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What Home Buyers and Sellers Can Expect in 2020, as Pandemic Revises Forecast

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FROM REALTOR.COM: There are so many ways in which 2020 is not turning out the way most Americans expected. In terms of real estate, we were hurtling toward a busy spring season. All the economic indicators looked strong, boosting buyers to battle it out for a limited supply of homes. But then the coronavirus pandemic swept across the nation, upending those expectations and forcing us to reassess the year ahead.

Home sales have fallen and real estate listings dissipated as the COVID-19 pandemic made many buyers and sellers think twice about buying, selling, and potentially even moving with a deadly and highly contagious virus on the loose. But home sales will rebound in the late summer and fall, driven by millennials eager to own a home of their own, according to a revised forecast for 2020 by realtor.com®’s economists.

Markets in smaller, more affordable cities and surrounding suburbs could be particularly brisk as folks reevaluate the appeal of big-city life during a pandemic. But realtor.com also predicts the housing market will experience a second round of pain in the form of another downturn toward the end of the year.

“COVID-19 has really dramatically changed the way the housing market is going to perform this year,” says realtor.com Chief Economist Danielle Hale. “We started off with the potential for the best year in more than a decade for sales. But we’re going to see ups and downs as the market grapples with an unsteady economy. This will affect buyers and sellers across the board.”

Sales of existing homes are expected to drop about 15% in 2020 compared with the previous year. Realtor.com is anticipating 4.5 million sales this year, compared with 5.34 million last year. The company’s economic team had originally forecast, late last year, that 5.25 million sales would take place in 2020.

While many cash-strapped buyers have eagerly anticipated prices falling, triggering a real estate bonanza similar to the Great Recession, that’s not likely to happen this time around. That’s because the number of homes on the market has fallen, by about 45% in April, and so has demand from buyers. There’s no glut of for-sale homes driving prices down.

“Sellers don’t like to reduce their prices. So they decide not to sell,” says Hale. Instead, they just pull their homes off the market.

The median price for an existing home is expected to hold steady, rising by just 1.1% in 2020 over the previous year.

“Were it not for COVID-19, we probably would’ve seen prices rise in the 2% to 4% range,” says Hale. That’s because even before the pandemic, available housing fell well short of demand, pushing prices up.

Buyers shouldn’t despair. Record-low mortgage interest rates will offset some of the slightly higher prices. Rates are expected to be around 3.2% this year, down from nearly 4% last year. And they could even fall into the 2% range later in 2020, amid further financial uncertainty.

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The problem is, buyers may have a harder time snagging those low mortgage rates. Lenders are requiring higher credit scores and down payments, in some cases, as the nation grapples with unemployment rates that are likely in the 20%-plus range.

Another downside for buyers is that home construction is expected to slow, exacerbating the housing shortage. Housing starts, or the number of homes on which construction has begun, are expected to drop by 11% this year. Before the pandemic stalled construction sites in certain states, realtor.com had expected starts to jump by 10% in 2020.

Where buyers go shopping could also shift in the wake of the coronavirus. Those cooped up in small apartments in pricey cities may seek out smaller cities and suburbs where they can get more square footage and a backyard for less money. And with unemployment as bad as it’s been since the Great Depression, buyers may also seek out these areas for their lower prices.

“The experience of being at home for a long period of time has everyone rethinking their priorities,” says Hale. “People are recognizing space is more important, so they’re looking for more affordable areas where they can have more space at the same price.”

 
WRITTEN BY Clare Trapasso for REALTOR.COM

3 Coronavirus Facts Americans Must Know Before Returning To Work, School

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By Robert Pearl, M.D. for FORBES: 

We can’t un-bungle our nation’s COVID-19 response. Political leaders acted too slowly, health agencies committed unforced errors with testing kits and, amid the confusion, an information fog settled over the land. 
Americans remain afraid, perplexed and chronically misinformed (despite wall-to-wall coronavirus coverage across the leading cable-news programs and print publications).  
To counter the uncertainty, any plan to get us out of the coronavirus crisis must first acknowledge and broadly communicate three immutable, scientific facts.

