Most every industry in the United States, and even worldwide, have been hit hard by the novel coronavirus.
And yet, while those industries continue doing what they can just to make ends meet, there is one market doing substantially well during this time: the residential real estate market.
“I feel a little conflicted because we are so busy and I acknowledge that there are so many industries that are suffering,” said Karen Chackel, vice president and county manager at First American Title.
Ms. Chackel was one of three speakers to address the big boom the real estate market is seeing, especially here in Santa Barbara, during UCSB’s Economic Forecast Project virtual forum hosted by Dr. Peter Rupert.
“I honestly have not seen this type of boom, instant boom, in this market since 2005, and it’s all aspects in the market,” Ms. Chackel said.
When COVID first hit in mid-March, Ms. Chackel remembered that she was given a directive to send 70% of her staff across the country to work from home.
While that was going on, Ms. Chackel experienced something she never had before despite the multiple recessions she has been through in her time working in the field.
“I had never seen an instant stop to the market,” she said.
“We actually lost 50% of all of our transactions that were in the pipeline, so that was pretty horrific. All I could see on the horizon was massive layoffs in all aspects of the industry.”
They were all worried about what was going to happen in the coming weeks.
Then, the boom.
“Come toward the end of May, it was like a boom. It was like somebody turned on the faucet,” Ms. Chackel said.
While housing sales were dormant in March, April and May, refinances were still happening across the board.
Oddly enough, 2019 was already one of the best financial years locally in the real estate market, and 2020, while it might not reach that high, is also still doing very well.
That doesn’t mean, however, everything has been easy over the last six months.
Some of the big changes meant going to digital on everything, even difficult things like notary signings.
Renee Grubb, owner of the Montecito-based real estate firm Village Properties, highlighted how at the beginning of the pandemic, no one was interested in purchasing a house, in large part because of the virus.
“A lot of properties were falling out of escrow. A lot of sellers were pulling their houses off the market as well. Buyers were concerned about looking at properties and sellers were nervous having people in their homes,” she said.
Knowing this, Ms. Grubb quickly implemented new safety precautions for showing properties and conducting real estate transactions to reduce any risk of virus spread and help buyers and sellers feel more safe.
And even as restrictions get lifted, she and her team remain committed to sticking to those safety precautions.
“Our protocol, our guidelines have really not changed. I think that it’s important for everyone to know that, you know, we’re continuing to do all the proper things out there to show property,” Ms. Grubb said.
She added that she is not sure why the boom took place, but she was “thankful,” and said she thinks it was fueled by people wanting to leave the cities.
Last August, Ms. Grubb noted that there were 107 closings. This August, 200 total homes and condominiums were able to be closed.
The month of July had the most sales of any month and the median selling price was over $1 million.
“We are seeing a lot of sales in Montecito, but everywhere really,” Ms. Grubb said.
Near the end, she spoke about the inventory remaining for Village Properties. It is down to 240 listings.
“That’s the type of activity we have here and it is really hard to keep up with if I am being honest,” she said.
“I think the number for August here is a little low because of lack of inventory.”
Still, seasoned agents expect the market to continue excelling.
“Especially on the high end is because of three reasons, prices, believe it or not, are still very competitive to most high end markets. Location, because cases are low and last because this is a beautiful place,” Ms. Grubb said.
George Leis, the president and CEO of Montecito Bank & Trust, spoke last on this topic and offered insight into consumer preferences.
“There has been incredible growth in the building materials and garden supply post March 9. I know I have remodeled in my backyard extensively during the crisis and apparently, I am not alone,” Mr. Leis said.
Along with an uptick in those areas, Mr. Leis noted similar upticks in furniture sales and in electronics.
He also talked about the deferment process. Back in March, Mr. Leis said that any person who asked for deferment, they provided them with one.
“Not to today, we have no ones that are in deferment any longer. All those loans that were on deferment have started paying again,” Mr. Leis said.