If You’re Surviving Covid-19 Financially, This May Be a Good Time to Buy or Sell

Despite the best efforts of state, local and federal governments, there will surely be people who are suffering financial hardship and have had to put their dreams of homeownership on hold.  I wish them well as they dig themselves out of this terrible situation.

For those who are surviving Covid-19, however, and don’t get sick from it in the coming months, the continued record-low interest rates are making home purchase more attractive and more affordable.

As you’ve no doubt heard, the Federal Reserve has plunged hard into softening the impact of the virus and its attendant effects on the economy by reducing the Fed Funds interest rate used by banks to near zero. While this rate is unrelated to mortgage rates, we are also seeing those rates staying below 4% and approaching 3%, which is propping up the real estate market in a big way.

People who can afford to buy a home and have the income to qualify for a mortgage are getting off the fence. This is evident from how many homes are going under contract quickly, often with competitive bidding.

In the first 10 days of May, there were 2,306 homes within 25 miles of the State Capitol entered on Denver’s MLS. 615 of them were under contract by May 10th. Another 171 homes were entered as “Coming Soon” as of this Tuesday.

May 5-12 Stats within 25 miles of State Capitol

While that’s less than the first 10 days of May 2019, when 3,348 homes were entered on the MLS and 795 of them went under contract by May 10, it’s still an impressive amount of activity, and is probably due in part to the excellent mortgage situation.

Another factor that will stimulate purchasing among the wealthy is that the stock market has recovered more than half of its early losses due to the virus. That makes it more likely that investors would be willing to liquidate stocks to finance a cash purchase of real estate.

In April 2019, about 48% of homes sold at or above their asking price, and 46% of them sold in a week or less. This year’s performance is better. Of the homes that closed during April 2020, about 58% sold at or above their asking price, and about 62% sold in a week or less. Those statistics tell me that we have a pretty active sellers market, which stands in contrast to the gloomy economic situation caused by Covid-19.

It’s hard to believe that the real estate market will tank later this year if it is not tanking already.

I’m seeing that dynamic myself. As of this writing, all my own listings are either under contract or closed, including the Wheat Ridge home featured as “coming soon” a couple weeks ago.  That $550,000 brick ranch was only listed as “active” on the MLS last Tuesday, and showings didn’t begin until Saturday, but our first offer came in on Sunday, and it was under contract at better than full price by Tuesday morning.

New Listings and Showings Surged Last Week After Governor Eased Showing Restrictions

By JIM SMITH, Realtor(r)

Sellers who had been holding back during most of April put their homes on the market during the calendar week ending Saturday, May 2nd. And showings of listings also surged.

Listing Activity – 7 Days ending 5/6/20 within 25 miles of the Colorado State Capitol

Altogether, 1,648 homes within 25 miles of the State Capitol were listed on Denver’s MLS between Sunday, April 26th and Saturday, May 2nd. That’s pretty close to the 1,885 number entered on the MLS during the same 7-day period in 2019, and more than double the 819 homes listed two weeks earlier. (During the week of April 19th to 25th, only 993 homes were entered on the MLS.)

Of those 1,648 listings, 29 were withdrawn from the MLS by week’s end for unknown reasons, and 10 were entered as “sold” without ever being active. That still left 1,609 new active listings, 511 of which were already under contract by Tuesday noon. That’s significantly above the 405 homes that went under contract by the end of the same period last year.

By the deadline for this column at noon on Tuesday, 233 additional listings had been entered as “active” on Denver’s MLS. 

Not included in the 1,648 number are 176 listings that were entered on the MLS as “coming soon,” a status that didn’t exist until this year. One of those was my $550,000 listing at 2950 Jay St. in Wheat Ridge. It went “active” this week. Showings begin Saturday, May 9th.  There are more pix on the website.

So, while we can hardly say life is “back to normal,” the real estate business is certainly showing renewed signs of life. Frankly, I’m surprised at the size of this surge in listings and signed contracts.

Like most agents, I have many buyers who have given me their search criteria, and the MLS automatically sends them alerts of homes matching those criteria as they are entered on the MLS. In my case, I have nearly a hundred such email alerts in effect. Since Gov. Polis replaced “stay-at-home” with “safer-at-home,” which allows in-person showings to resume, I have seen a spike in the number of buyers clicking on the links for listings sent to them.  My listing at 1957 S. Taft Street in Lakewood saw five showings set on May 1st and 2nd alone.  With this week’s price reduction, I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes under contract quickly.