Fact 1: Staying home saves lives but it doesn’t kill the virus

Weeks of social distancing and self-isolation in the United States have made us all safer. These precautions slowed the spread of COVID-19, thus helping to “flatten the curve.” Doing so buys hospitals and critical care centers enough time to staff up and stock diagnostic tests, protective gear and ventilators. 

However, it’s imperative that Americans understand these measures do not eliminate the virus. By staying home (and six feet apart from each other), we did not (and cannot) outlast our opponent.

Whenever we return to our jobs, schools and community gatherings—be it this spring, summer or fall—infections will rise. It’s not a prediction. It’s a biological fact. 

To avoid overwhelming critical care services, local reopening strategies must keep a multitude of safety precautions in place, especially those meant to protect the most vulnerable populations. The elderly—and those with chronic illnesses like heart and lung disease—remain at highest risk and therefore must continue to shelter in place. As such, local governments should provide them with food, housing and safe transport as needed. 

Fact 2: We’re in this for the long-haul 

There’s a bitter paradox brewing in the United States. The spread of COVID-19 has been, and still is, largely predictable based on objective and publicly available data. Yet most people—including Wall Street investorsgovernors and sports-starved fans—seem unable to comprehend the mathematical realities of a virus that spreads exponentially. 

As federal and state officials hammer out plans to reopen the economy, our nation must accept the unfortunate truth that every path forward is booby-trapped. 
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The coronavirus will persist until there is either (a) a safe vaccine (still 12 to 18 months away) or (b) until there is “herd immunity,” whereby two-thirds of the nation (about 200 million people) must become infected, recover and develop the appropriate antibodies. This, too, will take at least a year. 

A theoretical third option, which involves aggressively testing and quarantining all infected individuals, no longer applies. In the United States, that ship sailed in back February when the number of cases soared into the tens of thousands with no way of tracking carriers and their recent contacts. At this point, too many people are infected and too many of the infected show no symptoms, making it impossible to rid the virus through containment.

So, what options do we have? Trump recently announced he is “authorizing each individual governor of each individual state to implement a reopening, and a very powerful reopening, plan of their state.”

This is a dangerous tightrope to walk at the state level. Governors must ensure they don’t ease restrictions too quickly or too slowly.

Reports of increased mental health crises, domestic violence incidents and suicides demonstrate the urgency of getting people out of their houses and back to their normal lives. At the same time, the Spanish Flu of 1918 reminds us that the “second wave” of a virus can prove just as deadly as the first.  

Medical requirements for reopening the country must therefore include: 

  • Limiting exposure, likely for a year. Restaurants and shops should reopen only under three conditions: (1) community hospitals have additional capacity to handle an uptick in demand, (2) all local businesses agree to restrict indoor capacity based on the six-foot rule, and (3) all staff wear masks. 
  • Making tests free and convenient. Testing for COVID-19 requires the insertion a 6-inch long swab into the back of the nasal passage through one nostril and rotating the swab several times for 15 seconds. It’s a painful process, which is why Americans won’t consent to a reopening strategy that involves daily tests. Nevertheless, local governments need to make testing available at no cost to anyone with COVID-19 symptoms. Those who are confirmed should immediately self-quarantine.
  • Helping health officials. In parallel to molecular testing for the disease, our nation must ramp up serological testing, which can identify those that were infected, have since recovered and developed antibodies—thus telling health officials how close we are to herd immunity.  

Fact 3: Our nation is ignoring the most important metric 

Every day, cable-news chyrons display the latest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths. These figures are eye-popping, but they tell us very little about the relative safety of reopening the country.

That’s why it’s important for all Americans to acquaint themselves with a different, more-informative metric. 

R0 (pronounced “R naught”) is a number that indicates the contagiousness of an infectious disease like COVID-19. Specifically, it tells us the average number of unvaccinated (or otherwise vulnerable) people who will contract a disease from one contagious individual. 

