Can Pent-up Demand Save A Pandemic Year?

Written by Posted On Friday, 29 May 2020 05:00

 The national unemployment rate has soared to nearly 15 percent. Economists say it could take up to three years for the U.S. economy to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic - and existing-home sales, reports the National Association of Realtors, hit their lowest level in nearly a decade in April.   

  Yet a Kansas City home listed on Sunday last week had 11 offers in by Monday. There are agents in Plano, Texas writing seven to 10 deals a month - and one brokerage in Tucson, Arizona has charted five consecutive weeks of an increase in the number of pending escrows.

“Our agents are only now trickling back into the office,” said David Cooper, president and CEO, Better Homes and Gardens Kansas City Homes. “But they never stopped working during the worst of the pandemic, and our market has been fairly stable.” 

While sellers are still apprehensive, Cooper said, showings with even the strictest of safety restrictions draw buyers who are lining up to wait their turn. “If the increasing activity level is any indication, we’ll see a flood of listings in the third and fourth quarters just in time to meet pent-up demand.”

The Plano agents writing seven to 10 deals monthly do not reflect the average, but they underscore the fact that neither life or the industry is standing still, noted Keller Williams Plano broker/owner Mike Brodie.

“We are each in charge of our attitudes, Brodie said, citing Charles Swindoll’s poem of the same name. “’Life is 10 percent what happens to me, and 90 percent how I react to it.’ If you make 100 calls a week, reaching out to see how people are doing, what they might need, how you can help, you’ll find somewhere in there that Aunt Jane is moving and needs to sell her house, or a daughter is getting married and wonders what the condo market’s like.”

Brodie is no Pollyanna. Sales volume, units sold, and pending listings in April were down more than 20 percent, he said, and May figures will likely be close to that. “But activity is increasing daily,” he said. Like Cooper, he looks for, “a third quarter uptick, an amazing fourth quarter, and great momentum into next year.”

And at Long Realty in Tucson, where pending sales increased from a low of 310 in the week of April 15 to 457 in the week of May 11, CEO Rosey Koberlein expects a very robust second half.

“In a 60 day period, with a shelter-in-place order in place, one four-agent team had 28 new escrows, a team of three produced 27, and two individual agents had 17 new escrows each, Koberlein said, “and one of those agents never left her house!”

The spike in sales may reflect, in part, Lending Tree’s study of Google searches for ‘Homes for sale’ from March through April, which puts Tucson at the top of the list of 50 metro areas with the largest upsurge in home search interest. Consumer searches in Tucson, the study said, increased at an average of nearly 85 percent from the end of March to the end of April.

But Koberlein, like Cooper and Brodie, credits much of the firm’s achievement to the can-do spirit of her agents - a spirit, she said, “that had them reaching out, creating and posting very effective virtual tours and open houses, and living by the company’s operating slogan, ‘In distancing, we are close by.’”

Could a robust second half augur a year-over-year increase for Koberlein’s 950-agent firm?

“I won’t bet against myself,” she said. “Inventory is short, interest rates are at historic lows, and there’s a whole lot of pent-up demand to fill.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Thad Wong, co-founder of @ Properties in Chicago, the largest independently owned residential real estate in Illinois.

“People have now had two months at home, and for many who’ve been working from home while sheltering in place, ‘home’ has taken on new meaning,” Wong said. “They want more space, a nicer kitchen, a pool, a better view. Those who can afford it are ready to move. That includes a lot of millennials working from home, who are now realizing they can get more for their money if they buy than what they get as a renter.” 

While he has some concern about the loss of jobs that may keep some people out of the market, Wong sees interest and consistent momentum.

“We bottomed out a month or so ago at maybe 50 percent,” he said. “But we adjusted our financials very early on to reflect a 90 percent downturn, so the worst was better than what we expected and we’re recovering at a good clip.”

 Industry professionals have learned a lot, Wong noted, from the constraints over the last few months. 

“We’ve mastered the art of virtual showings - and of fewer wasted in-person showings,” he said. “We are closely in tune with consumer wants and needs, and better equipped to meet them. With an increasingly vibrant market and rock-bottom rates, we are bullish going forward.”

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Barbara Pronin

Barbara Pronin is an award-winning writer based in Orange County, Calif. A former news editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism and corporate communications, she has specialized in real estate topics for over a decade. She is also the author of three mystery novels and two non-fiction books.

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