Real Estate Adjusts to New Possibilities
“This pandemic has made us better,” Roberta Thompson, vice president of the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Board of Realtors (CCBR), told the Jamestown Gazette recently. “I am proud of our industry.”
Buying and selling a house have always been essential to American life. But finding a house that feels like home during a pandemic takes special skills. “The pandemic has forced us to do business differently,” Thompson said, but added that it has also created some new and interesting possibilities.
“Our season is at a peak and this is a phenomenal market,” said Darcie McLachlan, CCBR’s executive officer. “For anyone contemplating selling a home or a property, this is a fantastic time to do it. Even throughout this whole pandemic,” McLachlan added, “buyers are still wanting to buy.”
For the entire state of New York, the number of days a house sits on the market is up by 2.6 percent for the year. But in the CCBR region, days on market were down by a remarkable 14 percent in June and 16 percent for year-to-date. Locally, houses are moving fast!
To explain this, some agents speculate that country life during a pandemic has become more attractive than congested, big city life.
McLachlan offers another explanation. “This is a beautiful region with popular activities for every season, from ski resorts to scenic lakes for boating and fishing, national attractions like the Comedy Center and Chautauqua Institution, and a treasury of unique historic sites.”
One more reason, offered by CCBR’s President Dennis Pezzimenti, to explain why so many people are buying homes right now can be credited to some major employers in the area. He notes their excellent handling of the pandemic’s economic impact, for instance by avoiding layoffs and firings, and by producing products that remain in high demand.
Locally, realtors have recorded the same number of closings through June of 2020 as through June of 2019, though for New York State as a whole, closings are down by more than 18 percent.
In the City of Jamestown alone, 128 single family homes have already sold this year or are under contract for sale. For Jamestown Gazette readers in Warren, PA, as of 7/24/2020, there are 155 active homes for sale throughout Warren County, and a number of great “hot spots” for buyers are listed on county real estate websites.
McLaughlin especially credits local agents as great ambassadors for the entire territory.
Many recent changes threatened to restrict how realtors can handle the business of showing properties. But those measures are indispensable and are meant to keep the health and safety of the public at the forefront.
Agents have done their due diligence to learn how a home must be shown in the new environment, according to Kelly Patrone, treasurer of CCBR. Agents know how to help people feel comfortable in spite of limitations like the number of people who can enter a home together, and by helping buyers feel comfortable with masks, social distancing, and sometimes going a little beyond to please the seller, like removing shoes before entering. Agents also make sure all surfaces that a prospective buyer might touch have already been disinfected, and also offer home viewers disposable gloves.
“Everybody seems happy with the precautions,” Patrone added. “Folks are simply getting used to the fact that this is how we do business these days. It’s for everybody’s benefit.”
There was a point in time, however, when all home showings had to be done virtually. Buyers were willing to make offers on houses without ever even stepping inside them, according to McLaughlan.
As a result, realtors have created some new and interesting approaches that might even become permanent additions to their work long after the pandemic is past.
Realtors have come up with very creative solutions by adopting the benefits of technology. Thompson tells of a buyer from another state unable to leave home due to quarantine restrictions. That client, nevertheless, enjoyed a 1-hour, personal, individual tour of a Jamestown home via FaceTime, an Apple-based video-telephone system.
This and other methods, including Zoom, Skype, and more, have been available for years but the present travel limitations have elevated them to every-day tools that can look into every corner without the buyer ever leaving home.
Virtual tours bypass all inconveniences and limitations of masking, social distancing, and limiting the number of people inspecting a home. They can also save hours of travel time and expense.
A seller’s open house can also be made far safer and more efficient by virtual means and can be recorded for viewing at any time. This is also not entirely new, but agents, sellers, and buyers are finding creative, new ways to use it to everybody’s advantage.
National and state real estate associations have also started offering free training courses online to agents covering a wide variety of subjects. Locally, CCBR has developed a program specifically suited to the new opportunities, “How to Work Virtually in Today’s Environment.”
Need for Speed
Houses are selling unusually fast. “The day a house goes on the market is the day it can be gone,” McLaughlan warned buyers.
“My advice to buyers,” says Patrone, “if you see a listing you like, go see it quickly. I don’t like to advise people to make snap decisions, but prepare before you go to make your decision quickly. Homes are selling very fast.”
Some agents report four or five offers on a new listing within the first 24 hours and a sale almost immediately. “This market is good for sellers,” Patrone added.
Whether or not there is an increase in demand for any of the reasons mentioned, the reason that a strong sellers’ market has arisen seems to be a simple matter of supply and demand. The “housing inventory,” the total number of houses listed for sale, is lower than the number of buyers.
According to Pezzimenti, “The real estate market has exploded, it is a rare seller’s market. My advice to buyers is ‘move fast!’”
Go with the Pro
A home is often the most expensive purchase a person will make at any time in his or her entire lifetime, with the possible exception of a professional education. And like that education, that purchase may be done best with the help of an expert, a professional.
“My advice to buyers,” says Donna Breen-Fowler, board secretary at CCBR, “is get your ducks in a row.”
“Don’t try to sell your home by yourself,” Breen-Fowler added. Even the attempt to show a home safely and legally under the current pandemic regulations can create serious problems for a private citizen unaware of everything that has to be done now.
“Real estate agents have been selling homes for decades,” Breen-Fowler said. “They also know how to take the right photos and how to reach the highest number of qualified buyers immediately. They are in touch with the market. Even one “serious” but not-yet-qualified buyer can set a sale back by days or weeks for individual home owners attempting a sale-by-owner.
With homes selling so fast, a seller cannot afford the delay.
Follow the Money
This region once again beats the New York State average when it comes to sale prices. New York has registered an approximately 3.5 percent increase in sale prices statewide, a low but respectable figure. Within the CCBR region, however, the average home sale price for the year is up by 8 percent.
The mortgage interest rate for well-qualified buyers is also in an almost historically low 2 to 3 percent range.
“The other reason this is a wonderful time to sell a home,” according to Thompson, “is that with every listing receiving multiple offers almost overnight, some homes are actually selling above their listing price. This is the most brisk market I have seen during my 30 years in the business.”
Beware the Scam
CCBR offers Jamestown Gazette readers one more word of advice: Beware the Scam.
A small but aggressive group of imposters online are promoting themselves as a special class of realtor who can bypass a lot of rules, red tape, and competing clients. The scams are for rental properties, targeting prospective tenants (not buyers). They may suggest prospective renters can break locks to view homes privately, arrange private deals by wire-transfer of funds to special sites, and remove other realtors’ signs from lawns. Their websites may use pictures and data stolen from legitimate realtor websites.
Whether buying or selling, the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Board of Realtors, with offices at 303 W 6th Street in Jamestown, invites readers to call CCBR at (716) 484-9426 or visit https://www.ccbrmls.com/ to locate the right agent.