The coronavirus outbreak has disrupted what is normally the busiest season of the year for realtors everywhere. In Dorchester as elsewhere, agents and brokers are adjusting by using online platforms that allow them to continue to “show” properties for sale while biding their time until the current crisis abates.
“The truth is that we don't know how long this will last or exactly what the impact will be on our market. Ultimately, it will come down to consumer confidence when the dust settles,” said Kerry Dowlin, real estate associate at Gibson Sotheby's International Realty on Savin Hill Ave.
“I am hopeful that once we get past this, our typical spring market, that would normally be happening in full stride now, will happen this summer. I don't think it will look exactly the same – but we are preparing for a very busy June, July, and August.”
Last month, the Warren Group— which tracks property transactions across the state— reported that the median sale prices for single-family homes and condominiums had increased to all-time highs for the month of February – $380,000, up 4.1 percent from $365,000 in February 2019, for single-family homes and a 16.6 percent increase to $400,000 for condos.
Data for March — not yet available— will likely show "fairly normal and consistent trends,” according to Warren Group CEO Tim Warren, because it will mostly reflect homes that went under contract before the coronavirus pandemic really upended life.
"With economic uncertainty perpetuated by COVID-19 and Massachusetts essentially at a standstill, we can expect the number of single-family home sales and the median sale price to take a hit in the coming months," Warren told the State House News Service.
"A slowdown is inevitable," Warren said. "People who feel that their jobs are at risk, have been also seeing their investments and retirement accounts shrink. Those people are not going to be home shopping aggressively in the second quarter."
The disruption has been particularly tricky for people who were already in the middle of selling or buying a home. “There are still buyers who need to move or are relocating to the area as well as sellers who have made plans to move. So, for them, the show must go on,” said Dowlin, who has seen purchases happening "sight unseen.”
For most realtors in Dorchester, adapting to the crisis has meant a bigger dependence on tools that had increasingly become part of their arsenal even before the health emergency: virtual tours, video walkthroughs, interactive floor plans using drones, even robotics.
Leslie MacKinnon, realtor at Compass Real Estate, said that Compass is outsourcing robotic technology from Boston Virtual Imaging, a company that specializes in architectural photography, video production, and 2D & 3D visualizations. Home inspectors are also using GoPro cameras to conduct inspections.
One of MacKinnon’s specialties is home staging. She has been using Zoom and FaceTime to help sellers prepare their properties for the markets.
“I have to be literally directing people, like where to point the camera so I can see different things. It's strange,” she said with a laugh, “but it’s working.”
MacKinnon said she has one condo unit in Dorchester that’s currently under agreement. The two-bedroom condo on Stoughton St. in Jones Hill, listed at $769,000, is expected to close in the beginning of May, she said.
Marlea Mesh, a realtor at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, hosted an open house the weekend of March 14th and 15 at 48 Juliette Street on Jones Hill. The three-decker is currently listed with Coldwell Banker for $999,000.
“It was heavily attended and we did take precautions,” Mesh said. “The property generated multiple offers.”
According to Coldwell Banker’s website, Mesh helped facilitate the sale of a 2-bedroom condo on Adams St. in Lower Mills for $619,000 on April 3.
Mary Kelly, of Jack Conway Realty, is also still seeing activity.
“The market here is driven by inventory and people are still desperate to buy properties,” she said, adding that closings already in the pipeline are continuing while noting that fewer people are calling to list their properties. But because rates are low and there’s high demand, we think that the market will come back around in June,” she said.
“This is an industry of relationships, so a lot of what I’m doing personally is picking up the phone and calling people. I’m trying to be a calm voice and share any comforting or essential information and services that I can,” she said.”
Lynn Hollenbeck of Seaport Realty has seen a dramatic slowdown in business. “I think a lot of sellers are extremely cautious and nervous as to what direction we’ll be going in once we get out of quarantine,” she said. “We are not fortune tellers as realtors. I’ve been working in this profession for 23 years and I’ve seen all types of ups and downs in the market. I don’t think it’s possible for us to completely rebound. Spring is usually a huge surge and we’re missing it.”
Her advice for people who need to sell their properties: “It’s better to list now than to wait and see what happens if the economy doesn’t rebound. On the other side, buyers are really hoping for a market crash.”
Hollenback is still actively working and showing properties to prospective buyers. “I have appointments this afternoon,” she said while noting that “virtual tours are great, but you can’t really get a grasp for a property unless you’re physically in it. A lot of the time I find myself giving virtual tours and then in-person tours for people. It’s double the work but it’s necessary. Nobody really wants to buy a property without ever seeing it.”
One thing that Hollenback said she hopes will stay in place after the state of emergency lifts is e-signing tools. “I love how real estate has pulled away from having to constantly be in the office. We’ve done closings this month where the seller has already signed, and the buyer can just pull up to the curb and sign attorney e-files,” she said.
“It makes life so much easier for so many people. Sometimes it’s difficult for people to take off time from work to do a closing. I don’t know if the registry will allow e-filing to stay in place but if they do, I think it’s an awesome tool for us.”
For her part, Dowlin says she is positive that the neighborhood’s market will prove to be resilient. “I know that it will adjust and a new normal will evolve, but the buyer demand has been high, interest rates are still amazing, and inventory is lower than we have seen it in years,” she said.
“I have been in this Dorchester market for 20 years and saw the '08 crash up close,” she added. “The conditions today are vastly different. Prices may level off a little, but with our inventory down about 28 percent from this time last year, there is still strong demand for properties.
“Unless the market gets flooded with inventory, I honestly don't see huge corrections happening. So, I am optimistic that we will look back and see that while real estate may not have had a banner year, it continued to chug along.”