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Last spring made everyone - including those in the residential real estate sector - pretty nervous.
'Early last year, it was a pretty shocking reality for everybody when there was a sharp decline in sales and listings, and units closed and written,” recalled Chris Beason, president of Ruhl and Ruhl Realtors.
'From March of last year through the end of May, which usually has been a ramp up time heading into our business season, we were looking at being down 20 percent which was scary.”
Beason said they had to recalibrate, learning new ways to do business because the demand for services was still there.
'People started to find a lot more value in their home, not just the financial benefits, but - because people were spending more time at home - especially working. Some people realized they wanted to move and those realizations haven't shut off since,” he said.
The rest of 2020, therefore, headed in a less scary direction.
After a sharp decline in housing sales due to COVID-19 from mid-March until roughly the end of May, housing sales rose to heights not seen since the record years of 2005 and 2006, Beason said.
Across the region in 2020, Ruhl and Ruhl saw a 16 percent increase in sales volume over 2019 and 10 percent more properties sold than in 2019.
But inventory has hit an all-time low. At Ruhl and Ruhl, there were 40 percent fewer houses on the market in December 2020 than at that same time in 2019.
But Beason believes there will be more houses coming on the market in the weeks and months ahead.
This spring, local real estate agents and brokers said that they will be leaning on lessons learned to keep working with buyers and sellers in what has turned into a very hot market.
'The market continues to turn very quickly,” said Wendy Votroubek, Skogman Realty vice president.
'Buyer demand is greater than the listing inventory is keeping up with. In theory, sellers continue to list homes at fair market value, meet appraisal requirements and move on to their next home, in a very efficient time frame. This along with record low interest rates, has fueled demand.”
Votroubek added that, in many situations, sellers are entertaining competing offers.
'There's a lot of pent-up demand, and that's one of the big things that is holding back the industry,” Beason agreed.
'It's not necessarily a bad thing, as we are already going at a pretty rapid pace - but it makes our job as brokers harder. We are spending more time pounding the payment, not literally knocking on doors, but getting out there to find inventory and put deals together and acting quickly.”
In addition, he said, 'we seeing some sellers sitting on the fence because they think, ‘I'm not going to put my house on the market because I don't have anywhere to go.' So that's creating a little bit of a bottle neck.”
While many of these trends are taking place on a national level, Eastern Iowa has had the effects of the Aug. 10 derecho to contend with as well, which has been impacting the market even six months out.
It has not been slowing down the home buying and selling process much, however.
'We continue to help our agents guide their clients through the process of documenting the effects of the storm on the properties,” Votroubek said.
'With the entire community affected, we quickly created storm documentation to assist all parties in the transaction, to provide transparent information on any claims or repairs that were to be managed. This alleviated the unknowns between the parties and we are successfully closing on these homes.”
These local real estate professionals said that features attractive for continuing to work remotely are trending right now.
'We are seeing a demand for an extra bedroom to function as a full office, adding home gyms or work out spaces and ...
larger garages for more organized options,” Votroubek said.
'And it is important for people to be clear on their objectives, not just what they are looking for, but why it is important and what matters most,” he said. 'It's all about clarity. What are our primary objectives?
'And once we get clear on what's important, that makes it so much easier for us to find something because it helps us think outside the box.”
He encouraged buyers in today's market to consider their longer term goals because if you are looking to be in a home for say the next 10 years, it is a great time to move.
'Even though purchase prices may seem higher, with interest rates so low, the affordability is much greater at the moment,” he reasoned.
'While the prices of homes are going up, holistically speaking, the cost of ownership is down.”
While the last year has been a wild ride in the residential real estate market, Beason believes they not only have learned a lot, but also have improved the way they do business.
'We learned that with these changes and shifts we could still make the process effective for our clients,” he said.
'Learning to adapt and evolve and make sure that we're keeping our clients and our agents safe has been a whole new endeavor the digital tools that we've adopted are really making it easier on clients.”
Votroubek said Skogman very early on in the pandemic created new tools for agents to safely show homes through video walk-throughs, virtual open houses, Facebook live events and education on practical safety measures deemed to meet the safety and comfort of agents, buyers and sellers.
With such a hot market, Votroubek said, 'On both sides of the transaction, we are preparing our clients to be very prepared for the process to go quickly.
'Sellers need to consult with our agent to have a plan in place for where they will be moving to, have their home photo ready and have prepared for the inspection process to assure a smooth process.”
Agents are feeling more prepared as this spring rolls around.
'Spring is always the strongest selling period of the year as people desire sprucing up their homes, are ready for a change or are planning moves that can happen between school years over the summer months,” Votroubek said.
'Our team of agents adjusted almost every step of their normal process, in an effort to assist virtual tours, virtual and electronic document signing, closing out in the parking lot rather than a boardroom to social distance, and the stories are incredible.”