The process of buying a home in Southern California has changed significantly since the outbreak of COVID-19. Stephanie Younger, team leader for Los Angeles-based real estate firm Stephanie Younger Group, said the market in January and February was “hot.”
“The early part of 2020 was some of the best real estate market I’ve seen in my 18 years in real estate,” she said. “We were obviously having a very low inventory environment, which is where we've been in Southern California for the last several years.”
Younger attributes the “hot” real estate market in early 2020 to low interest rates, a bustling economy, and a great stock market. But since the stay-at-home order was implemented in L.A. in mid-March, things have taken a swift turn.
At the beginning, Younger said the rules surrounding real estate were “ambiguous” and deemed many parts of the industry to be non-essential.
“In my business, we came into the crisis with many buyers and sellers in escrow that we're sort of stuck there with no way to complete the process, and lots of sellers on the market and buyers who needed to move who’d sold other houses that had to buy something with no clear path to move forward,” Younger said. “So a very difficult couple of weeks at the beginning where we were really not allowed to do anything.”
Younger said buyers can buy homes and sellers can sell homes, but real estate agents are working under strict protocols and precautions.
“We’ve had to scramble to rethink the level at which we have an online presence. Our team and our company has a really excellent digital footprint anyway, but we were having to really dig deeper by getting floor plans done for all of our properties, getting 3D tours done for all of our properties that we didn’t have in place before by choice, and then hoping that buyers would actually feel comfortable and agents would feel comfortable doing most of their due diligence around their initial review of a property completely online.”
The process of buying a home during the pandemic starts by looking at photos online and taking virtual tours. Buyers only tour homes that they’re serious about purchasing.
“Once somebody says that they're really close to thinking this is the right house for them, then we’re doing a FaceTime walk through so we can show them some of the things that they just can’t see online. They can get a better sense of the space and the size and the light in the house,” she said. “If you're going to disrupt a seller or put yourself at risk by being out in the world, then we should really only do that for the most serious home buyers.”
Serious buyers must wear a mask when entering a home, and Stephanie Younger Group provides them with gloves and booties too.
“We're restricted on how many people we can have in a house at any given time, so as the listing agent, I can't even really walk around with a prospective buyer and their agent and give them my personal touch and my personal tour,” she said. “So it is certainly a restriction for sure, but we’re doing the best we can.”
Younger said the market in L.A. is holding up rather well considering the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Certainly in the face of sustained unemployment, we have to imagine that will ultimately affect the prices of everything. At the moment, I can say that people are putting an extraordinary value on their home, their environment, where they live, and where they're stuck,” Younger said. “Housing is an important purchase for people who are still employed and who have the resources to be able to buy and sell a house in this market. And because we came into the market with low inventory, the housing prices have fared pretty well so far.”
Younger anticipates that the summer months will hold a robust real estate market.
“I think people will take the opportunity now in these next few months to get into their desired home or to leave a more urban environment and go further out to the suburbs, get a little more elbow room,” she said. “I suspect that by the fall, we might see the market calming down again while people kind of figure out what’s going to happen as we head into the late fall and winter this year.”
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