What typically is a spring surge in the local real estate industry instead was a swoon, largely because of the COVID-19 pandemic and also because of a dip in the price of oil.
But the market is making quite a comeback, which bodes well for the rest of the summer and fall.
According to data released by the Houston Association of Realtors (HAR), the number of appointments for property showings tumbled around the time the pandemic hit the region in mid-March, bottoming out at 20,000 showings across the city during the last week in March, when Harris County was under a stay-at-home order. But the number of showings has since skyrocketed, even outpacing the late spring and early summer showing totals from what turned out to a be a record-setting 2019 in terms of overall sales.
“It’s much busier than you would think,” said Bill Baldwin, the owner of Heights-based Boulevard Realty. “(The market is) much healthier than anyone would have imagined.”
The HAR data shows that 2020 showings started outpacing those from 2019 in early May, shortly after the stay-at-home order was lifted. There were 52,363 appointments for showings during the week preceding June 15, an increase of more than 25 percent compared to the year.
Showings slowed some in the week after, when 47,588 showings were scheduled across Houston, but still represented a 6 percent increase from 2019.
Baldwin and two other Heights-area Realtors, Amanda Anhorn and Theresa Hill of Greenwood King Properties’ Heights office, said those trends have been the same in Near Northwest Houston. Baldwin said there seems to have been “pent-up demand” by prospective homebuyers who were forced to suspend or amend their searches during the shutdown, when the practice of virtual open houses and looking at online listings also spiked.
Hill said most of the buyers in the market now are particularly serious about purchasing new homes. And because there is low inventory, at least partly because sellers have been hesitant to put their homes on the market and invite buyers into their living areas during a pandemic, many homes are selling above the asking price and there have been bidding wars.
Baldwin said that’s especially true in the $400,000-$900,000 price range. He said the high end of the market, meaning homes priced above $1 million, is “not doing very well.”
“We definitely have more buyers than sellers,” Hill said. “… Those buyers are realizing that, so they immediately want to move on it, because they know that the inventory is just not there.”
Because of the economic downturn associated with the pandemic and drop in oil prices, Baldwin said a good number of buyers are looking to downsize in terms of their home. He and Anhorn also said being cooped up at home for an extended period of time seems to have given homeowners more clarity about what they want or do not want in a property.
“People that have been working at home are realizing maybe they do want an office at home,” said Anhorn, the top producer in the Greenwood King Heights office.
As for the market trends’ impact on real estate agents, Anhorn said agents who are newer and less established seem to have been more adversely impacted by overall standstill during March and April. She said she continued to have business throughout, with a noticeable uptick in buyer clients as of late.
Baldwin said his agency’s sales are about 10 percent below what they were in 2019. But considering the unique circumstances of 2020, he’s happy with that.
Hill said the agents at Greenwood King Properties are “absolutely” encouraged by the recent market trends.
“Our (typical) spring-summer market is probably going to be shifted to the fall,” she said.