When local COVID-19 lockdown measures first went into place back in spring, Realtors in the area prepared for the worst.
“Obviously when you’re locked in your house, it’s hard to go out and see other houses,” said Ford Elliott, owner and CEO of BlackSream Christie’s International Real Estate.
But Elliott and others charged onward. Safety measures were implemented. Masks and gloves were purchased. Hand sanitizer was lugged in by the gallon. Homes were still being shown, but for most it seemed as though the market had hit the pause button, a collective wait-and-see mentality.
“People had this overall idea that the home has never been so important,” Elliott said. “And with interest rates extremely low historically, I think people have never seen a better time to buy.” – -Ford Elliott, owner & CEO, BlackStream Christie’s International Real Estate
Then two things happened: Mortgage interest rates took a plunge, and local lockdown measures were loosened.
“People had this overall idea that the home has never been so important,” Elliott said. “And with interest rates extremely low historically, I think people have never seen a better time to buy.”
Those two factors, among other drivers, are creating a market in which the residential real estate market here in Greenville is “busier than we’ve ever been,” according to Elliott.
A look at the numbers
Those keeping their eyes on Zillow won’t be surprised to hear that regardless of the pandemic, homes prices have risen in the area. Over the course of 2020, the average home in Greenville sold for $267,508, compared to an average of $252,025 during the same period last year, according to multiple listing service data from the Greater Greenville Association of Realtors.
And although taking a small dip at the peak of COVID-19 lockdown measures, sales have bounced back considerably, spurred in large part by historically low mortgage interest rates.
Interest rates hit a low of 3.29% for a 30-year fixed-rate in March, just as the full impact of the virus was starting to show itself, according to US Bank. Rates continued to slide down to a new all-time low of 3.15% around the start of June, and this month rates even fell below 3%, currently hovering around 2.99% as the month reaches its close.
Here in Greenville, the year began promisingly. The housing market saw a steady rise in the first few months of 2020, peaking with 1,294 homes sold in March, according to MLS data. But then COVID-19 hit, and sales fell by 16% in April with 1,090 homes sold, and remained relatively low in May with 1,181 homes sold.
At the start of June, however, just as mortgage interest rates reached another all-time low, lockdown measures were eased across South Carolina, home sales in Greenville skyrocketed to 1,564 for the month. July saw similarly high numbers, with 1,554 homes sold. And early figures from the month of August appear to match or beat figures from the previous two months.
Even with the slowdown in the market at the start of COVID-19 lockdown measures, the boom in activity over the past three months have brought sales up to nearly equal that of 2019. From January 2020 through Aug. 21, which is the most recent data available, 9,959 homes were sold in Greenville, down from 10,246 from the same period one year ago — a difference of just 287 homes.
Notably, the number of homes on the market is lower than it was last year, with overall volume increasing as a result, according to Joan Herlong, who heads Joan Herlong & Associates Sotheby’s International Realty.
Herlong attributes the decrease in inventory to a few factors, one being an increase in the number of empty-nesters deciding to “press the pause button and sit on their hands for awhile.”
“Those are the same people who are also going to fall into that at-risk category for COVID-19, so they don’t want strangers coming into their homes potentially introducing a virus, and they don’t want to go into other people’s homes either,” Herlong said. “They’d rather wait it out.”
Herlong also said another possible factor behind the decrease in inventory, one that’s wholly unrelated to the virus, is the impending presidential election.
“It’s still too early to tell, but in my experience every time we’ve had a presidential election coming up, it quiets the market somewhat because of the uncertainty factor,” she said. “People are always afraid because they don’t know who’s going to win. That’s worsened this year by the virus.”
Still, Herlong said once that uncertainty factor goes away, the pent-up demand usually moves forward.
“All I can say is, it’ll be interesting to see what happens this fall,” she said.