Seven months into the coronavirus pandemic, most real estate agents know someone who has had COVID-19 and they expect social distancing to linger for months. But they are also now returning to their offices, are seeing less worry among clients and, overall, are experiencing strong business.
That’s according to the results from Inman’s latest survey on how the coronavirus is impacting members of the real estate community. The survey went live on Sept. 28, after the number of pandemic-related deaths in the U.S. rose above 200,000 and just days before President Trump, his wife, and a senior aide all tested positive for COVID-19. The diagnoses introduced significant unknowns into the upcoming election and catapulted the virus back into headlines.
The survey was the second such query Inman has conducted since the pandemic swept the U.S. in March. This time around more than 200 people ultimately provided responses.
Probably the biggest takeaway from the survey this time was that a majority of respondents, and an overwhelming plurality, said that their business is actually doing “better than normal” right now. Another 15 percent said business is currently “normal” for them. Conversely, 0 percent of respondents said their businesses had failed or were temporarily closed.
These findings stand in stark contrast to the survey Inman ran in March and April. At that time, just 10 percent of respondents said their business was either normal or better than normal. The findings consequently appear to indicate that the explosive return of the market isn’t just anecdotal, but is in fact widespread.
Relatedly, when asked how the severity of the pandemic compared to their expectations, a large plurality — or 43 percent — of respondents in March and April indicated it was more severe than they anticipated. This time around, however, that number shrank to 39 percent.
Meanwhile, the share of respondents saying the pandemic was less severe than expected grew from 25 percent to 36 percent between the two surveys.
On a similar note, 66 percent of respondents said earlier this year that the economy took a bigger hit than they expected. That percentage fell to 42 percent in the latest survey.
Moreover, 78 percent said in September and October that the impacts on real estate have “turned out better than I expected” (the earlier survey didn’t include that question).
On the other hand, 72 percent of respondents did indicate that supply is way down right now in their markets.
Most respondents, or 93 percent, in the September and October survey also indicated home prices are currently higher than they were last year. And a large majority, or 63 percent, indicated that they believe home prices will rise over the next year.
Half of respondents to the survey further indicated the pandemic will bring about permanent changes to real estate, though they think those changes will be minor. Just over a third, or 35 percent of respondents, expect changes to the industry to be significant.
The latest survey also suggests that consumers seem to be getting less concerned about the pandemic.
When Inman asked in March and April how worried consumers seemed to be, 50 percent of respondents said “somewhat worried.” Another 9 percent said their clients were “very concerned or anxious,” while 26 percent said “neutral.”
Only 8 percent of respondents said their clients were “not concerned at all.”
But this time around, a full quarter of respondents, or 25 percent, said their clients aren’t concerned at all. Another 38 percent said their client are neutral when it comes to the virus, while 32 percent said their clients are somewhat worried.
These findings indicate that while there is still some worry out there among consumers, both the degree and breadth of that worry appears to be diminishing.
Interestingly, however, this apparent greater sense of ease comes even as more people appear to have some experience with the virus: In the latest survey, 71 percent of respondents said they knew someone who has contracted COVID-19.
When asked the same question in March and April, only 55 percent of respondents indicated they knew someone who had picked up the virus.
On the other hand, the percent of real estate professionals who said they themselves have had COVID-19 was similar in both surveys.
The latest survey additionally asked about industry members’ vacations. A majority, or 52 percent, of respondents reported not taking any vacation at all this year while 27 percent said they traveled somewhere via car. Only 13 percent indicated they vacationed via plane, train or another mode.
The surveys also shed light on how agents are dealing with their offices. The pandemic of course has forced much of the population into varying degrees of isolation, and in both surveys a majority of respondents said they are communicating with team members primarily through video conferencing apps.
However, the latest survey also added questions about if and when agents are returning to their offices. And perhaps surprisingly, a clear majority, or 56 percent, are now going back in to the office.
Among those industry professionals who haven’t returned yet to their offices, a plurality, or 23 percent, said they didn’t know when they might return. Another 17 percent said they expect to head back in to the office sometime next year.
The two surveys also hint at the idea that people may be more resigned to longer-term social distancing. When asked in March and April how long isolation measures might last, a large plurality — or 36 percent — said just two or three months. At that time, 20 percent also predicted isolation would last six months or longer, but almost the same percentages expected social distancing to last either a matter of weeks or a single month.
But now, six months later, 72 percent of respondents indicated social distancing may last an additional six months. And almost no one thought isolation mandates would wrap up in a few weeks or a month.
The overall takeaway from these responses is that real estate is doing well, even as members of the industry realign their expectations for what comes next.
In other words, few now appear to see an existential threat to their careers and people are weathering this storm, though equally few seem to clearly see a light at the end of the tunnel for the broader crisis.