Open houses discouraged

Real estate transactions continue under the governor’s stay-at-home orders, with agents maintaining social distancing while working with clients.

Pent up demand for homes and very low mortgage rates have kept area real estate agents busy despite precautions required to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Because it is considered an essential service, individuals in the profession were exempted along with appraisal and title service professionals from the state’s stay-at-home order, which went into effect at the end of March 24.

“Because the governor is allowing our services as part of the essential services, it also includes our clients who are traveling to and from real estate services,” said Renee Cox, 2020 president of Upstate Alliance of Realtors and owner of Acorn Real Estate Professionals LLC in Huntertown.

Real estate agents are using plenty of hand sanitizer and recommending to clients that they avoid any touching once they have entered a home. And some are providing masks to clients, she said.

“And of course, we’re fortunate with what we do; we can show property and yet maintain that protective social distancing.”

A flight from stocks to safer U.S. Treasuries pushed yields on those investments to record lows, and mortgage rates came down to historic lows as well, reaching a 3.29% average for the first week of March.

“The housing market has been on solid ground for quite some time. Heading into this pandemic, we have high demand with a very low and limited inventory,” Cox said.

“So, if this shutdown is fairly short, we’re very optimistic that the market’s going to endure. I’m sure we’re going to have the usual spring and summer selling season with a slight delay,” she said.

“We see a different number almost daily of new listings, and of course some buyers and sellers are a little apprehensive right now, but I think within a couple of weeks we will be back to business as usual.”

With area inventories low, real estate agents at Coldwell Banker Real Estate Group in Fort Wayne are finding homes are still selling, and buyers are still ready to make offers if the right home comes up, said Tony Didier, regional vice president.

“As a company, we’re discouraging open houses. Social distancing limits events that will bring people together,” he said. “We’re adhering to all the recommendations from the government and everything else in terms of the size of gatherings and precautions we can take to keep others safe.”

Real estate agents with the company are using gloves or hand sanitizer or both and are using sanitizing wipes to keep doorknobs and handles free of coronavirus.

The only instances where house hunters need to interact with real estate professionals take place at home showings, inspections and closings, and Didier said Coldwell Banker is encouraging video showings.

“Anybody under contract with a pending close is still moving forward with a close; we haven’t heard of anyone backing out of anything out of fear,” he said.

“My hope is this will pass, and things will get back to normal. Right now, things are pretty close to normal. It’s so far, so good for us.”

There are numerous exceptions to the stay-at-home order for essential services. For answers to frequently asked questions on the order, go to www.in.gov/gov/3232.htm and for information on exceptions to it go to https://coronavirus.in.gov/2496.htm.

The latest nationwide home sales data from the National Association of Realtors showed existing home sales rose 7.2% to 5.77 million in February from the same month a year earlier.

The median existing-home price for all types of housing across the country in February was $270,100, which was up 8% from the same month the prior year.

Properties typically remained on the market for 36 days in February, which was down from 44 days a year earlier.

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