Should I Stay or Should I Go? Navigating the Home Buying and Selling Process During the Pandemic

In a study conducted by The Wall Street Journal around the state of real estate, those readers with plans to buy or sell a home pre-COVID-19 are currently a house divided: 58% plan to move forward in the next six months, while 47% are delaying their plans. Both groups cited concerns around shallow buyer pools, low housing inventory and precarious home valuations. 

We sat down (virtually, of course) with brokerage executives and agents from across the country to get their expert insights and market knowledge on these complicated topics. From New York City, Ellie Johnson, President of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New York Properties. Weighing in from Las Vegas, Mark Stark, Chief Executive Officer of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Nevada Properties. And representing the great American West, John Sofro, Broker/Owner, and Pam Rheinschild, Assoc. Broker/Owner of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Sun Valley Properties.

Q: There’s a perception right now that people aren’t buying homes. Is that actually accurate?

Ellie Johnson: Perhaps in some markets the pool is shallow, but to say there are not buyers right now is a very broad statement to make. For example, just this weekend in New York City, we had multiple offers on a property. The difference between now and before the pandemic is the quality of the buyer, meaning they are much more committed. Anyone that is going to leave their home to go look at real estate in this current crisis is somebody that is serious about doing a transaction.

It’s not that the buyers aren’t there—the bigger issue is lack of inventory. We were suffering with lack of inventory prior to the pandemic and that was keeping prices stable. Now, in some markets, that lack of inventory is driving prices up.

Q: Polled WSJ readers were definitely concerned they wouldn’t be able to find the right house at a fair price because of lack of inventory. How should they navigate the home buying process right now?

Mark Stark: Listen, when I hear some agents say inventory’s low, I want to reply, “Did they burn houses down? Did someone steal these homes?” The answer of course is no, but these agents are relying only on the MLS feed to find it all. I understand that inventory in the MLS is low, which is why this is a time for innovative and proactive efforts by agents in serving their client’s needs.

Buyers need to make sure they’re working with an agent who has eyes on properties that aren’t just coming through the MLS feed. A good agent on their game with the focused goal of successfully executing the needs of their clients takes the time to locate homes that haven’t even hit the market as of yet.

The other thing to keep in mind is that most people buying right now are also selling. So even if they are paying slightly more for a property in our current housing climate, chances are they got top dollar for their current home, especially when buying and selling in the same market. I recommend spending less time focusing on saving a few dollars on your purchase and much more time focused on finding the right home that best fits your needs in the right location. I promise that if you find the right place to live the few percent change in price won’t mean anything over the long run.

Q: For those buyers and sellers who are moving across markets—particularly those moving from urban to suburban or even rural areas—what are the key factors they should keep in mind as they search?

Mark Stark: A lot of people discount what this type of move is going to mean for their day-to-day living, so they need to be really transparent with their agent about what they truly want and what will help ease that transition from one lifestyle to another.

Yes, the actual home is important, but really take the time to drive around the area and understand what each community can and cannot offer. This is also where having the right agent makes a huge difference. A buyer may say, “I want good schools, I want this much square footage,” but it’s on the agent to dive deeper and read between the lines about what truly is valuable to them. So a good agent is going to take the time to really get to know you and how you want to live, and then guide you to the area and community that can make it a successful move.

John Sofro: For buyers looking to relocate to a full-time residence in a mountain resort town like Sun Valley, it’s important that they’re honest with themselves—as living in a 1,000-square-foot high-rise apartment in an urban area is a very different experience than living in Idaho! 

Traditionally there’s been this dream of moving out west and having a ranch with a bunch of acres. While that’s wonderful, there’s a lot of work associated with maintaining properties like that, and people need to be realistic if they’re up for that type of cost and commitment. Luckily, there’s been a trend in all of these mountain towns to develop properties closer to the commercial cores, so maybe you don’t need a car or even to mow a lawn. So buyers looking to relocate should know there are options in towns like Sun Valley—and the dream doesn’t have to necessarily mean owning a ranch.

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