Listing agents are expected to take extra precautions to protect the health of both buyers and sellers under the “safer-at-home” guidelines. For example, there can be no overlapping showings, and only 3 persons (typically two buyers and their agent) are allowed in a listing at one time. Our showing service, ShowingTime, is enforcing these rules by not allowing overlapping showings to be set.

As a listing agent, it is my responsibility to sanitize a home between showings, which I do by using Clorox wipes on all hard surfaces that visitors might touch, such as door handles and light switches. I leave the lights on and most doors, including closet doors, open or ajar, so that touching them is minimized. If the home is not vacant, sellers can perform these safety functions themselves.

Buyers and their clients are asked to wear face masks and gloves and to wear booties, which they’re asked to take with them when they leave. By following these guidelines, agents and their clients can feel as safe as, or safer than, for example, at a supermarket.

What Will Be the Short- and Long-Term Effects of Covid-19 on Real Estate?

As I write this column on Tuesday, April 28th, the infection rate of Covid-19 seems to be leveling off, and the rule against in-person showings has been relaxed, although open houses are still banned.

The inability during much of April to show listings not only made it harder to sell homes, it also resulted in a reduction of roughly 50% in the number of homes being listed. Despite that, homes that were listed continued to go under contract quickly, thanks in part to good pictures and virtual tours.

It may be that the smart thing to do in April was to list your home. It was a matter of supply and demand — many fewer listings meant less competition for the homes that were listed, while buyers were apparently still willing to “pull the trigger.”  The key was to have good pictures and a narrated video tour because of the limit on showings.

I predict that there will be a bigger than usual surge of new listings in May and June, now that the no-showings rule has been relaxed. Although Denver and five other metro counties have extended their stay-at-home orders through May 8th, it was the Division of Real Estate and the state Attorney General’s office that were setting the rules about showings and open houses, and they don’t enforce local ordinances, so it’s expected that in-person showings will be happening throughout the metro area starting this week. Don’t, however. expect real estate offices to be open for walk-ins during this period.

So, what about the market going forward? The fact that mortgage rates are staying low, heading inexorably in the direction of 3% for a 30-year fixed loan, means that buyers are going to be supercharged as they go house hunting under fewer restrictions. There is pent-up demand, and there is also pent-up supply.

Nevertheless, we can’t ignore the near-depression economic conditions we face nationally in May. There will be many buyers not going back to work and unable to qualify for a home loan. However, the estimated 70% of Americans who were able to keep working from home or who had “essential” jobs, such as construction and health care, have been making good money — many earning overtime and/or hazard pay — and may want to reward themselves with a new home once things calm down.

So, while we real estate professionals have remained fairly busy during April,  I expect we’ll be even busier in May and throughout  the summer — especially as rules are relaxed. There will, however, be some subtle and not-so-subtle changes to the way we practice.

Most real estate agents were already accustomed to working from home, only going to their offices for floor duty, to handle paperwork, or to meet with buyers and sellers. Contract software has been online for a decade or more. We are used to emailing documents and having clients sign contracts electronically instead of on paper, which has served us well during the stay-at-home period. That will continue unchanged.

Showing appointments for nearly all MLS listings are handled by one company, ShowingTime, and increasingly the showings are being set online instead of speaking with an operator.

Where we will see the most changes will be with those activities that still require personal contact. Fist bumps and elbow bumps will probably replace handshakes long-term. We’re becoming hardwired as germophobes, I suspect.

Offices will be much cleaner. We’ll disinfect hard surfaces and wash hands more often. We’ll go back to having open houses eventually, but there may be fewer lookie-loos.

It will be a while before buyers want to ride in our cars, preferring to follow us to showings in their own cars.  I will continue to carry disposable gloves and Clorox wipes in my car, to use when showing homes.

More agents will learn to do their own narrated video walk-throughs of their listings, as Golden Real Estate agents have been doing for 13 years. And more buyers will look for those video tours and be more selective about the homes they choose to see.

In conclusion, real estate has shown great resilience during the pandemic thanks to how online the industry has already become, and I believe it will emerge from the current situation stronger than ever.

The Number of New Listings Remains Low, But They’re Selling Fast

Each week I have been checking the MLS to see how many homes are being listed afresh and how many are going under contract as the Covid-19 stay-at-home order remains in place.

