In the last week, the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic (more popularly known as coronavirus) has penetrated the nationwide consciousness. Locally, events are being cancelled, college classes and workplaces are switching to remote work, and the DC mayor declared a public health emergency.
Thus far, however, increasing awareness about coronavirus has not quelled demand in the DC housing market.
Clint Mann, president of sales and marketing firm Urban Pace, said that the spring market started early this year and that new home sales at the firm are on track to beat projections. Last weekend, eNvy, a new condo development in the Ballpark District, saw its most traffic thus far this year. Mann observes that demand in the new condo market likely remains high in part because the average prospective buyer is younger, a segment of the population less susceptible to the negative effects of contracting the virus.
Internally, meanwhile, Urban Pace has been encouraging agents to conduct business remotely when possible and to stay home if they feel unwell.
Pam Wye of the Donovan/Wye Group listed two properties last week and observed high open house traffic as both received multiple offers. She noted that appropriate precautions are being taken at upcoming open houses (hand sanitizer, more waving hello than shaking hands).
While some are relying on common-sense precautions, other realtors are cautious about how conditions could unfold and affect the market.
“We are in an environment that is ever-changing at the moment and I do think that the market we experienced last week or this week could be very different a month from now,” Heather Davenport of Compass shared with UrbanTurf.
Davenport has observed the occasional hesitation on the part of buyers depending on their personal circumstances, like one who passed on writing an offer due to uncertainty at the workplace after a co-worker was exposed to the virus. “With the disease starting to take hold in the U.S. and talk of quarantine, the doom and gloom has made some buyers reconsider their options.”
However, she agrees that the market is particularly strong now, noting that one of her clients competed with 25 other buyers on a house in upper Northwest last week. “Much like in 2008/2009, I think reactions to the market will be different,” Davenport explains. “Some people will pull back their plans and, conversely, others will take advantage of a potentially softening market and opportunities that present themselves.”
In the mortgage world, the rollercoaster has already started.
“In my 22 years of mortgage banking, I have never seen a market a turbulent as the one we are seeing now,” Sandy Spring Bank vice president Joe Zamoiski told UrbanTurf, noting the unprecedented volume of mortgage applications since rates fell. “There is no telling what markets will do in the weeks and months ahead.”
Mann agrees, although he thinks that some may be encouraged by stock market volatility to diversify their investments with an entry into the housing market.
“People see real estate as a more stable long-term asset; I think recent weeks have reinforced that idea, and so people who maybe have been renting and prolonging their purchase decision and putting most of the investment on the stock market probably looked at their statements online and kicked themselves for not having a diverse investment portfolio.”