Buying and Selling a Home in the Time of COVID

Listings with large yards and pools, like this one in Bedford, are now in demand.
Photo by Digital Homes

Like every other facet of life in Westchester — and around the globe — the real estate market has been impacted dramatically by the COVID-19 pandemic. Buyers, sellers, and real estate agents have been trying to figure out how to conduct deals in the face of never-before-seen conditions, as well as mandated restrictions that basically brought the market to a halt.

“When real estate agents were allowed to conduct virtual showings only, some transactions occurred, but, understandably, prospective buyers typically want to view properties in person before making offers,” notes Richard K. Haggerty, CEO, Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors.

Numbers from Houlihan Lawrence’s Q2 Market Report bear this out: 1,136 homes were sold in Westchester in Q2 2020, a 24.3% drop from the 1,500 homes that were sold during the same period in 2019. Lower supply and increased demand, however, did help elevate the average sales price by 4.8% (from $883,811 in Q2 2019 to $926,599 in Q2 2020).

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But, with a little flexibility and creativity, area agents managed to still make things happen. “We listed two homes sight unseen, and one, in Dobbs Ferry, sold with multiple offers,” say Bernadette Haley and Beth Hargraves of The HCH Team at Julia B. Fee Sotheby’s International Realty in Irvington. “We did the whole thing virtually. We met with our clients via FaceTime, and they prepared the house and gave us a virtual tour. We staged it for photos that way, too: We’d say to remove this and put that there. We did all of the contracts and paperwork virtually, as well.”

Though not ideal, this environment ensured that only serious buyers were involved in the process and made for streamlined transactions. Once in-person showings were again allowed, sellers, for obvious reasons, wanted to minimize the number of people coming in and out of their homes, so potential buyers were required to provide prequalification letters, proof of funds, driver IDs, and completed COVID forms before they were allowed to view a property. “It kept the lookers away,” note Haley and Hargraves.

Wearing masks during home showings is the new normal, says realtor Stacey Oestreich. Photo by Rob Lowell

“People who had to make a move masked up and gloved up and did it. But it wasn’t a joyous process; it wasn’t that fun house-hunting experience,” explains Stacey Oestreich, licensed real estate salesperson with Douglas Elliman Real Estate in Armonk.

“Everyone is very realistic about transacting now,” she continues. “Where sellers prior to COVID were reticent to move off price, the message now is that this is the market to make a deal.” Adds Haggerty: “Since June, when in-person showings were allowed again, the real estate market has taken off, in part due to pent up demand and in part due to buyers moving up from New York City.”

What buyers are looking for in a home has also changed as a result of COVID, say Westchester agents. “Families are dealing with working from home and having their kids home all the time, so they want larger homes, larger properties with pools, and separate office space. The dynamic has really changed. Pre-COVID, people didn’t want to take care of all that; they were looking for smaller, low-maintenance spaces,” say Haley and Hargraves.

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Buyers also seem more open to homes that need a little TLC, Oestreich adds. While Millennials, in particular, have typically been averse to homes that weren’t turnkey, the pandemic has changed that. “We now see buyers who want to do the work. They are getting realistic. If they don’t like the kitchen, they still like it better than not having a house to shelter in.”

These experts agree that the Westchester market seems poised to continue full steam, as those who sat on the sidelines during the pandemic are now out in force, and the NYC exodus shows no signs of letting up.

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