How COVID-19 is affecting local real estate

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Like so many industries, the challenges arising from the coronavirus pandemic have caused those of us in real estate to be creative and innovative. The buyers who were in the market several weeks ago are still looking for their new address, and sellers are still counting on literally moving on.

The Northwest Multiple Listing Service made the prudent decision to curtail posting open houses even before the state order to stay at home. Properties already in escrow are making their way to successful closings as title and escrow companies are deemed “essential” services under the financial category. Their staff continue to serve us and our clients while utilizing communication technology. Realtors are now appreciating the value of virtual tours and professional photos allowing consumers to research, explore and evaluate homes online and be poised to take action when the current restrictions are safely relaxed. In some cases, offers are being made, accepted and headed to escrow totally online.

In essence, while real estate is paused on the ground, the cloud is allowing commerce to continue even if at a reduced pace. Platforms like Authentisign and DocuSign allow us to gather contractual signatures as approved by the state to seamlessly move purchase and sale agreements through the process, and “wet” signatures at closing are being conducted with careful social distancing practices having been implemented by title companies and notaries.

A very common question realtors are being asked: What will happen with property values as a result of the current economic climate? While a clear percentage up or down would be impossible to predict at this point, we do know that we entered this crisis with low inventory and increasing numbers of out-of-area buyers arriving. Now construction has been stalled but the buyers who were looking a few weeks ago are still looking and planning to move here.

Surprising to all in the industry locally is that the pending totals did not ease in the first couple weeks of the stay-at-home order. That will certainly change as a result of business closures, job losses and as consumers’ financial brakes are applied. One day, when this is behind us and hopefully soon, it would seem logical that homeowners would place added value on living in smaller communities with less density and easy access to wide-open spaces. The home (or nest) became much more important after 9/11 and we saw a very quick rise in interest in places like Blaine and Birch Bay. This will likely repeat once again.

The coronavirus will probably not make living in highly packed and stacked housing located in large cities as attractive as before. Consider the thousands of companies and employees who have now switched to telecommuting. These factors provide a backstop for our local real estate market, but it’s important that, whenever possible, we all support our local businesses including this newspaper, which in turn will be supporting our neighbors so that they too can continue to realize and retain the American dream of homeownership.

Mike Kent is a realtor with Windermere Real Estate. Every Saturday at 10 a.m., he hosts the weekly “Radio Real Estate” program on 790 KGMI.

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