In last week’s column I reported that during the 7-day period from Sunday April 5th to Saturday April 11th, a total of 819 homes within 25 miles of downtown Denver were entered on Denver’s MLS, This past week — from Sunday April 12th to Saturday April 18th — that number dropped slightly to 799.  Of those, 23 had already been sold privately, compared to 22 the previous week, so there were only 776 new active listings last week. Amazingly, 114 of those went under contract by Saturday, compared to 124 the previous week, despite stricter enforcement of the “no-showings” guidance from the Division of Real Estate. Another 74 of those new listings went under contract by Tuesday evening, April 21st.

Bottom line?  The roughly 50% drop in listings from previous years which we saw last week has become the “new normal” for the current situation in which in-person showings are not allowed until a buyer has signed a contract to buy a home.

This is actually a great time to list your home! The fact that so many buyers are still submitting offers without even seeing a home in person should inspire more sellers to offer their homes for sale. Just be sure you do it with a narrated video tour like we do for all Golden Real Estate listings.

Homes Are Still Selling

Each week I have been checking the MLS to see how many homes are being listed and how many are going under contract as the Covid-19 stay-at-home order remains in place.

For the weeks of March 22nd and March 29th, the market showed surprising resilience, with statistics comparable to prior years.  Now let’s look at the statistics for last week.

During the 7-day period from Sunday April 5th to Saturday April 11th, a total of 819 homes were entered on Denver’s MLS, REcolorado, within 25 miles of downtown Denver. Of those, 22 had already been sold privately, so there were only 797 new active listings. Of those, 133 were already under contract by Saturday.  A total of 25 were immediately withdrawn or expired, many of them likely because of the no-showings rule, which was issued that Monday.

This is a huge drop from the same 7-day period in 2019, when there were 1,631 new active listings, 227 of which had gone under contract by the end of the same 7-day period. 

In 2018, the numbers were similar, with 1,588 new active listings, 579 of which went under contract within the same 7-day period.

In 2017, the numbers were also similar, with 1,633 new active listings, 663 of which were under contract by the end of the same 7-day period. 

The numbers were equally impressive in 2016.

Bottom line? We are finally seeing about a 50% decline in new listings, but many of them are still selling quickly. Sellers who do list their homes may benefit from the lack of competition.

The Rule Against Showings and Open Houses Shouldn’t Hamper Home-Buying…

…that is, if the listing agent does what Golden Real Estate has done for over 13 years — create a narrated walk-through video of each listing.

Our narrated video tours are just like a showing. They are live action videos which start in front of the house (just like a real showing) and then go through the house and into the back yard, pointing out features as we go. 

Check out the video tours for any of our current listings at www.GRElistings.com to see what I mean. They really are like an in-person showing with the listing agent. For example, the video camera points down to the floor and up to the ceiling as I describe the hardwood floor or the sun tunnels which bring natural light into the home’s interior.

But, you say, you’re not going to buy a home that you can’t see in person.  Right? You don’t have to, because the rules allow for inspection once the buyer has signed a purchase contract. Your visit (presumably with an agent)  the very next day constitutes an inspection. That can be before you even have to deliver your earnest money check, since you may not even be under contract yet. The guidance from the Division of Real Estate says, “home inspections and final walkthroughs after a buyer has signed a purchase contract (emphasis added)… is also considered to be an essential part of the real estate transaction.” The buyer is not under contract simply by signing a contract that has not also been signed or countered by the seller.

That “guidance” from the Division of Real Estate was issued on April 9th and has not been updated as of April 18th, which is when I am updating this blog post.

Scott Peterson’s April 15, 2020 “Legal Bite”

However, Scott Peterson, general counsel for the Colorado Association of Realtors, maintains in a video recorded from quarantine on April 15th that the governor’s executive order prohibits any “marketing” that involves entry into a property – no photos, no video, nothing at all – without a contract in place. If that’s true, however, why isn’t it reflected in the April 9th guidance and why hasn’t that guidance been updated?

I tried Googling the governor’s executive orders and looked at his web page on www.colorado.gov/governor and saw only two executive orders on other matters and no link for all his executive orders. So, for now, I lack evidence of Scott Peterson’s claim and am relying on the April 9th guidance, which I keep checking for updates.

Therefore, a visit to the home by a buyer immediately after signing an offer to purchase the home does, in my opinion as a broker, comply with guidance currently in effect from the Division of Real Estate. Then, if the buyer is able to get under contract with the seller, he or she can schedule a second inspection by a professional inspector.

So, here’s a possible scenario: You look at the video tour of the patio home or the ranch-style luxury which you found at www.GRElistings.com. I guarantee you’ll have a pretty good sense of the home from viewing that video. You’ll experience the flow from kitchen to dining room, to family room, to back yard, etc., because you are being walked through the home. It is not a slideshow of different rooms, giving no indication of flow from one room to the next.

