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Residential market weathers COVID-19 storm

By John Seelmeyer

Despite ever-tightening limitations on the ways that houses can be shown to prospective buyers, the early weeks of the coronavirus crisis haven’t cooled the residential market in the Reno area.

The Reno-Sparks Association of Realtors reported a couple of days ago that 502 home sales were completed in the region as the coronavirus crisis unfolded during March. That sales volume is up 9.6 percent from the same month a year ago.

The median price of a single-family home sold during March reached $415,000, a 6 percent increase in just 30 days.

And there are few signs that the health crisis is causing the market to cool, says Erika Lamb, the president of the Reno-Sparks Association of Realtors and a broker at Welcome Home Real Estate & Property Management.

She says a survey of local real estate agents found most hadn’t seen much change in the market in recent weeks.  At most, the survey found, a few potential home sellers may have decided to wait before putting homes up for sale.

But the 457 homes currently on the market are being marketed in new ways in response to the coronavirus. In-person showings are fewer, Lamb says, while the use of FaceTime or Zoom for virtual showings is increasing.

“Buyers are still interested in homes, and buyers can have the full experience of touring a home without physically being there,” Lamb says. “The agent is able to walk the buyer through the house as if they were in it.”

She says, too, some agents are using Facebook Live to host virtual open houses.

The growing reliance on technology is supported by the Northern Nevada Multiple Listing Service, which recently added features that include more pictures per listing and live-stream open houses and tours.

Gov. Steve Sisolak on Wednesday placed legal restrictions on real-estate showings, putting enforcement teeth into the social-distancing practices that most agents have been following on their own.

The directive from the governor allows virtual open houses as well as individual showings by appointment when the seller is the occupant of the home. Virtual showings of rental properties are allowed only with the consent of tenants. Any open houses and in-person showings of occupied rental properties are prohibited.

Nevada Realtors, the statewide professional group, supported the governor’s order. Chris Bishop, the organization’s president, said the association already has been urging agents to follow public health guidelines and practice social-distancing.

Ripple effects of the coronavirus pandemic, however, may pose problems for the continued strength of the Reno-area home market.

Nearly 7,500 newly jobless workers from Washoe County filed unemployment claims at the end of March, and workers without jobs are unlikely to be shopping for houses.

Nationally, mortgage lenders have been warning of chaos after the big federal stimulus package allowed some borrowers to defer payments on their home loans.  Mortgage lenders, however, still have to pay the investors who provided the money for mortgages.

Lamb says buyers and their agents still are finding available loans, although the process can be more complicated or take longer than the past.  With rates currently in the range of 3.5 percent — close to historic lows — the search for a mortgage is well worth the effort, she says.

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