Real Estate: Pandemic Safety

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The Verona real estate market is open for business: Homes are being listed, shown and sold. But as the outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 has upended our work, schools and shopping, so too has it altered the real estate industry. Brokers are taking many steps to keep their clients and their staffs safe as they facilitate the sale and purchase of homes for people who need to do that now. 

“There are still buyers that need housing and sellers that need to sell,” says Josh Jacobs, the broker of record at Hearth Realty Group. “We are still listing homes and showing them, with restrictions. I am optimistic that when the market does pick up that it will come back very strong. Interest rates should remain very low. And I know of several families that feel trapped in smaller apartments in New York that would give anything for a backyard.”

First, the restrictions. Realtors are heeding the state’s ban on gatherings so there are no in-person open houses right now. Andrew Mensch, the manager of the Verona office of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services New Jersey Properties, is using video conferencing technology to show houses. The sellers and their agent turn on Zoom and go from room to room narrating the features of the property. “Sellers walk through their house so you don’t have to,” he says.

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Hearth Realty Group has also turned to video. “We are arranging virtual walk through price opinions, staging and decluttering video calls and arranging for dumpsters and haul away services–all remotely,” says Jacobs.

Hearth Realty is doing some in-person showings, too, but with extra safety precautions, outlined on its website. Showings on occupied homes are limited to certain days of the week, and only buyers and immediate family members will be permitted in the house with the agent. Buyers must use seller-provided safety equipment like shoe covers, gloves and masks, and they must sanitize their hands before entering the property.

According to Mensch, as of earlier this week, there were 11 listings that had come on the Verona market since March 16, when Gov. Phil Murphy signed the executive order on social distancing to combat the virus. Eleven Verona listings–from all of the firms that operate here–have gone under contract, and there have been four closings. (New Jersey doesn’t allow digital closings like some other states, so the parties here have to resort to strategies like sitting in cars parked at safe distances.) But Mensch says that three of the 11 new listings have been withdrawn from the market.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, Mensch says that the Verona market had been on track to do as well as last year, which was the best year on record for real estate in New Jersey. Unlike the global financial crisis of 2007 and 2008, which sent real estate into a tailspin, the economy now had been booming and mortgage interest rates were highly favorable–3.5% for a 30-year fixed. Mensch believes that those fundamentals augur well for the market when the health crisis has passed. “Real estate,” he says, “will come back big.”

Coldwell Banker’s Lynne Mortimer agrees. She attended a webinar with valuation guru Jeff Otteau this week and shared these insights by email:

  1. Buyers who act now willbenefit as they will have 14% more buying power due to market conditions and ever lowering interest rates.
  2. Sellers who do not need to sell immediately should defer as summer/fall will likely be this year’s spring market.
  3. Properties listed now may experience a bidding war due to the lack of quality inventory. They should not turn offers away.
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“There is no question that we will experience recession conditions,” Mortimer says, “but the prediction with the stimulus packages, lowered interest rates, flattening of the curve and upcoming vaccine potential is that the market will come back and there will be pent-up demand by the second half of this year into next spring.”

Photo by Tierra Mallorca on Unsplash

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]

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