More houses sold in March 2020 in Hall County than the previous year, even as the coronavirus started to spread in Georgia.
But Judy Presley, Hall County Board of Realtors president, doesn’t expect as sunny a report when April numbers are released by Georgia Multiple Listing Service in May.
“We have sellers who don’t want us in their house and have taken (homes) temporarily off the market,” said Presley, who is with Keller Williams Realty.
The COVID-19 pandemic has jolted the housing market, leaving real estate agents scrambling to find ways to show houses, hold closings and just generally go through the selling/buying process.
For agents working through these tough times, Presley has this advice: “It’s a good time to call your past clients, check on them. They probably will appreciate the phone call and will want to talk to somebody.”
Early on, “the scare of (the pandemic) was keeping anybody from looking,” said Dianne Hicks of eXp Realty. “My listings didn’t have any showing requests and my buyers weren’t asking to go see anything.”
“But then, after a couple of weeks, even after they asked us to stay at home and trying to flatten the curve, the ones who were serious were listing their house and … buying a house has picked up.”
Dan Forsman, president and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties, also talked about a mixed bag in April — sales are down 38% from last year but closings are down “just a smidgeon.”
Still, with shelter in place, “we’ve had to pivot on our whole business model,” he said.
“We’re listing properties, selling properties — just being way more socially responsible and doing things in a completely different way.”
Like other real estate companies, Berkshire Hathaway is doing virtual showings and tours on properties.
“We have a Zoom account with a thousand people on the thing,” Forsman said.
Frank Norton Jr., who heads Gainesville-based The Norton Agency, said that while his company’s activity has slowed in April, “we are still seeing apartments leased for people still moving into our community, and we think that will continue on.”
He said May through July “are the typical months that we see lots of sales and people moving and relocating.”
The state’s shelter in place order is set to end April 30, even though earlier this week, Gov. Brian Kemp eased restrictions, allowing non-essential businesses, such as hair salons and tattoo shops, to open.
Real estate is considered an essential business.
“We are projecting a confusing second quarter (of the year) and then a settling out the third quarter, and a resuming of the marketplace to some degree of normal in the fourth quarter,” Norton said.
Most real estate experts believe that home values will be OK going through the crisis and even afterward if a recession is underway — unlike during the Great Recession of 2007-09, when values tanked.
“It’s a situation of supply and demand,” Norton said. “We had huge supply and no demand (during the Great Recession). Today we have huge demand and no supply.”
Ron Quinn, president of Peach State Bank in Gainesville and chairman of the Community Bankers Association of Georgia, said, “We feel very optimistic about the housing market, especially in Northeast Georgia.”
People may not be out looking at houses like they were, “but we still have a very healthy pipeline of new construction,” he said.
Overdevelopment of housing actually drove the Great Recession. As the country became overextended on housing debt, the housing bubble burst and caused a rippling effect through other sectors, such as construction and banking.
Also, home values plummeted, putting people underwater on their mortgages and gashing property revenues, a main source of income for local governments.
It’s still too early to tell if housing values will become collateral damage in an economic downturn this year
Data released before the statewide shelter in place order took effect in April looks positive.
“Based on the value we have on properties that have sold between Jan. 1 and March 17, 2020, (assessed values) are running at about 92% of what they’re selling for,” Hall County Chief Appraiser Steve Watson said.
“So, our values are still a little bit lower than what properties are selling for. In 2008, you had the reverse — our values were up here and what they were selling for was (much lower).”
Watson said, “However, we have not really seen the total impact of this (pandemic) yet. In the third and fourth quarter (of 2020), we’ll start seeing some real impact. What we’re predicting is a slowdown of sales, but values may somewhat maintain their position.”
He quickly added, “But that is just speculation right now.”