It’s anything but a typical housing market in Loudoun County, not to mention the world, as buyers and sellers navigate life and economic changes during to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This has caused some prospective buyers or sellers to think twice when listing or looking for their dream homes. Compared to a year ago, when demand was high but inventory was low, listings in Loudoun were down almost 30 percent in April, according to data from the Dulles Area Association of Realtors. The uncertainty in the market is also reflected in a dramatic decrease in pending sales. The 36.4-percent drop in April reflects the largest drop in pending sales in the county in more than five years, according to DAAR.
While real estate sales may be down, there appears to be little to no hesitancy in taking advantage of historically low rates to refinance. Ashley Smith, of Atlantic Coast Mortgage, has been in the industry for 18 years and just had her biggest month ever in April, closing $23 million in loans. About 60 percent of her business, she said, has been refinancing.
“In early March rates hit a 50-year historic low. We’re very close to that right now,” Smith said. “You’re talking low 3 [percent interest rate] on a 30-year fixed mortgage. With rates historically low people are refinancing. I have a pipeline of years and years of people I’ve put in homes, maybe it’s their first, second, or third time refinancing, or they’re buying another home.”
She believes the current environment creates a “perfect storm” of opportunity for many buyers or sellers.
“For a buyer with interest rates where they are, with sellers who are actually listing, being in a position where they stand to gain a lot more than you did early this year when it was a crazy market with multiple offer situations, there’s a lot of opportunity out there. On the flip side if you’re a seller it’s still a great market to sell, you can get into a home cheaper than you can rent,” Smith said.
Realtors have had to get creative to reach those buyers and sellers with social distancing as a way of life. Many reported that traffic on their social media channels was way up, and it’s only the most serious of buyers who are coming out to tour homes.
“We have so much technology at our fingertips allowing Realtors to truly limit in-person interactions when desired. Many agents are including virtual tours and HD videos in addition to photos, so that buyers can gather as much information in advance of touring a home,” said Laura Lawlor, Realtor with Jack Lawlor Realty Company.
Extra precautions are also being taken when showing homes.
“For listings I provide hand sanitizer and shoe covers and ask buyers to remove shoes, wear masks, and limit touching. Sellers are doing their part to help, too, by leaving lights on and doors open when possible to help limit touching. When I’m out showing homes, I always have plenty of hand sanitizer, gloves, and Clorox wipes to use if needed,” Lawlor said.
In a sign of the times, both the Virginia Realtors and Northern Virginia Association of Realtors came out with an optional COVID-19 addendum in March that can be included in a sales contract that details any needed changes in the transaction related to the national emergency.
So, what is to be expected this summer, typically the hot season for buying and selling? Perhaps a rebound.
“I think it will be really strong, more so than usual. Essentially, the summer will become a delayed spring market,” said Scott Buzzelli, of Middleburg Real Estate & Atoka Properties. “In our firm, especially for our agents who service western Loudoun, we also anticipate a busy fall.”
Buzzelli said the coronavirus and its significant impact on densely urban areas has many people from the east looking to get away from it all, to a place where social distancing is a way of life. Properties with three to five acres or more are particularly hot commodities on the market right now, he said. It’s a trend he expects to continue.
“People will continue to have the desire to live in more rural areas. Recently, I listed a home in a suburban community where two of the five showings were families from DC or Arlington wanting space for their families. I believe this trend will continue for a couple of years, as no one truly knows how long this pandemic will last. Those desiring a more peaceful future for their families will continue to look for—and find—it in Loudoun,” he said.
While real estate agents may not be as busy as they are used to in the late spring and early summer, many are standing on guard for when they expect the volume to quickly pick back up.
“The demands and housing needs of people aren’t going to disappear,” Lawlor said. “I suspect we will see a burst of activity once we start to open back up and feel more comfortable with the current situation.”