For example, measles has an R0 of 12 to 18, which means that one infected person will transmit the virus to as many as 18 unprotected people. The R0 for HIV is 4.0 and the seasonal flu is 1.2. 

Early data suggests the R0 of COVID-19 is between 2.5 and 3.0. However, the actual number depends not only on the biology of the disease but on the actions people take. 

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For example, when people observe social distancing and adhere to rigid shelter-in-place measures, the number drops. In the UK, where strict lockdown protocols and frequent testing are in place, the R0 is low (currently estimated to be 0.62). Conversely, the R0 value grows much higher in densely packed conditions including sports arenas, large conferences and events like Mardi Gras.

As explained here, the R0 value shows the potential transmissibility of the disease, and its careful monitoring constitutes both the safest and fastest way for the United States to implement a reopening strategy:

  • If R0 is less than 1.0, each infected person transmits the virus to less than one other individual. As a result, the disease incidence will decline and the virus will slowly die out.
  • If R0 equals 1.0, each infected person will transmit the virus to one other individual. As a result, the infection rate will remain constant (though the curve will be flat) and there won’t be a future spike (or second wave). 
  • If R0 is more than 1.0, each infected person will pass the virus onto more than one individual. As such, the number of infected people will rise and the number of individuals needing critical care can quickly surge.  

If we want Americans to better understand the relative safety and preparedness of local and regional “reopening” plans, we must base our decisions on this important number. 

Facts Save Lives

About 90% of the country has been on some form of lockdown order for several weeks now. People are losing patience. As our nation eagerly eyes the future, we must let science inform our decisions about reopening small businesses, allowing students to return to class and easing social restrictions.

If we move ahead too quickly, we risk losing lives unnecessarily. If we move too slowly, we also risk unnecessary deaths. We can’t allow politics or panic to push our nation too far in either direction. These three facts, based on science, should guide the way.

WRITTEN BY ROBERT PEARL, M.D, FOR FORBES.COM

Photo by camilo jimenez on Unsplash
Photo by 
Ani Kolleshi on Unsplash
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

 

 

Nightly Applause Brings Angelenos to Their Windows and Balconies

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FROM CURBED LA: Downtown LA’s normally busy streets have been eerily quiet over the last few months. Lately though, its buildings have come briefly to life.

That’s when residents open windows and step out onto apartment balconies to join in a round of applause for healthcare workers fighting to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

It’s a ritual that’s spreading quickly through neighborhoods in and around Los Angeles—from Long Beach to Silver Lake.

Nightly cheering, clapping, and singing helped residents of Wuhan, China weather a long lockdown when the virus broke out there. The practice has been taken up in cities around the world, and formalized as a salute to frontline medical staff.

Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council president Patti Berman says members of the neighborhood council were inspired by cheering taking place in New York and worked to get a similar ritual started in the Downtown area.

“There are so many people working at their own peril right now,” she says. “The least we can do is say thank you.”

Through emails and social media posts, coordinated by outreach chair Marcus Lovingood, the neighborhood council last week began encouraging people to clap every night during the month of April. Berman says her apartment doesn’t have windows to the street, so she can’t participate in the applause, but she’s been encouraged by videos of cheers circulating on social media.

“It’s gotten pretty loud,” she says.

South Park resident Sara Eastwood has lived in her one-bedroom apartment for two years. She says the 8 p.m. applause has brought out neighbors she’s never noticed.

“It’s built more of a sense of community here,” she says. “A lot of people say that’s lacking in Downtown LA. It seems like a dense neighborhood at times, but it’s pretty quiet [in South Park] most of the time.”

For more than a week, the Wilshire Grand, its hotel rooms darkened, has been displaying its own tribute—an enormous digital display that reads “thank you medical workers.”

Eastwood says these tributes are nice, but that she wishes some of the positive energy could be directed toward ensuring better pay and benefits for non-medical workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis.

“This sort of misses the custodians, grocery workers, and lower paid workers who are essential right now,” she says.

