Stay-at-home orders puts real estate in uncharted territory

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Spring, it’s been said, is the season of new beginnings. It’s when many Americans traditionally move into new homes. This year, people in Denver felt the urge before winter was even over.

“We were headed the first two weeks of March to a record setting spring,” said Jill Schafer, a broker with Kentwood Real Estate.

Then, as Schafer found out first-hand, the coronavirus pandemic and the stay-at-home orders it prompted essentially froze the real estate market in place. Sales of existing homes fell 8.5 percent overall in March compared to February. Many sellers pulled their homes off the market. Open houses and in-person showings were cancelled.

“It makes it awful hard to sell homes if you can’t get the people in to see it first,” Schafer said.

Buyers had to put a contract on a house in order to get in to see it. But as stay-at-home restrictions have begun to ease, so have some of the constraints that buyers, sellers and realtors were under. At least in Denver, the market is beginning to bloom.

“Look, at the end of the day you’re buying a house in the middle of a global pandemic,” said Eric Knox, a home buyer.

He said it’s all been a bit unusual.

“I think the strange process was walking up into the neighborhood and putting your mask on and putting your gloves on and walking into these homes,” Knox said.

“We were nervous as I’m sure everyone else was about going into these houses and being exposed to extra people,” said Megan Jones, another home buyer. “I mean I had to do a lot of air travel as well so I’ve kind of been through the ringer during this lockdown.”

Jones and many others have relied on virtual home tours which have their drawbacks.

“It’s hard to see the paint, if it needs upkeep, you don’t get to go in the crawlspace,” Schafer said. “It’s still just not the same as a buyer walking into a home and I can always tell from their expression, is this the right one or not, almost immediately when they walk in.”

Those expressions are harder to read during the face mask era. Schafer asks for a two-hour notice on showings so that sellers can wipe doorknobs and other common surfaces in their homes. Lights are left on and interior doors left open to minimize touch. Time inside a house is kept to a minimum. Curbside closings and signing documents in a car are a thing now.

“There’s so much pent up demand that people are going to want to get out there and see what’s available once they can,” Schafer said.

Home listings and sales in Denver were down significantly though in April compared to last year. But Knox found a new place relatively easily. ​Sheltering in place is no problem for him.

“What better way to spend all your time at home than packing and painting trim and getting this place ready to go on the market next,” Knox said.

And prepare to wipe lots of doorknobs. It’s a new spring ritual in a part of the economy that’s slowly coming back to life.