The coronavirus pandemic hit at what is normally prime time for selling and buying homes.
“It’s a lot slower,” said Realtor Judy Conroy. “In my area we have about half the listings we should have this time of year. But we still have quite a few closings.
“I’ve been dong this 30 years. It’s going to be slower this year,” said Conroy, who sells mostly in the St. Peter, Kasota and Cleveland lakes area.
Mankato Realtor Jen True said the pandemic dramatically changed the way agents show homes.
“I have rubber gloves, I have a mask, I have hand sanitizer.”
She said agents also are working to ensure only serious buyers are shown homes.
“We do pre-qualify them. We are really trying to show for people who are really interested in buying, not the people who just do it for fun.”
Conroy said her agency is also screening buyers more closely. “We want to see if people are really interested and not just out looking.”
She said showings are different than they used to be.
“We don’t do open houses now. We tell (sellers) to keep all the doors open and lights on so people don’t have to touch things.”
Conroy said the use of virtual tours has increased. “You can get a pretty good sense of a home looking at pictures and virtually. People are looking more before they actually go out and look at a house. Some people will just drive around the neighborhood first to see if they like the area.”
True said some sellers, if they can move out of their home, will have it staged and vacant for showings. Sellers who still live in the home are often requiring precautions.
“One particular seller requires everyone to wear gloves and a mask. People (viewing homes) are being very careful, hands in pockets. We only have two people at a time. We encourage people not to bring kids along if they don’t have to,” True said.
Realtors Association of Southern Minnesota President Lynn Gudgeon said sales are down. “Things have gotten a little quieter,” she said. “There is definitely a shortage of inventory.”
In April there were 202 new home listings in the region, down 33% from last year. But home sales in April held up, with 153 sales, up 5% from a year earlier. However, April 2019 featured a mid-month snowstorm and cold wet weather the rest of the month, cutting into sales.
Gudgeon, who is also a Realtor, said those who are ready to sell or need to sell are listing homes. But there are others holding off during the shelter-at-home order.
She said industry analysts predict this second quarter of the year will hit home sales hardest.
“The third and fourth quarters will look better. We need to get people back working and confidence in the economy to move forward.”
Gudgeon said agents are using more virtual tours of homes and taking precautions during showings. “There is buying and selling going on; it’s just in a new world.”
The market slowdown came after a relatively strong March, when 123 homes were sold. That was up 18% over the weather-afflicted March 2019. The median sales prices of homes rose to $178,000 in March compared to $165,000 a year earlier.
Conroy said she had been working with some homeowners earlier this spring who were going to list their homes, but they have delayed. “If they don’t have to move, they’re saying, ‘Let’s put this off.’ They don’t want people coming through their homes right now.
“People don’t know what to expect from all this.”
Conroy said some homes are still selling quickly but others aren’t. “In Welco (subdivision) in St. Peter it’s townhomes, and usually when you list one, it sells in a few days. Now I’ve had one listed for a month and I had one call on it.”
She suspects because it is usually older buyers who are moving to a townhouse that they are holding off moving during the pandemic.
Conroy has witnessed the history of ups and downs enough to stay positive. “I was here after the tornado and wasn’t sure what would happen to our business. But we got through it and will get though this. You just have to look for the good things in your life.”
Buyers going slow
Wendy Bateman and Steve Olson have been looking for a home for nine months.
“When COVID-19 first hit, we didn’t actually go look at any houses for a while. We didn’t want to take a chance.”
But recently they did go with True to view a home on Bartholomew Lane in Mankato.
“When this house popped on the market, it was too perfect to not look. We had specific things we wanted,” Bateman said.
They loved the house and just closed on it Friday. They also got lucky in quickly selling their current home, even though they hadn’t had it listed.
True knew someone who was interested in a house like theirs and within five days they also had a purchase offer. They closed on selling their home Friday as well. “We feel pretty blessed,” Bateman said, “but it’s been a whirlwind.”