Berman says the nightly cheering is a small gesture, but that it’s a clear and easy way for people to feel like they are supporting their community at a time when public officials are urging most people to simply stay at home. It can also be therapeutic.

“There’s nothing like opening the window and yelling,” she says.

Written by Elijah Chilland for CURBED LA

Here’s What You Can And Can’t Do Under The Stay At Home Order

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FROM LAIST/ UPDATED 3/20: Our friends at the Long Beach Post have put together this helpful list (which we organized into categories and made some additions to).

You can still go on walks. You can still go to the grocery store. You can still pick up food from restaurants (to-go orders only). Take your pet to the veterinarian. Visit your doctor or pharmacy. Help someone else get supplies.

Last night, Los Angeles County and state officials issued a stay at home order to help slow the spread of coronavirus. Under this new “safer at home” order — and the governor’s order given minutes later—gatherings of 10 or more people are banned.

For gatherings that aren’t prohibited, people must be separated by at least 6 feet, have a hand washing station or hand sanitizer available and post a sign notifying people not to come if they have a fever or cough.

Malls, shopping centers, playgrounds and nonessential retail businesses are ordered closed. Gyms, movie theaters, bars and wineries were ordered closed on Sunday. People can still exercise outside and go on walks or hikes.

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The order went into effect at midnight and is punishable by fines or imprisonment. Here’s how the City of L.A. puts it in an FAQ on the orders:

Q: Is this order mandatory? What happens if I don’t comply?

A: Yes. This is a legally enforceable order. It is against the law to violate this Order, and you may be punished by a fine or imprisonment for doing so.

That said, asked at yesterday’s news conference if you should call the police if you see someone violating the orders, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti stressed that the countywide goal was to have a “light touch,” not to to march people into jail:

There are never going to be enough county or cities workers to be able to quote unquote enforce this. This is on 10 million people to self enforce, and for us to look where there are those holes and make sure that those are closed quickly.

Residents can expect everything but “essential businesses” to be closed and for workers whose jobs don’t fall into that category to stop reporting to work. Let’s take a closer look at what that means.

ESSENTIAL BUSINESSES INCLUDE:

Places that sell or produce food:

  • Grocery stores, certified farmers’ markets, food banks, convenience stores, pet supply stores, farm and produce stands. This includes stores that sell groceries and sell other non-grocery products, and products necessary to maintaining the safety and sanitation of homes.
  • Restaurants and beverage facilities that prepare and serve food or beverages, but only for delivery, drive-through or carry out.
  • Food cultivation, including farming, livestock and fishing.

Places with medical purpose:

  • Home-based care for seniors, adults, people with a disability, or children.
  • Residential facilities and shelters for seniors, adults, people with a disability, and children.
  • Cannabis dispensaries with a medicinal cannabis license.

Media outlets:

  • Newspapers, television, radio, magazine, podcast and other media services.

Core life services:

  • Gas stations, and auto-supply, auto-repair and car dealerships.
  • Banks and credit unions.
  • Hardware stores, garden nurseries, building supplies.
  • Laundromats, dry cleaners and laundry service providers.
  • Personal grooming services.
  • Plumbers, electricians, exterminators, custodial/janitorial workers, handyman services, funeral home workers and morticians, moving services, HVAC installers, carpenters, landscapers, gardeners, property managers, private security personnel and other service providers who provide services to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation to properties and other essential businesses.
  • Businesses that supply office or computer products needed by people who work from home.
  • Businesses that supply other Essential Businesses with the support or supplies necessary to operate.
  • Businesses that ship, truck, provide logistical support or deliver groceries, food, goods or services directly to residences, essential businesses, healthcare operations, essential infrastructure.
  • Airlines, taxis and other private transportation providers providing transportation services necessary for activities of daily living.
  • Businesses that provide parts and service for essential infrastructure.
  • Professional services, such as legal or accounting services, when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities.

