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Coronavirus impact on Houston’s housing market

HOUSTON – For many, the purchase of a home is one of life’s biggest financial investments.

There is no question that coronavirus has crippled the economic landscape with vast uncertainty, but one thing is for certain real estate is not going anywhere.

“There are still people that still need to buy a house, and there are people that need to sell their home,” said Chaille Ralph, vice chair of HAR’s MLS multiple listings board.

Currently, the Houston Association of Realtors, better known as HAR, has 25,420 active homes, with another 11,721 under contract, according to real estate team Channel 2 Investigates spoke with on Monday.

One of those selling is Scott Miller, who said, “Everyday that goes by, the more dust it collects.”

Miller told Channel 2 Investigates he recently put his investment property on the market. However, the coronavirus is already having an impact.

“It’s been a little slow getting buyers out to walk the house and see if they’re interested in it," Miller said.

Realtor Kristin Logan said that, up until the early part of last week, real estate numbers were on par with prior years, but then she detected a downshift.

“I think a lot of people are becoming more and more concerned about their safety and the safety of others," she said.

Key questions that were routine in the past, regarding such characteristics as square footage, schools and an updated kitchen, have all taken a backseat to safety first.

Realtor Nicole Freer said the No. 1 concern she is hearing from sellers right now is their safety and their well-being.

The Texas Real Estate Commission is advising realtors "to adhere to state guidelines and refer to the CDC website for the latest information about ways to deter the spread of the virus."

However, one key component to selling a home is showing it off with an open house. Recently, HAR pulled all public listings for open houses. As a result of that publicity going out the door, Freer said agents are embracing a tool she has been capitalizing on for quite some time.

“Social media is what everybody is doing right now," she said. "It’s the safest way to continue to do our business and still make our clients and the public feel comfortable and safe.”

However, all of this does not translate to homes not being shown. In fact, Logan said she has several in contract.

“I am definitely out showing, actively out with my clients," she said "We are keeping our distance.”

Logan added that sellers also are making special requests.

"They’re asking us to use gloves, use shoe covers, sanitize everything that they do touch,” she said.

Showing is not the only component that has called for changes. Ralph said closings have had to adapt as well.

“We’re making it easier for them," Ralph said. "The agents aren’t allowed to go, but they are faceTiming them in or Zoom calling them in so that they can actually be there with their client.”

What about refinancing as interest rates find themselves at historic lows? Ralph said lenders are trying to put new purchases ahead of refinancing customers, because they know people need to get into their homes.

Amid a number of changes to an industry that has had a traditional business model for decades, Miller’s advice to all in the midst of the coronavirus: “I think it’s healthy to have a healthy dose of fear, but don’t let it control you.”