Capital Region

Capital Region home sales plummet in April but prices inch higher

Realtors look forward to eased restrictions as economy reopens, ponder fate of housing market after COVID-19 eases
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ALBANY — Single-family homes sales plunged across the Capital Region in April as local Realtors were limited to remote showings through digital technology.

Pending sales and new listings were both more than 50 percent lower than April 2019, the Greater Capital Region Association of Realtors reported Monday, and another grim month is in the offing as the COVID-19 precautions remain in place at least through the end of May.

But median sale price have inched 3% higher, leaving Realtors hoping that there’s hope for a rebound in June, when the Capital Region may move into subsequent stages of the phased reopening of its economy.

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Real estate transactions fall within Phase 2 of the schedule.

“What we’re seeing is inventory is still pretty tight,” said Jill Birdsall, manager of the Niskayuna office of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services. “Inventory dropped and demand dropped at almost the same rate.

“We’re expecting when we open up the inventory will open up. Because interest rates are still so low, we think that that’s going to keep the demand up.”

GCAR’s roughly 3,000 members handle many of the residential real estate transactions in the greater Capital Region and southern Adirondacks. Its Global Multiple Listing Service provides a statistical database on these transactions. Here are some key April 2020 statistics for sale of new and previously built houses within the MLS, with percentage change from April 2019:

  • Pending sales: 512 -58%
  • New listings: 824 -58%
  • Closed sales: 768 -17%
  • Median price: $218,500 +3%

At the statewide level, each of those metrics was 6 to 12 percentage points worse than the Capital Region in data released last week by the New York State Association of Realtors. Average days on market (76) and average percentage of list price received (97.6%) were the only statistics to show improvement in April 2020 over April 2019, NYSAR said.

The trade organization’s president, Jennifer Stevenson, said the low interest rates and the small number of houses available for sale suggest there will be a good rebound.

“The market will be strong. There are a lot of buyers that are pent up and waiting,” she said.

Virtual showings — in which a Realtor walks through a house with a video camera which the potential buyer watches the stream, asks questions, and asks for closer looks — works for some people but not enough to carry the market, Stevenson said.

“It’s very important to see it yourself,” she said. “[Streaming] does work but there’s nothing like being able to go in and feel that house.”

She said NYSAR is submitting suggestions to state officials on how best to resume in-person showings with safety and hygiene for Realtor, client and homeowner alike.

Laura Burns, chief executive officer of GCAR, said the sudden shift of the economy from booming to hibernating may not have as huge an impact as feared.

“I think it’s going to be a positive comeback. Our numbers aren’t good for April, but everybody knew it wouldn’t be. Nobody’s numbers were good. We still closed on 768 homes.”

In extensive meetings (via Zoom) with her membership over the last two months, she’s found that many Realtors feared  their pending transactions would fall through, but most of those sales went through.

Birdsall at Howard Hanna said the technology that has been so important to the real estate industry through the shutdown — digital signatures, virtual tours — will likely continue to be used even as in-person showings resume.

“I think there is a need to go back to in-person [showings] with face masks or whatever protective equipment we can utilize,” she said.

But the remote sales techniques will continue in use as well, she predicted. They’re very convenient, and have served her office well through the pandemic.

“We are obviously down but not by much,” Birdsall said of the office’s work volume for the last two months.

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