Coronavirus throws uncertainty into real estate’s busiest season

March 16, 2020

Source: Real Estate by

For the first time in his 30-year real estate career, Melvin A. Vieira, Jr. finds himself wondering whether holding a routine open house could risk his client’s health. His client, a woman in her 70s, is eager to sell her home, but Vieira is weighing the potential ramifications of what could be dozens of people traipsing through her house in the era of COVID-19, which has been shown to affect older adults the most seriously.

“People are going to come to her house; I can’t screen them [for symptoms]. Do I tell them: ‘Please enter, but do not touch? Put a mask on and come through?’ ” said Vieira, who is with the Vieira Group at RE/Max Destiny in Jamaica Plain. “Now I have to really do a deep dive within myself to what I think is the best way to protect her, myself, and everybody else.”

COVID-19, the coronavirus the World Health Organization has deemed a pandemic, is already affecting the start of the spring real estate season, historically the busiest in the industry.

A new survey by the National Association of Realtors found that 1 in 4 home sellers is requiring prospective buyers to wash their hands, use hand sanitizer, remove shoes, or wear shoe covers. The survey also suggests that home sales could drop by 10 percent as a direct result of the coronavirus.

Locally, the season got off to an early and strong start based on pending sales figures for the month of February from the Massachusetts Association of Realtors. Low-interest rates and mild weather were among the factors credited for a 25 percent year-over-year increase in the number of single-family homes under agreement last month, and a 19 percent increase for condos, according to MAR.

Normally, pending sales numbers act as “the canary in the coal mine” for the coming season, but COVID-19 threatens to throw a wrench into that, said Tim Warren, chief executive of The Warren Group, a real estate research firm and publisher of Banker & Tradesman. In February, the virus had not yet been declared a pandemic, and Massachusetts was not yet under a state of emergency. As of early Thursday afternoon, there were 95 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts, no deaths, and more than 1,000 people subjected to quarantine, according to state public health officials.

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