Houston, Texas--Business as usual has been anything but usual since the threat of COVID-19 shut down swaths of the economy. Real estate, typically bustling in the Houston region, slowed down almost overnight as people observed safer-at-home mandates and physical distancing.
Before April 2020, home sales in Houston outpaced 2019's record volume as buyers took advantage of low interest rates. The number of Houston-area homes for sale dropped significantly, as the influx of sellers to the marketplace fell 24.1% from the same time frame a year earlier.
Take a closer look at the numbers, though, and you'll catch a glimpse of the good news. Despite the slowdown in the real estate market, Houston's year-to-date sales are running 1.4% ahead of last year's level. Pricing presents an even better picture. The median sales price of a single-family home rose 2.4% in April, according to data from the Houston Association of Realtors (HAR).
"There is definitely no lack of consumer interest in real estate, as property listing views on HAR.com are up almost 60% from this time last year," said HAR Chairman John Nugent with RE/MAX Space Center.
New ways to forge ahead
Roberta Wells is well acquainted with both the uncertainty and tremendous potential of today's real estate climate. "Everything turned upside down," says Roberta, who was planning to move to Eagle's Trace, the Erickson Living-managed community in West Houston, when coronavirus concerns sparked shutdowns in mid-March. What had seemed like a clear path forward just a few months earlier was now paved with uncertainty, requiring innovative solutions to an unprecedented situation.
"I started thinking about a potential move to Eagle's Trace in late 2019," says Roberta, a retired teacher. "I have friends who live at the community, and the lifestyle appealed to me."
Eagle's Trace, located on 72 acres just south of I-10, offers the small-town charm of friendly neighbors, stylish apartment homes, and convenient amenities.
"I looked at floor plans online, but when the floor plan I wanted became available, we were under stay-at-home orders," says Roberta. An in-person visit was out of the question. But luckily, technology prevailed! Jodie Schroeder, sales counselor at Eagle's Trace, filmed a video tour of Roberta's preferred floor plan, a one-bedroom Doverstyle apartment with a balcony, and sent it to her.
"I said 'yes' to the apartment and chose paint colors and flooring virtually, working with the staff over the phone and by computer," says Roberta, whose next step was preparing for the sale of her house in Houston's Fairfield Village neighborhood.
Expert real estate advice
Haven Benoit, personal moving consultant at Eagle's Trace, offers complimentary coordination of moving resources for anyone moving to the community. She maintains a network of moving professionals with experience helping prospective residents make the move to Eagle's Trace.
Mrs. Benoit referred Roberta to Lisa Hudgens with RE/ MAX Northwest, a preferred real estate agent who's worked with Eagle's Trace clients for eight years.
"With more people looking at homes online than ever before, I've hired a team to narrate virtual tours of homes for sale," says Ms. Hudgens. "Instead of an impersonal camera view of the house, we have a person in front of the camera who shows every part of the house. These narrated tours have received tremendous positive feedback."
Ms. Hudgens listed Roberta's home in late April and had six showings scheduled within a week.
"Lisa told me to turn on every light and open every door," says Roberta. "That way buyers could look at the house with minimum contact."
The house was under contract by the end of the week, with an offer for the full asking price. "I had no idea it would sell in a week," says Roberta. "With the coronavirus and falling oil prices, I was concerned home values in Houston would drop. I was eager to get my house on the market as soon as possible, but I just didn't know what would happen. I thought I would ease into this move gradually. Instead, it went really fast."
The quick sale came as no surprise to Ms. Hudgens, who says buyers are still looking.
"It's a seller's market because we're short on inventory," says Ms. Hudgens. "Economists from the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University are predicting the real estate market is going to push through because interest rates remain historically low. People are still selling and buying."
Right time to move
That was the case for Gene and Barbara Chiappetta, who moved to Eagle's Trace in early March.
"We made it just before everything shut down," says Gene. "Our move happened more quickly than we anticipated, but we realized we were ready to scale down our home and belongings and move to a place with less upkeep."
The couple opted to list their Spring Branch home after they moved to Eagle's Trace, working with Ms. Hudgens to put the home on the market in late March.
"We didn't know what to expect in this new environment," says Gene. "We had no idea what the market would do, but Lisa was very positive and very knowledgeable." The house was under contract within 24 hours.
"The buyers lived in Spring Branch and were looking for a larger home," says Gene. "They'd been looking for a while and were ready to act when they found the right house."
About Eagle's Trace: Eagle's Trace, one of 20 continuing care retirement communities developed and managed by Erickson Living®, is situated on a scenic 72-acre campus in West Houston, Texas. The not-for-profit community of more than 960 residents and 500 employees is governed by its own board of directors, affiliated with National Senior Campuses, who provide independent financial and operational oversight. Additional information can be found at EaglesTraceCommunity.com.
Written by Sara Martin