Spring is almost always the strongest time of year to sell a property: buyers awaken from their winter slumber, all seeming to need to buy at the same time, and homes sell fast and sell high. For agents and sellers, spring is normally a season of plenty.
In the era of coronavirus, however, the market has undoubtedly changed. With government guidelines against gatherings and open houses, the traditional marketing process that is based on getting as many visitors as possible to a listing is turned on its head. One would think the real estate market would never survive such changes, and that prices would be in free-fall.
But interestingly, that is not happening. In fact, prices are, for the most part, holding steady. Many properties are getting multiple offers. Buyers are, indeed, still buying, and closings are still taking place. Perhaps, to the real estate market, COVID-19 might be just a mild cough after all?
Not so fast. It turns out, the effects are a bit of a mixed bag. Regulations restricting showings and open houses, and new procedures that agents and buyers are taking to protect their own health are having a negative impact on many types of properties. This is exacerbated by a tightening of lending in the investor community and an overall sense of caution for properties that are not thought of as mainstream. Some properties, like the recent listing at 142 Kentucky Av., S.E. in Capitol Hill, listed by my colleague Kara Johnson, received three offers and sold in just 4 days. Another move-in ready home at 3206 5th St., S.E. reportedly received 17 offers on April 1. But other properties, like a four-unit townhouse listing we have at 15th Street and U Street for $1.699M, and an enormous Mount Pleasant fixer-upper, are not getting many showings.
Kara, a long-time agent at Keller Williams Capital Properties, attributes her success to the character of the property, its price and the desirability of the location. “It just fits for so many buyers out there. It was a great price and it was move-in ready,” she said. The four-unit, more interesting to investors, attracts a smaller pool of buyers, most of whom would see that investment as non-essential, and possibly more risky, so… crickets. From this experience, it seems that this could be an excellent time to negotiate a great price for investors who have cash and aren’t afraid of our long-term prospects.
The nation’s largest real estate showing tool, ShowingTime, reports that showings in our area are down 70.9% from this time last year. Yet prices have held steady for the market overall. So how are the “mainstream” properties getting buyers in the first place? The process has changed. Tyler Smith, on the Bediz Group team at Keller Williams Capital Properties, recently showed our clients a property in Woodley Park. “It all starts online,” Smith said. “Most good listing agents are spending the extra money for fully interactive, immersive 3-D video tours, which gives buyers a very good sense of the house before they ever leave their couch.”
That technology, developed by a company called Matterport, allows users to tour a home from their computer and see every corner, every angle and basically every detail from their phone or computer. “Once my clients saw all the properties out there online, they only wanted to see one or two in person,” Smith continued. And by altering the normal showing procedure, from driving separately to those two properties, to bringing hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray for doorknobs and lockboxes, to maintaining as much distance on the tour as possible, it seems a showing can be done safely after all.
Once a property is under contract, the process changes a little bit more, but not noticeably. Brock Thompson, also on the Bediz Group, recently had a client go under contract for a condominium in Foggy Bottom. Once the buyer left the initial tour, he and Brock were never face-to-face again. The inspector was able to inspect the unit without interacting with Brock or the listing agent. The appraiser did what is called a “drive-by” appraisal, in which he or she relied on internet-based data, including photography from the listing, to confirm the value of the property. Everyone involved could work on their own. In fact, the buyer didn’t have to meet anyone in person again, until his settlement date. “My client is thrilled he could still realize his 2020 goal of home ownership, and stay safe and keep others safe at the same time,” Thompson said.
The settlement process itself has also changed, albeit slightly. Rob Rothstein, a title attorney at Paragon Title & Escrow, developed an ingenious way of keeping buyers and his staff safe during this pandemic: drive-through settlements. While his office, in the heart of Logan Circle, is convenient enough, he knew that buyers, sellers and those refinancing would want to be able to do their business with as little human interaction as possible. He arranged to have all documents sanitized and brought to their customers in their car as they waited in front of his office. Once they complete signing and presented their identification cards, he is able to notarize the documents, then scan copies to them. For cash deals and with limited banks, he can even perform settlements using an “e-notary” service that eliminates the need for clients to even leave their homes. “Electronic signing isn’t here yet for most real estate settlements,” Rothstein said, “but perhaps one good thing that could come out of this is greater pressure to allow for it.” Currently, electronic closings are not accepted by most mortgage lenders and jurisdictional recorders of deeds, but laws and lender requirements have been loosening slightly.
All in all, our experience shows that as a buyer, you may have an opportunity to buy with less competition at the moment, but just as in any market, the most appealing properties are likely to get multiple offers. Savvy investors, handy homeowners and cash buyers might be able to get a better deal on properties that don’t appeal to mainstream buyers. And anyone concerned about safety can rest assured they can complete the journey to homeownership with little risk of infecting themselves or others in the process.
David Bediz is the 15-year veteran leader of Bediz Group, LLC, a boutique real estate team at Keller Williams Capital Properties in Dupont Circle. He is licensed in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and the District and can be reached at bediz.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and 202-352-8456.