the market to buy and/or sell and those who are just curious.
For buyers, it is still possible to buy a home in this market, although it’s different from what you may normally expect. When you’re buying, you must continue to be respectful of social distancing in order to minimize your risk of coming in contact with COVID-19. If you are in a situation where you must buy – and there are plenty of those buyers out there – it is still possible to see homes. But, there is a lot of “homework” that can be done prior to seeing a house in person in order to determine whether or not the property is worthy of an actual showing. For example, technology has improved dramatically in recent years and “dollhouse” virtual tours offer the capability of showcasing a house extremely well, to the point of one step below actually being inside. Map searches can show potential buyers exactly where the house sits on the lot, what it backs to, and whether or not the driveway faces a specific direction, and a drive-by can go a long way in revealing views and disclosing any road noise. If – after all this homework is completed – the house still seems like an excellent prospect, then an in-person showing would be deemed appropriate at that point.
And, if in fact it has been determined that an in-person showing is warranted, the buyer and the agent need to take precautions, including wearing rubber gloves, refraining from touching anything that doesn’t need to be touched, and in the case of multiple showings scheduled simultaneously, only going into a house one group at a time.
There are implications for sellers as well. As buyers, it is still possible to sell a house in the current market, but it also may be drastically different from selling in a previous market. If you need to sell your house soon, or if you are already on the market but not yet under contract, there are precautions you need to take as well if you are allowing buyers into your home. First, make sure you’re asking showing guests to remove their shoes, use hand sanitizer before entering, and wear rubber gloves while in your home. You should turn on all lights and open all doors in order to minimize showing guests touching anything unnecessarily in your home. Finally, you should wipe down and disinfect your home – especially door handles – after the last showing of the day. Additionally, be prepared for showing activity to be less than what you might expect during this time of year because a portion of the buyer pool has delayed their search.
If you decide to delay your plans to sell, now is an excellent time to get your house ready for the market; clean it out, stage it as best you can, and have the photographs taken so that when the shelter-in-place and social distancing orders are lifted, you are ready to go on the market immediately.
While the real estate market is currently slower than what we would normally see during a spring season, it’s not ceased completely and there is still activity out there. Think of the market as a “V” – we saw a sharp decline in activity when the shelter-in-place order came out and some buyers did back out of their purchase contracts either out of fear or due to unexpected unemployment; we will hit a low at some point soon, but we expect a sharp increase and bounce-back once the shelter-in-place order is lifted. And, once that happens, hopefully, we’ll see additional inventory from the sellers currently in a holding pattern.
Just like we’re experiencing the range of emotions trying to manage our every-day lives in our new normal, real estate is no different. That being said, we will take things day-by-day, we will persevere, and we will come out stronger on the other side. While it’s not “business as usual”, neither is the sky falling, and we’ll have to watch and see how the next few weeks play out, both in real estate and in life in general. Stay safe out there!