The COVID-19 pandemic has not slowed the West Side real estate market.
With inventory of existing homes scarce, local real estate agents report, many listings are being snapped up in a matter of days - often after multiple offers and in some cases at prices above the original asking amount.
Historically low interest rates are also fueling demand, boosting the purchasing power of buyers.
“It is a sellers market, but at the same time it is a great market for buyers because of the interest rates,” commented Jared Amaral of Stephens & Borrelli Real Estate. “It is a perfect storm. It is a great window for sellers and buyers to take advantage.”
The few homes that hit the market, if well-priced and in good condition, are in high demand.
“There are only about four houses on the market in Gustine and eight or nine in Newman,” said Bill Mattos, broker with Valley Real Estate in Gustine. “If they are priced right and in good shape they don’t last.”
Mattos said he anticipated that the COVID-19 crisis would slow the housing market.
If anything, he told Mattos Newspapers, after some initial reservations among buyers, sellers and agents when the pandemic hit, the market has gotten only stronger through the course of the year.
Mattos said that, at the low end of the market, many homes in the 1,100-square foot range are selling in the mid-$200,000 range.
Market demand remains strong for homes up to $300,000 he said.
JoAnna Lafler, owner of Lafler Real Estate, said demand appears to be settling into two tiers. Among one category of buyers, homes in the $240,000-$270,000 range are in high demand - although some may only be two-bedroom, one-bath units.
“There is another tier of buyers where you are going up to $325,000 to $350,000,” she noted.
Lafler said that homes put on the market may very well be pending within 10 days.
“What is priced correctly seems to be selling in a week to two weeks maximum,” Amaral said. “We still experience multiple offers on properties. That has been more common this year due to the shortage and buyer demand.”
Amaral noted that the housing market has been solid for a number of years since emerging from the extended downturn of more than a decade ago.
Local inventory has been limited for some time, he said, but the pandemic has only restricted it further as people are delaying listings due to the pandemic restrictions.
“We had an inventory shortage before we got into this year. I really feel that (COVID-19) cemented it,” Amaral commented.
In some instances, he added, the shortage almost becomes self-perpetuating as buyers do not list their property because they will not be able to find a replacement home.
Lafler said that hurdle exists even among potential sellers who want to move out of state but cannot find properties so they are simply staying put.
Amaral, who said the sweet spot in the market appears to be homes priced from $285,000-$325,000, said many of his sales have been to West Side buyers.
Lafler, though, said buyer demand is heavy from the Bay Area and valley cities such as Turlock.
She attributes that to not only the difference in home prices, but to shifts in employment arrangements which allow employees to work remotely.
“It is not as urgent for Bay Area people to be close to their place of business,” Lafler remarked. “Companies are saying the people can just work from home. That is a pretty dynamic shift.”
Mattos said basic economics are driving buyer interest from areas such as Hollister and Gilroy.
“They can make a (house) payment here cheaper than their rent,” he noted.
The pandemic has forced agents to become even more adept in the use of technology.
An agent, for example, can conduct a video tour of a property for a buyer rather than an in-person showing.
In that environment, Amaral said, agents must be more thorough and meticulous than ever before.
“I have done more virtual listings on Zoom than face to face appointments in the home,” Amaral said. “We have done video presentations and sight-unseen sales.”
Lafler said she, too, has done a number of virtual showings - but said that ultimately “people want to see the house in person. The photos are not enough. You can’t see the neighborhood, or any deficiencies in a floor plan that may be a problem for the buyer.”
The real estate professionals said a number of COVID-related safety protocols, guidelines and procedures are in place.
“We have worked hard to keep our buyers and sellers safe,” Amaral stated. “It is going to be the new normal for a while. You just have to roll with it.”