By Colleen Sparks
The Coronavirus pandemic has caused a significant decline in the number of houses being put on the market around the country but local experts say they expect North Central Phoenix to fare better than other areas and bounce back quickly.
Realtor.com reported that the number of home listings on its site dropped 47-percent year over year in the week that ended April 11. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the number of new listings on Realtor.com had been rising by about 15-percent in the first two weeks of March.
Bobby Lieb, associate broker with HomeSmart and long-time North Central Phoenix resident, said he and his colleagues are still showing homes and recently sold a house near 17th Street and Bethany Home Road. Lieb said as of early April, he had 19 listings and had seen home sales within the last three or four days in his area. He and his team had six new home listings for houses ranging from $500,000 to $1.4 million in the last two and a half weeks.
“Those of us that have survived the short sale foreclosure market in 2008 and 2012, we’re kind of hardened to fight, to make things happen,” Lieb said. “I see a lot of energy, a lot of activity. They’re still out there. They know this is going to pass over. I do think we still have the best values (in North Central). The Bridle Path’s huge; we’ve got tremendous schools, tremendous restaurants. I think our area’s a lot more stable than a lot of areas around the Valley.”
Lieb said in one case, buyers he was working with decided to cancel while in escrow on a home because one of them lost a job. Another buyer decided to back out of a deal because of a loss in income.
He said it is a good time to buy a home in North Central because of the excellent values here. The median list price for a single-family home in Phoenix for April 21 was $269,000.
Phillip Geretti, designated broker for Highland Real Estate, said he has seen fewer listings on the market in recent weeks but he also is optimistic about the market in North Central.
“People are just concerned,” Geretti said. “I think we’re going to slow down a little bit. The whole market in the Valley has been good for the last couple years so our inventory’s been very down. It’s been such a sellers’ market forever so this might be an equalizer, a better time to buy. It doesn’t feel like the recession. I believe it’s going to go away pretty quick, too.”
Geretti said he meets potential buyers at homes and does not drive them in his vehicle as a safety measure. He also uses hand sanitizer in homes.
Steve Caniglia and Erik Jensen, Realtors at The Caniglia Group, said they had seen some buyers stop looking for homes because of the Coronavirus pandemic but they believe the North Central housing market will stay strong.
“We’re still doing transactions but a handful of our buyers going into this have decided to press the pause button and see this through,” Caniglia said. “On the listing side, we’ve actually put three or four homes on the market since this all started.”
During the first three months of this year, 29,365 new listings hit the market around the Valley, Jensen said. That is compared to 47,187 homes that were new listings in the Valley the first three months of 2006, prior to the Great Recession striking the country in 2007.
“If you see a house and you like it, it’s a great time to buy,” Jensen said.
Caniglia said buyers who are uncomfortable visiting homes for sale in person during the COVID-19 may look at houses online.
“Obviously we’ve got a very unprecedented situation going on out there but we still feel bullish about the North Central market overall,” he said.
The COVID-19 also is affecting anyone seeking a loan or refinancing on a current home.
Colleen O’Dowd Cutler, vice president of Signature Home Loans, LLC, said it is more difficult for people to obtain “jumbo loans” due to the Coronavirus crisis. Jumbo loans are mortgages used to finance properties that exceed conventional loan limits.
O’Dowd Cutler said lenders “have really tightened up their guidelines because they’re worried about people losing jobs.” Lenders also are re-verifying buyers’ employment status right up until closing, rather than doublechecking employment about a week before closing as they did prior to the Coronavirus outbreak, she said.
Many people want to refinance their homes right now and it is a good time to do so “if you have a good, stable job” because rates are still low, O’Dowd Cutler said.
Kimberly Burgess, loan consultant with Caliber Home Loans, said home loans are still closing but some homeowners are facing financial strains.
“There’s a lot of people that have existing home loans now that are concerned about ‘how am I going to make my payment?’” Burgess said.
The CARES Act stimulus bill that Congress enacted in March gives homeowners with federally-backed mortgages the ability to stop making mortgage payments for up to a year if they are experiencing financial hardship due to the COVID-19. Burgess advised anyone considering forbearance to think about whether they will be able to make their back payments later on.
“If you don’t have $1,200 dollars a month (now), what makes you believe in four months you’ll have four times that?” she said. “If you can’t pay a lump sum, you have to go into loan modification.”
Burgess urges homeowners to talk to loan consultants about their situations. “We’ve never had a health crisis like this. It’s a whole new ball game.”