Let’s say you call me or your agent to submit a contract and let’s say that it is accepted by the seller. You’re under contract!  The typical contract has a 7- to 10-day inspection period. You schedule your personal inspection with your agent (or me, if you don’t have one) the next day, before delivering your earnest money check, which is typically due in 3 days.  You can terminate immediately if you have buyer’s remorse, and go back to looking at other houses.

If you don’t terminate, you still have a week to hire a professional inspector and submit a detailed inspection objection.

What if you’re a buyer, and there’s no such video for a house that interests you, but you don’t want to sign a purchase contract? I believe you’ve got three choices here.  One, your agent (me, for example) could ask the listing agent to create and provide a narrated walk-through video. Second, I could preview the home for you since the guidance make no mention of banning previews, and shoot my own rough-cut video tour of the home, post it as an “unlisted” video on YouTube and send you the link. Or, third and perhaps best, we could use Facetime, Zoom, or another app to have you see what I’m seeing as I walk you through the house. (NOTE: Scott Peterson believes that previews and videos shot by anyone other than the seller are not allowed. I just don’t have any documentation supporting that position.)

Therefore, while it may be inconvenient not to have an in-person showing of a listed home, there are work-arounds that can make it possible to get under contract and confirm your interest in the property before you are fully committed to it or put down any earnest money.

Finally, I’d like to note that many listings are empty and vacant.  I see no reason why in-person showings of those listings should not be allowed. I know that builders are letting buyers view their empty homes. Again, Scott Peterson maintains that empty homes cannot be visited either. Show us the actual orders from the Governor or guidance from the Division of Real Estate, Scott!

Newspaper Headline Gave a Distorted Picture of Real Estate Market Under Covid-19

“Hundreds of sellers pull their homes off market,” read the lead headline on the Business page of last Friday’s Denver Post, but the first sentence of the article noted that “thousands [of sellers] went the other way, rushing to list their homes before a major downturn made a sale tougher to achieve.”

The reporter was referring to March statistics quoted by the chair of the market trends committee of the Denver Metro Association of Realtors.

Let’s look at the actual numbers. Yes, 184 listings that were entered during the month of March were “expired” on the MLS by month’s end. Another 443 listings were “withdrawn,” which means the listing agreement is still in effect, but it is not displayed on the MLS until it is made “active” again.

However, 3,525 listings entered last month are already under contract as I write this on April 5th, and another 467 listings have already closed.  Of the ones that closed, 179 were sold before being entered on the MLS, and of the 308 that were exposed to MLS users as active and had already closed by this past weekend, only 13 took longer than a week to go under contract.

 As I write this on April 5th, there are still 4,289 listings that were entered on the MLS during March and are still active.

So, yes, 184 sellers decided not to sell during March, but 8,122 sellers made their homes active on REcolorado during March and did not withdraw or expire them. Another 443 sellers kept their listing agreement active but without exposure on the MLS.  Presumably their listing agents can still sell those listings privately, perhaps keeping their entire commission instead of having to share it with a buyer’s agent.

So the headline was sort of accurate.

By the way, unless the practice has changed since I was a reporter at the Washington Post and then a headline writer at the New York Post, reporters have no say in the headlines that appear above their articles. Instead, a headline writer on the “copy desk” reads the article briefly and writes a headline that fits the assigned character count. As a result, sometimes the headline doesn’t truly reflect the gist of the article, and that may be the case with last Friday’s article.

From the New York Post, I went on to publish several community newspapers in New York City and instructed my reporters to write their own headlines, not knowing what the character count had to be, so the editor had the reporter’s headline as a guide as he rewrote it to fit. 

Getting back to real estate — sorry, I had to vent! — here are the numbers from March 2019:

A total of 7,968 listings were entered as “active” during March 2019, which is fewer than this year, even if you include the 70 listings that were withdrawn by month’s end.  So, not only was the headline misleading, but this March showed increased activity over March 2019.

The fact that 70 listings were expired prematurely in a “normal” month suggests that not all 184 expired listings this year should be attributed to Covid-19.

The market was “hotter” last year, in that over 400 of that month’s listings went under contract in less than 7 days compared to just under 300 this March.

I invite any and all reporters writing about real estate statistics to let me fact check their conclusions prior to publication. And suggest your own headlines!

Can you tell that I enjoy statistical analysis?