Happy Passover. Like many families, Cliff, the boys and I had a "virtual Seder" sharing the holiday online with family in Marin, Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Oakland, and Santa Monica. Having spent the last four weeks "sheltering in place," it was great to see everyone's face, even if remotely (although it's tough to share macaroons virtually. Their loss.)
And while giving thanks around our respective tables, one of the big takeaways was how fortunate we are to be in a position where we CAN still share the holiday, due primarily to advanced technology. (Thank you Zoom.) So if we, as a society, are now forced to add Covid-19 to the list of "plagues" humanity has endured, how fortunate that, despite the Coronavirus, many of us can still stay fairly well connected to our family and friends and share what's truly important, both culturally and personally (but please don't put me on your chain-letter list; that's oversharing!)
And while both my boys have joined the ranks of the temporarily unemployed (at least we hope it's only temporary), Cliff and I are still actively working. Certainly, it doesn't look the same - we're both "house bound" - but it's work nonetheless and we are grateful for it, among many other things . . . . Likewise, Sarah, Jill, and I have been back and forth on the computer and on the phone keeping up to date and sending contracts and disclosures via Docusign, while disclosure packages go out via Disclosures I.O. How easy is that? (It's pretty easy; hardly simple, but easy.)
Five years ago, Realtors didn't work this way; we weren't exactly at the forefront of technology. The buying or selling of real estate was largely transacted in a conference room, at a house, or in a car. So had this pandemic emerged a decade ago, our business would have essentially come to a grinding halt. That's all changed. Through the magic of virtual realities, we can, and ARE continuing to market homes on behalf of our Sellers.
Moreover, we are adding new listings to the Spring Market's offerings, and perhaps most surprising of all, Buyers are actively engaged and are reaching out to take advantage of what's likely to now become a "Buyers' Market." Happily, in many cases, these Buyers seem to be extremely well funded, so they aren't particularly worried about any changes that may emerge on the lending side of the equation (and change is definitely afoot with respect to lenders). Welcome Buyers! They're "house bound" as well, but it's in a completely different way and that's a very good thing.
That being said, supply is practically non-existent, so Buyers will need to wait it out, just like the rest of us. By way of comparison, last year, as of April 10, 2019, 49 homes had transferred ownership in Piedmont. This year, that number sits at 17. Granted, Piedmont is a tiny marketplace, but throughout the Bay Area, sales are down a whopping 46%! That's hardly surprising given the stock market losses and the inability to freely move about, but the question is, "How do the numbers change once the SIP mandate is lifted?" (Your guess is probably as good as mine.)
But if I had to guess (and we're all guessing at this point), while some Sellers will pull back and some Buyers will no longer qualify, home sales will continue and should quickly gain strength once SIP is lifted. In fact, based on the phone calls I've been receiving, "home" is very much on people's minds, as is education. Good public schools continue to attract and Piedmont ranks high on the list of coveted public-school systems, and with good reason. I'm told that Piedmont didn't lose a single day once the SIP mandate forced school closures, quickly converting to online teaching, much to the chagrin of many of the students. Coronavirus or not, that's impressive and certainly appreciated by parents who are now forced to home school for the rest of the academic year. (My hat is off to you.)
And while the Spring Market is likely to contract, it's also true that buying opportunities should extend well into the Summer. In short, our listings may be delayed, but the majority of them will still find their way to the marketplace at some future point.
Will houses still sell for pre-Covid prices?
That's unlikely. With fewer Buyers in the marketplace - either by inaction or inability to now qualify for a loan - there's likely to be far less demand, and let's be frank, it's demand that fuels prices. So forget "strategic" pricing and list your home at a number you are willing to accept. Additionally, expect longer closing periods, the reemergence of Buyer inspections, renegotiations upon any new discovery, and more days on market before receiving any offers. In other words, we'll be kicking it "old school" and getting back to a place where Sellers and Buyers have far more parity at the negotiation table and where deals happen with more deliberation and less speed. (BTW, that's not neccessarily a bad thing.)
In short, get ready for a post-Covid market as well as a post-Covid World, adjust your expectations accordingly, and heed the Buyers that are "house-bound;" they're the "bird-in-the-hand." We're going to need these Buyers to get our economy back on track and our local economies funded. And while it won't be a quick or easy fix, as a nation, as a town, as a community, and as a family . . . we will recover. Of that I'm sure.
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Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 600 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.