Marin real estate agents fear coronavirus market drag

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The coronavirus pandemic is threatening to put a damper on the Marin County, Calif., real estate market as it enters its normally busy spring season, local brokers say, with the nation facing economic uncertainty and a "shelter in place" order forcing the cancellation of many house events.

"Everything has slowed down substantially," said Bernard Link, a Marin real estate agent with Compass.

Link said several prospective buyers canceled home viewing appointments last week when Marin County's public health officer issued an order restricting business operations. Link did not offer any open houses or viewings over the weekend.

"Everyone is operating with extreme caution," Link said.

Throughout the state, more than three-quarters of real estate agents expect the pandemic to hurt their business, according to a survey conducted this week by the California Association of Realtors. About 74% said they expect home sales will dip and listings will spend more time on the market.

It's too soon to look at market data in the Bay Area in determining whether sales have slumped as a result of the lockdown, according to Patrick Carlisle, the chief market analyst for Compass.

"Sales this past week reflect offers negotiated three to five weeks ago, when there was little concern," he said. "Up until the shelter-in-place orders came down, buyer traffic at open houses was still quite brisk and offers were still being made and accepted."

Some buyers looking to take advantage of reduced competition and favorable mortgage interest rates — which hit a historic low in early March — continued to make offers this week, Carlisle said.

"There have been a few more buyers backing out of negotiations and deals in the past 10 days due to the huge volatility in financial markets, but there hasn't been any rush to the exits so far," he said.

Sellers are also cautious amid the uncertain market, agents said. Link said that some have canceled viewings because they're nervous about strangers walking through their homes, potentially spreading the virus.

Others are pulling homes off the market, fearing that it's a tough time to sell, said Thomas Henthorne, a Marin agent with Golden Gate Sotheby's International Realty.

"We're all in uncharted territory right now," he said. "The market was hot before this happened. I had my busiest winter and early spring ever. But now it's all put on hold."

Some agents said they are holding out hope that there will be a surge in sales when the pandemic subsides.

"When things resume, I think we're going to be playing catch-up with the pent-up demand," Henthorne said. "We'll have to see what the situation with the stock market will be, and how that will impact people's ability to purchase, but the inventory and the interest rate levels will be such that it could potentially be positive for real estate."

The new coronavirus has created uncertainty for real estate markets across the U.S., according to the National Association of Realtors. Nearly half of agents said buyer interest has decreased due to the virus outbreak, according to a survey the association published this week.

But the association's chief economist, Lawrence Yun, said he thinks home prices will hold steady amid the pandemic, noting that there are "fewer listings in what's already a housing shortage environment."

"The temporary softening of the real estate market will likely be followed by a strong rebound once the economic 'quarantine' is lifted, and it's critical that supply is sufficient to meet pent-up demand," Yun said in a statement.

Tribune Content Agency