In The News April 10, 2020

Which Way Is Up For Real Estate?

This trek of isolating in our homes marches on. Hopefully some of our sunny days have helped to break the monotony and stress of isolation and lifted your spirits as we stay home to stay safe.

The real estate market was put on the essential business/services list just a few days after we were told we weren’t an essential business. That said, social distancing and personal safety, along with restrictions on movers, photographers, contractors, inspectors and home stagers all slowed the market activity level dramatically. We’ve since seen a release of these various jobs to open back up, but we’ve still seen a market slow down. Despite the recent publication of March sales and pricing data, all showing a continued strong market, we did see a pullback in new pending sales, homes sold but not yet closed. I expect we’ll see lower figures for closings and pending sales as we get into May and see the April figures.

Real estate has never seen such a giant swing in momentum in such a short period of time as we’ve experienced in the last 4 months. We had a sluggish early fall, with increasing market times and slower than normal sales but a steep decline in homes for sale that went on into March. December saw a big jump in sales activity and a corresponding jump in home prices. The lack of inventory and high demand made for quite a frenzy of multiple offers and new price highs. January and February continued very strong, even into early March which showed 55-58% of homes selling above their asking prices and average market times of 15 days or less for much of our region.

Then Covid 19 came to roost in our area and across the country and the World. We saw stock markets plunge and housing freeze. Quite a change in a 3-4 month period. The stock market plunge created panic in the Federal Reserve Bank, and they started buying Mortgage Backed Securities which created more troubles in the mortgage market and nearly collapsed the Secondary Mortgage market. This pushed interest rates up from the 3.375% range to over 5% and many lenders pulled out of the market altogether.

Calm is restoring in the mortgage market due to The Fed changing their behavior and time passing to allow lenders to get their books and balance sheets back in synch. We’re also seeing some rebound in the stock market as we see improving optimism related to the Covid 19 virus. So, what about the real estate market? With so many job losses and business closures, where will home prices go in the coming months? I wish I knew.

Economists and predictions vary widely, mostly due to any lack of true certainty over the Virus influence and impact. Most of us are hoping to be released from our homes by early May and then see some jobs and earning power restored. Unemployment is understandably high, but hopes are that we can see this decline over the next few months when the economy is open. Unemployment won’t drop back to its 3-4% range, but hopefully back below 10% yet this year. Hope is all any of us have right now.

The recent sales data do show a broad range of home values selling and generally across the whole Puget Sound region, so I’m optimistic that we’ll see a generally strong rebound in home sales. Not likely the frenzy of this late winter and early spring, but still a lively market. We’ve had 1,999 closed sales in the last 20 days in King and Snohomish Counties. We’ve also had 1,347 Pending sales and 364 Pending inspection sales in the last 20 days. That’s a bit over 1700 sales in 20 days of limited mobility; fairly active against a backdrop of 4,164 homes for sale in these 2 counties.

Real Estate, shelter, is an essential human need, along with food and safety/security. It offers us both shelter and hopefully some improved sense of safety and security. This means there is always “a” market. Every market has some holes within it; specific property types, locations or price points that are not as active as others. That will be the case in this recovery too. What I’m focusing on is the strength of many of our larger employers, their employee counts, spending patterns and the overall physical health of our region. This will help us have a more balanced market and housing opportunities for all.

Our social distancing seems to be paying off, even if taking longer that we wanted. I hope we can see a steady improvement in our physical recovery, no delayed or unexpected spikes in incidence or severity rates, so that businesses can re-open, re-hire and start finding our balance again. We will need more of us to participate in the physical and economic recovery to keep housing stable and a driving force in our economy.

No one knows with any certainty when or what the ultimate recovery pattern will be but I think most of us will be happy if we can see home values maintain close to their peak values attained this winter and our continued recovery in the stock market and our business climate. I have no fear of the market stalling out; we just have too much demand. We may well see a very lively initial bounce as families try to find their new homes this summer, so they’re settled in for the coming school year. My hope is that we have seen more of a deferral in market activity than a loss in market interest, ability or demand.

Some potential home sellers won’t be coming on the market due to their personal economic circumstances but anyone wanting or needing to sell should still find an ample supply of buyers looking for their new home in your neighborhood, hopefully inside your front door. Let me know if you’d like to talk about your particular market, concerns and circumstances. I’m always glad to talk with you.

Stay safe, home and healthy. Hopefully we’ll all be celebrating our release on Cinco de Mayo!



Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash