Nothing personal, but ‘don’t come here’
How social distancing is changing NH real estate norms
Bonnie Miles has been selling real estate for 35 years and has seen just about everything, but she never envisioned the day when she was not invited to a property closing.
Miles, with Coldwell Banker in Claremont, had two closings scheduled in early April and was told not to come to either one.
“The buyer was to go in and do their part. Then the seller would go in and do their part,” Miles said, explaining how one closing was completed.
In the other closing, the seller completed the paperwork with their lawyer in Claremont and then sent the envelope overnight to the closing company in the Upper Valley.
“They told me, ‘Don’t come up here,’” said Miles, who has been working from home since mid-March. “But I understand. It is a whole new world now. I don’t want to get sick either.”
Normally, a closing is a cordial affair, when ownership of the property officially changes hands. The buyer, seller and agents gather in a room to sign everything, and there may also be the lender and settlement company doing the closing.
“It is time for a celebration,” said Brian Whipple, who is also with Coldwell Banker in Claremont and has been selling real estate since the early 1980s. “The seller usually will share with the buyer the uniqueness of the home. Now it is anticlimactic.”
Whipple said at a recent closing in Bedford for a Claremont property everyone was wearing masks and gloves.
“It is all very odd, very different,” Whipple said.
It is nothing personal, but rather another example of how the Covid-19 pandemic and social distancing have forced a reset of all the rules governing how we associate both professionally and personally.
Miles and Whipple both said they have seen listings and business trail off in recent weeks as sellers don’t want people in their house and buyers don’t want to go in other houses, which has led to the development of virtual house tours online.
With no certainty as to how long the pandemic will last or the stay-home orders will remain in place, Realtors still say they remain optimistic that whatever slowdown the market experiences, it will be short-lived.
Suzanne Damon, CEO of Damon Home Team with Re/Max Insight in Manchester, predicts a sharp decline with an equally rapid recovery, similar to a V.
“I know the second quarter (April, May and June) will stink, but going into the third will be the bottom of the V and then a comeback in the fourth quarter.”
Damon, who has been involved in closings in parking lots and in rooms with everyone six feet apart, said when the effects of the coronavirus first began to impact daily life, her group immediately implemented protocols to allow business to continue while adhering to social distancing recommendations and everyone’s safety was ensured.
“We wanted to pivot immediately,” Damon said, listing some of their practices, including virtual home tours, online or e-closings and Zoom meetings with the buyer and seller present.
Other agents are quickly adapting by using more technology to bring parties together and show homes. They have taken the required steps to ensure everyone’s safety and are respectful of everyone’s comfort level.
‘Great time to be a buyer’
A recent survey by the New Hampshire Association of Realtors gives a glimpse of what may lie ahead, but the results do not reflect the full impact the virus could have.
March housing data does not take into account the virus’ effect, as most of those sales were nearly completed, but April will likely look different, said Marc Drapeau, NHAR president, in a news release.
“What I’m hearing from our members is that when they have a seller listing or a buyer looking, they’re typically not just testing the market but serious about making a move,” said Drapeau, who reported that he is still seeing cases of multiple offers. “It feels like more of a wait-and-see than an outright stop. The $64,000 question, and one that we aren’t prepared to answer with any certainty at this point, is just how long a pause.”
The number of single-family residences on the market at the end of March was 25% lower than a year ago, according to NHAR. Another indicator of an impending slowdown was in the survey with almost 70% of the 684 respondents stating buyers were delaying a home search and 63% had sellers “postponing bringing new listings to the market.” Only 13 percent said they experienced no impact from the coronavirus
On the positive side only 16% of the Realtors in the survey said they had sellers taking property off the market completely.
Drapeau believes that, in the big picture, fewer people are dropping out of the market altogether than are simply taking a break during the height of the pandemic, the news release said.
During a video conference call with several commercial and residential brokers on April 10, the tone was a mix of optimism and uncertainty.
“I see opportunity for both buyers and sellers,” said Bill Weidacher with the Fine Homes Group in Bedford.
Though unemployment will be a concern in the months ahead, those who are secure could do well, the brokers said.
“If you are confident in your job, this is really a great time to be a buyer in this market,” said Chris Masiello, president and CEO of The Masiello Group of Better Homes and Garden Real Estate.
When asked what the impact of the virus will have on the market, the brokers said that it will take two months at least before anyone really knows.
“I think May will be a month we will get a better indication,” Masiello said.
The brokers also concluded that when the pandemic finally passes, virtual home tours, desktop appraisals and e-closings will become more commonplace.
Miles and others all shared a long view that predicts a solid real estate market in the second half of the year.
“Once it picks up again, I think the second half of the summer will take off,” she said. “People are just holding off now.”
This article is being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.