Judit Hernadi’s work routine looks a lot different than it did two months ago. As other professions have pivoted to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic, so too has real estate.
Hernadi’s office closed in mid-March. The Campbell River realtor has been working from home ever since.
“Pretty much everything halted for a good month,” she says. “Only about a couple weeks ago, I started to see a shift in the attitude of people, mainly I think buyers and sellers realized that this COVID-19 situation is not going way anytime soon.”
The B.C. government declared real estate an essential service in the province, but last month, not many people were interested in buying – or selling – property.
In April, single-family home sales dropped 54 per cent compared to the same time last year.
According to the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board (VIREB), just 189 single-family homes were sold on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) system compared to 333 in March 2019 and 412 in April 2019.
The real estate market is no stranger to recession. In the last 40 years, it has faced three of them.
Looking back, markets rebounded within one year. So what makes this one so different? To start: it’s man-made.
“It did not evolve due to collective poor business decisions, bad loans, or misadventures in financial engineering,” says the April 2020 British Columbia Real Estate Association (BCREA) Market Intelligence report. “Rather the economy has been purposely halted for the greater good.”
Looking at past health crises, like SARS and West Nile Virus, Hernadi is hopeful the market will rebound. In those cases, she says, “The market jumped back up and took off like nothing happened.”
She’s quick to add that she doesn’t have a crystal ball.
“But I think it’s good for people to know it doesn’t look as bad as it sounds,” she says. “I think there might be a little dip in the immediate future, but the house prices are gonna go up.”
Housing prices in the Campbell River area didn’t change too much between March and April, according to the VIREB.
The benchmark price of a single-family home in April was $438,000, down from $441,300 in March. The benchmark price of condos dipped to $273,000 from $280,000. Townhouses however, bucked the trend. There was an increase in the benchmark price up to $359,200 from $355,700.
There’s not much on the market right now.
Last month in Campbell River, there were just 22 units sold, down from 51 in March and from 43 in April 2019.
“There’s not inventory right now because sellers are kind of sitting on, you know, if they want to sell, they’re just kind of waiting it out,” says Hernadi. “But I think if there’s a pent up demand, once the COVID restrictions are a little less severe, I think we’ll see more listings.”
Provincially, the trend is similar. According to the BCREA, there were just 3,284 residential units sold last month, a decline of 50.8 per cent compared to April 2019.
But experts don’t expect the downturn to last.
“We expected to see a sharp drop in sales for April as we confronted the COVID-19 pandemic,” said BCREA Chief Economist Brendon Ogmundson. “However, buyers and sellers are adapting to a new normal, and activity should pick up as the economy gradually re-opens.”
Just like other professions, realtors have pivoted their work to be viable during the pandemic regulations.
A few weekends ago, Hernadi held a Zoom open house, which has gained popularity in Victoria recently.
She’s also using technology to her advantage when it comes to communicating with clients.
Hernadi is emailing documents and then talking to clients over the phone rather than meeting them in person to go through them.
“By using technological innovations like virtual tours and electronic document signing, realtors are positioned to help them do so safely,” says VIREB President Kevin Reid. “Our priority is public health. Real estate transactions can continue as long as everyone involved is protected.”
And buyer and seller attitudes continue to change.
Hernadi says she’s starting to get more calls from buyers wanting to look at homes, while sellers are more open to the idea of having strangers go through with proper precautions.
While her busy season is usually closer to the start of the year, between February and March, Hernadi thinks that will be delayed into the summer as more people get used to life under Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry’s orders.
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