With coronavirus now affecting everyone across the globe in some capacity, real estate brokerages have also wondered how they might be impacted, particularly in Washington state, where the virus was first reported in the U.S.
As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 180 confirmed cases and 22 deaths in Washington, one of the areas hardest hit by the outbreak. Many school districts have cancelled classes and officials are advising the public to avoid large crowds. The combined number of cases in California and Washington make up more than one third of the nation’s coronavirus cases, the New York Times reported.
Despite the unease surrounding coronavirus’ uncertainty and widespread impact, multiple Washington-based real estate teams are reporting that business remains strong.
“Things are operating on a normal level currently,” Mike Novak, team leader and broker at Everett-based The Novak Team Keller Williams PNW, told Inman in an email. “Last week was the strongest week in our team’s history and we are seeing high traffic at open houses still, multiple offers in many situations and a very low inventory market.”
“A listing our team offered on last week reported over 80 visitors through the open [house] in a two-day span,” Novak added.
“There is definitely a lot of talking about [coronavirus], but I’m not yet seeing a measurable impact on our business,” Kristin Meyer, managing broker and listing specialist at Seattle-based Sweet Living Realty, told Inman in an email.
“We’re going into the season with historically low inventory and intense demand for housing, especially in the city limits and eastside neighborhoods,” Meyer said. “Buyers are very motivated by interest rates so we’re seeing a lot of multiple offers on single-family homes, especially around the median price point.”
Vija Williams, director of growth at Ben Kinney Brokerages, which has offices throughout Washington, agreed that, so far, buyers do not seem deterred in the homebuying process, despite the pandemic’s widespread nature throughout the state.
“Buyer demand, especially with low rates right now, has continued to stay strong and I don’t anticipate that waning too much,” Williams said in an email.
Although business still seems to be operating as usual, to no one’s surprise, real estate agents and brokers are noticing a palpable difference in everyday activities.
“We have seen some people holding their kids back from going to schools, and school closures have been occurring,” Novak noted.
While Derek Buse, co-founder of Compass Bellingham (a branch that just opened in December), stated that business remained steady, he has witnessed some anxiety in buyers who have moved to Bellingham recently.
“Buyers moving to Bellingham (Whatcom County) seem to be much more rattled,” Buse stated in an email. “Some are even wanting to hit the pause button until things settle down a bit. I’d like to think that we will proceed with business as usual and maintain levelheadedness throughout this period.”
With several major employers in the state like Microsoft and Amazon encouraging employees to work from home, more than one agent remarked on the perceptible decline in traffic during their daily commutes.
“Traffic has been amazing and I am able to be way more efficient because I can actually get around the city,” Meyer said.
Although few open houses have been cancelled at this point, agents, sellers and potential buyers are all exercising more caution than usual.
“Our role right now is to keep our offices clean and safe and to stay on top of safety precautions,” Williams said. “It is also to train and equip our agents with the tools they need to sell real estate throughout this time. It’s a rapidly evolving situation.”
Bellevue-based John L. Scott Real Estate has even taken extra measures of setting up workstations in individual employees’ homes to ensure that operations could continue in the event of a widespread shutdown.
“We are actively taking steps to look at our critical deliverables, to ensure that we are in a position of strength if we had to shut our offices today and the staff had to work remotely,” J. Lennox Scott, chairman and CEO of John L. Scott Real Estate, told Inman in an email. “That means putting workstations in the homes of employees that need access to certain systems. This will assure business continuity for our financial and transactional operations so we can continue as normal.”
Scott said the company is also taking extensive measures to enforce hygienic practices at open houses. Potential buyers will find hand sanitizer at the home’s entrance, and at various places throughout the home they’ll be provided gloves and booties to put on before entering the home. All doors will be opened and lights turned on to eliminate the need for contact with surfaces, and cleaning services will be scheduled following the open house.
The company is also extending open house hours while limiting the number of in-person showings in order to contain contact with the home.
“No handshakes or high fives [at open houses],” Meyer added. “But lots of homebuyers.”