Childcare for essential workers:

  • Childcare facilities providing services that enable employees exempted to work. To the extent possible, childcare facilities must operate under the following mandatory conditions: (1) Childcare must be carried out in stable groups of 12 or fewer; (2) Children shall not change from one group to another; (3) If more than one group of children is cared for at one facility, each group shall be in a separate room. Groups shall not mix with each other; (4) Childcare providers shall remain solely with one group of children.

Places that provide shelter:

  • Hotels, motels, shared rental units and similar facilities.
  • Homeless shelters and social services for economically disadvantaged people.

Places that educate:

  • Educational institutions (including public and private K-12 schools, colleges, and universities) for purposes of facilitating distance learning or performing essential functions, provided that social distancing of 6-feet per person is maintained to the greatest extent possible.

Military/defense contractors/FFRDC (Federally Funded Research and Development Centers).

  • Essential personnel may leave their residence to provide any service or perform any work deemed essential for national security including, but not limited to defense, intelligence and aerospace development and manufacturing for the Department of Defense, the intelligence community, and NASA and other federal government, and or United States Government departments and agencies. Essential personnel include prime, sub-primes, and supplier contractor employees, at both the prime contract level and any supplier levels at any tier, working on federal United States Government contracts such as contracts rated under the Defense Priorities and Allocations System (DPAS) and contracts for national intelligence and national security requirements.

Pocket Listings Will Soon Disappear in Many Parts of the Country

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FROM HOUSINGWIRE: The National Association of Realtors board of directors has banned the controversial practice of “pocket listings.” 

While the policy became effective on Jan. 1, 2020 NAR directors delayed implementation until May 1, to give the nation’s more than 800 multiple listing services time to make any technology changes and educate users.

It’s a practice that was surging in competitive markets such as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. It allowed a listing agent to use a multiple listing service to let others know the property was for sale, usually with an informal “coming soon” notice, while not officially sharing the listing and often retaining a full commission.

In San Francisco, the share of homes selling via pocket listings increased 68% between 2010 and 2018, and the trend had been on the rise across the country, according to Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman.
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“We know that the policy is a crucial protection for consumers,” said Kelman, who supported the NAR decision, “especially members of minority groups who, research shows, are often the last to find out about pocket listings.”

The new NAR rule requires properties to be listed on the MLS within one business day of being marketed to the public. Specifically, the policy states:

“Within one business day of marketing a property to the public, the listing broker must submit the listing to the MLS for cooperation with other MLS participants. Public marketing includes, but is not limited to, flyers displayed in windows yard signs, digital marketing on public-facing websites, brokerage website displays, digital communications marketing (email blasts), multi-brokerage listing sharing networks, and applications available to the general public.”

FROM THE WASHINGTON POST:  These unlisted listings may never get to the public multiple-listing service if the broker has a ready, willing and able buyer waiting in the wings.

According to the National Association of Realtors, pocket listings exclude consumers because not everyone has access to the same information about a particular property. And by limiting eyeballs on a property, it’s possible (even likely) you will exclude prospective buyers and the home will sell for a lower price than it would if the largest number of people had a chance to view each property.


Of course, there are times when a pocket listing might benefit a seller. With the continued presence of sites such as Zillow, Trulia, Redfin and others, there appears to be a tug of war going on. These sites make it easy for home buyers to see the starting price for a home, what it previously sold for and how long the property has been on the market. Having said that, having that days-on-market clock start ticking immediately could be detrimental to a seller’s prospects.

At the end of the day, the Realtors are trying to decide whether a seller wants maximum exposure for a listing with all of the information that goes with it online or whether they want a listing to have a more limited audience, with little or no information available publicly. Which way will generate the most money for the seller (and, of course, the listing agent)?

Complicating all of this is the advent of iBuyers and companies such as Opendoor (Zillow and Redfin are also competing in this venue), which offer sellers the opportunity to sell instantly, on the seller’s timetable, for a larger chunk of cash.

We’ll see how things play out over coming months as the Clear Cooperation Policy gets implemented and real estate agents gauge how to work with it and around it.

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Written By Kathleen Howley for HousingWire / and Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin  For The Washington Post


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