Local housing market stays strong through pandemic

With COVID-19 numbers continuing to climb and ongoing concerns about the economy, it seems impossible that the local real estate market could be flourishing.

But, that’s exactly what it’s doing, says Brock Bowen, president of the Springfield Board of Realtors and a realtor with Team Horne-Bowen: Coldwell Banker Heritage.

Between Jan. 1 and mid-March, housing sales were up about 7 percent compared to the same time in 2019, he says. Then, from March 13 through April 3, as schools closed and non-essential businesses started shutting their doors, the market in Springfield and Clark County took a 3 percent decrease compared to 2019.

“Everyone wanted to say it was business as usual, but it really wasn’t,” Bowen says. “It was time to slow down and try to figure out how things would work, how we would keep moving forward. We were all just trying to figure out how to do business in the new normal.”

Bowen says the biggest changes that realtors, buyers and sellers saw at that time weren’t specific to major market changes, but rather were the same kinds of changes other businesses and individuals faced – social distancing, changes to cleaning processes and making sure customers felt safe purchasing and selling.

By May, sales had evened back off with sales figures from a year ago, and Bowen says he expects to see “explosive” numbers coming back from May and June sales.

Bowen says he’s been asked about the difference between the housing market now and the recession in 2008. As far as the local market goes, the biggest difference is the number of houses available now, which Bowen says would be only about 50 for every 150 available in 2008. Houses now are in-demand and selling, rather than sitting on market for longer stretches, like they did in 2008.

“There were also still plenty of buyers and available loans when this hit,” he says.

Also, while some lenders have “tightened their belts” by insisting that buyers have a credit score in the 600s versus the 500s that would have been acceptable a few months ago, buyers are being attracted to the extremely low interest rates.

“What’s driving the buyers’ side of the market is the interest rates still being super low,” he says. “We thought we’d hit the all-time lowest rates before, but just a couple weeks ago, they were giving out 2.8 percent loans on a 30 year fixed mortgage. That 1 percent can mean $40,000 to $50,000 dollars difference when you’re buying a home on that kind of loan.”

While a few people may have put off buying or selling because of the pandemic, most seemed to stay the course and move forward with their plan, Bowen says.

Rhonda Valdez, for example, was already midway through the process of selling her former house in the county and purchasing her new house in the city when changes from coronavirus hit.

She said that while the pandemic delayed the closing process, it wasn’t enough to deter her from moving forward. In fact, to meet social distancing requirements at the time Valdez signed her contract, she was the first client with Gallery Homes Real Estate to do a signing in her car.

While new homeowner Katy Ayres didn’t have to do an in-car closing on her new home June 2, she says COVID-19 did change the buying process some.

Ayres and her husband Zach sold their house in the city in July 2019 and moved their family in with her parents while they looked for their dream home out in the county.

Unfortunately, they hadn’t found that perfect-for-them house before the coronavirus restrictions were implemented mid-March.

Ayres says some differences in looking for houses amid coronavirus included deciding which and how many houses they felt comfortable going into and the strict cleaning process their realtor Bowen followed for anything they touched within any homes they toured.

Though the Ayres were able to close in person, the closing table included acrylic dividers at the signing table.

“The only part of the process that was hard was that we couldn’t have any family members come look at the house before we bought it to help us make such a big decision,” Ayres says. “That was really the hardest part – that they didn’t see inside the house until after we closed.”

Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.