Impact of Coronavirus on the Real Estate Market

Question: How will the threat of Coronavirus impact the real estate market in 2020?

Answer: I wasn’t planning to write this, it seems a little click-baity (now my “Trump’s Impact on Real Estate” column has some competition!), but I got the question four different times in under 24 hours last week so here I am writing about it.

Too Early To Know

Nobody knows how Coronavirus is going to impact the real estate market over the next month or the next ten months because we don’t know what the real impact of the virus will be on public health and markets. According to President Trump, it could disappear one day “like a miracle” and according to others, we could face a devastating pandemic.

Yesterday’s stock market closed down nearly 8% and this morning, the Futures were up almost 4%. Uncertainty slows the real estate market down and the only certainty right now is how uncertain the markets and public are about COVID-19. It’s hard to see how this type of uncertainty doesn’t create a drag on real estate across the country, the question is how long it will last.

Beyond the uncertainty, you have the very real impact of a sharp decline in investment/retirement accounts that many people use for down payments. With many accounts down double digits over the last two weeks, some buyers may reconsider their decision to sell stocks right now.

On the other hand, interest rates are historically low, hitting all-time lows last week, and the real estate market across the greater DC Metro has been on fire since January so it’ll take a major shift in demand to slow things down as we head into peak buying season.

What I’ve Heard

So far, what I’m hearing from clients, colleagues, and other industry partners (lenders, title, etc) is that buyers are hoping the Coronavirus slows the market down so they can have a better opportunity to buy, but there seems to be very few people actually pulling out of the market or reducing offers because of it.

Currently, buyers still seem more motivated by historically low rates and lack of buying opportunities than they are concerned that the likely impact of the virus. It seems that long-term confidence in local real estate is still a stronger influence on people’s decisions.

I think this mindset could change quickly, having broad negative effects on the local real estate market, if markets continue to tank, systematic failures in the market appear (e.g. Mortgage-backed Securities in 07-08), or people begin experiencing more direct effects of the virus like work/school closures or people they know testing positive. This is an important change to watch for if you’re considering putting your home on the market in the coming weeks.

Don’t Overvalue Speculation

It’s important to distinguish between fact and speculation and not overvalue speculation. If you spend 30 minutes online today, you’ll be able to find an assortment of well-supported reasons why the markets is on the brink of another recession as well as well-supported reasons why everything will be just fine, with growth ahead.

Your decision should be rooted in things you can rely on like how long you can live happily in a home (nothing creates value like longer ownership periods) and what your best alternatives are to buying (renting, staying put) or selling (do you have a better utilization of your equity?).

Of course, you want to consider the national, regional, and local economy as well as neighborhood trends, development pipelines, and other factors that will influence appreciation/depreciation potential, but be careful not to overvalue speculation.

Expect A Slower Market Until February

Question: Does the Arlington market change in the winter?

Answer: November marks the start of the traditional “winter market” in Arlington that is defined by fewer homes being put up for sale and homes sitting on the market just a bit longer than they did earlier in the year. The decrease in new inventory will be obvious to anybody who has been searching for a home in 2019, but you’ll barely notice the increase in how long homes are taking to sell because the market is moving so quickly that even a slowdown will mimic spring markets in previous years.

Sharp Decrease In New Inventory

Historically, the fewest homes hit the market in Arlington from November-January, with the pace of new listings in December coming in at nearly 1/3 the rate of new listings from March-May. With inventory levels in 2019 already at historical lows, this winter will feel especially short on housing supply.

Month Contribution to Total New Listings
Buyer Demand Cools Off

Historically, the percentage of homes that go under contract within the first ten days decreases from November-January, with November and December (holiday season) having the most noticeable reduction in quick sales. However, with the pace of the Arlington market at all-time highs in 2019, you can expect the drop in demand in November and December to feel like peak spring demand in previous years.

Percentage of Homes Under Contract in First 1-10 Days
Is The Winter The Right Time For You?

The winter can be a great time to buy if you’re more focused on value because demand decreases so you may pick up some negotiation leverage.  However, if you’re searching for something unique and struggling to find properties that fit your criteria, the odds of the perfect place hitting the market in the winter decreases.

Given how low inventory is heading into this winter, I’m not sure buyers will find as many deals as they have in previous years. Demand is still strong from buyers who haven’t found a home yet in 2019 and low supply makes it a strong market for sellers, even during the holidays.

If you’re considering buying or selling in Arlington or the surrounding DC Metro communities and would like to learn more about the impact seasonality will have on your process, feel free to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.