Still a seller’s market in MetroWest, Milford area despite slowdown in the real estate market due to coronavirus pandemic

The following article, quoting ERA Key President and COO Cheryl Eidinger-Taylor, appeared in The MetroWest Daily News and The Milford Daily News on May 28, 2020.

By Alison Bosma

When Framingham-based real estate agent Kathy Foran shows potential buyers a house, she suits up with a mask, gloves and even protective booties.

“That’s a no-brainer,” the 30-year industry veteran said. “That’s required.”

Sellers are also asked to leave open interior doors, like closets, and leave lights on, to help agents and house hunters avoid touching anything, and potentially picking up COVID-19.

“A vacant home has certainly been a hot commodity right now,” said Cheryl Taylor, president and CEO of ERA Key Realty Services of Northbridge, which oversees several offices in the Milford and MetroWest region.Cheryl Taylor

That’s because it means no one who potentially has the virus has been in the house lately, she explained.

Though agents have modified how they do their jobs, the business of buying and selling houses has continued throughout the coronavirus pandemic, as one of the state’s essential industries.

“I spent most of the weekend in sellers’ homes and ended up with over 10 offers, I think,” Taylor said, adding that sale prices have not dropped. “It’s an amazing time to sell right now. .... As long as you’re comfortable, and you can do it safely and without putting yourself at risk.”

Low inventory, meaning there aren’t nearly enough houses for sale as there are buyers, was a known issue before the pandemic. It’s still a seller’s market, even though sales are down sharply, compared to where they were this time last year.

Residential real estate: What to expect

Home sale prices will remain high, and bidding wars could continue. There are not as many homes on the market as there are people looking to buy, and that’s not an issue going away anytime soon. Supply and demand basics make that a seller’s market, though prolonged unemployment could affect that formula eventually.

Buyers, don’t despair. Low mortgage rates mean buyers might have more wiggle room to get that sought-after home.

Expect more virtual options. Not sure about a house that’s hours away, or want to save some drive-time when meeting with your agent? Virtual options that allow for social distancing will likely continue to be used once the pandemic is over.

April’s pending sales took a 47% nosedive in Massachusetts, according to data from Peabody-based real estate analytics firm The Warren Group. May is shaping up to be a little better, at just under 30% down from last year’s May.

“I guess I would characterize it as sort of a shame. We were doing so well. I guess that’s generally true of the entire economy,” company CEO Timothy Warren, Jr. said. “The spring market was really shaping up to be one of the best in years.”

Local real estate agents characterize the drop as a delay in the annual springtime boost in residential transactions, rather than a harbinger of bad times to come.

“All those listings that were supposed to come in March, April, May, we’re probably going to see them come in June, July and August,” Foran said.

Taylor said she thinks the market will “level out.”

That’s on par with forecasts from national real estate companies, Warren said, which predict anywhere from a half a percent decline to a 1 percent increase over the previous year’s transactions.

“I think we have reason to believe this real estate market won’t suffer as it did in the Great Recession,” Warren said, “just because they haven’t gotten crazy.”

He’s cautious, though. It took six years for median home sale prices to recover after the 2006 crash.

Current market speculation is based on the idea of a recovery, statewide reopening, and no resurgence of the virus, Warren and real estate agents said.

If COVID-19 cases spike again, all bets are off.

Past the year, real estate agents say some of the virtual options the pandemic compelled them to experiment with could result in more enduring changes, even after they can take off the masks and booties.

“I think ... the consumer is always looking for these conveniences, and we’ve seen that time and time again over the years,” Taylor said.

Those include virtual walk-throughs of a house, such as potential buyers watching on FaceTime while a real estate agent tours the house alone with her cellphone, and virtual meetings with the agent.

“In some ways, some of these virtual meetings make it possible to have a very personal meeting,” Taylor said, “without the consumer having to drive to the office or the agent driving to the seller’s home.”

Foran said the need to do away with open houses and schedule private, individual tours has opened her eyes to the pros and cons of both types of showings, where once the open house reigned supreme.

“Houses have been selling very fast even without open houses,” she said.

Warren said he’s also heard speculation that the coronavirus pandemic, which hit densely-crowded cities hard, might spark an urban exodus.

He doesn’t think that will happen, though.

“I don’t really subscribe to that,” he said, noting that jobs are in the city. “People may be worried about public transportation, but they don’t want to be an hour drive from a good paying job.”

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