The way the world does business has changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes how real estate agents and brokers approach the business of marketing and selling houses, even renting them.
Gone – at least for now – are the days of weekly open houses and agents driving buyers around from property to property in their search for a new place to call home.
Instead, agents are meeting buyers at listed properties, sometimes even letting them tour vacant properties by themselves.
In cases where the properties are occupied, agents and buyers are donning masks and sometimes gloves, using hand sanitizer, and touring the homes while physically distancing, not shaking hands, and making sure not to touch things for fear of possibly spreading the virus.
Some agents are now slowly starting to hold open houses again – especially in the case of vacant properties – but when the pandemic first hit, sellers were reluctant to have a lot of strangers coming through their homes.
Some real estate offices are closed to the public, but in cases where they’re open, when buyers and sellers go to those offices, the staff are masked and, in some cases, gloved.
Many documents that need signatures during the sale process are handled with E-signatures – making home buying and selling more impersonal. And at closings, everyone is masked.
The realities of COVID-19 have created even more frustration for Debbie Cox at Service First Realty in Globe – a firm that primarily handles property management.
“Having to do things by E-sign doesn’t give me the opportunity to have a person across from me to explain to them how things work, our expectations, and to just get a better feel for the person,” Cox says.
“Because our tenants stay with us for five to nine years, I like to get a sense of who my tenants are. COVID has definitely kept me from being able to develop a good rapport with our tenants right off the bat.”
Pandemic or not, home sales are at record numbers.
Patty Hetrick with Stallings and Long Realty says their current sales are better than when she first opened her office in 2003. She estimates that sales this year have doubled when compared with this time last year. And since March, when COVID-19 first hit, things have exploded. They’ve never been busier, despite low inventory.
“Every one of our agents have been just hopping busy; it’s unbelievable,” Hetrick says. “I thought we’d be fizzling out and wasn’t sure how we’d all work from home and sell houses. But it just kind of took off.”
The same is true at Smart Concept Realty Group. “We’re very busy right now. The inventory is low in the Globe-Miami area, so that’s great for sellers. A lot of times they are getting multiple offers,” says Adrea France.
What’s behind such buying activity?
Historically low interest rates, for one. “Interest rates are phenomenal right now, dipping down into the 2 percent range at times, so I think we can credit a lot of our busyness to that,” says Hetrick. “And they were starting to come down before COVID even happened. I think it’s just a market trend.”
Buyers are coming from all over: some are relocating from other states like New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin, even Alaska. Others are coming from places like the Phoenix metro area, where it’s at least 10 to 15 degrees warmer, even at night, and the area is both congested and hectic.
“People tend to be attracted to the charm and small-town atmosphere of the Globe-Miami area, as opposed to the busyness of larger areas, in addition to lower temps and a slower pace of living,” says France.
She adds that the ages of buyers vary. “Some are younger and still working. Some are retired. It’s a real mix.”
Sadly, there’s not enough inventory for all the buyers, especially given what people are looking for. “The types of home available right now include a lot of two-bedroom/one-bathroom homes, though people are wanting three-bedroom/two-bathroom homes,” Hetrick says.
“There aren’t very many four-bedroom homes at all, no matter whether they have two or three bathrooms. When there is something like a three- or four-bedroom with two bathroom home available, it goes on the market and comes off pretty quickly. A lot of the houses on the market are running about $150 a foot where a year ago, they were running between $100 and $125 a foot. And they’re still selling.”
Also selling have been commercial properties and residential properties that investors have been buying either to renovate and flip or add to their investment portfolio.
“We don’t see a lot of people flipping property right now because the inventory is so low,” says Hetrick. “But a few months ago, it seemed like everybody wanted to buy those cheap little historic homes and fix them up to turn over to someone else. People were really coming out of the woodwork to buy those. We had a lot of investors coming in and doing that.”
“I’m starting to see some commercial properties that have been listed for a while, now starting to sell. That makes me very optimistic about the commercial real estate in town. Price points are phenomenal here, and for people who are entrepreneurs or real estate investors, they offer some good opportunities,” France says.
“Properties that need renovating or updating are selling quickly. They just need people willing to spend the money to make those improvements. Prices are significantly higher in the East Valley or Maricopa County.
When you can have lower overhead and start an investment business here, you can grow in a small town like this, and that offers a unique opportunity here in Globe-Miami.”
Cheryl Hentz is a freelance journalist with nearly 40 years in both print and broadcast journalism. She is a Cheesehead from Wisconsin and getting to know the Globe Miami area and its people through her freelance work with the Globe Miami Times. Someday soon, she hopes to settle in AZ for her semi-retirement years. In her free time, she volunteers with several dog rescue groups, shelters, and animal welfare organizations.