The impact of COVID-19 on real estate in Montana

By Anthony SanFilippo
May 2020

Deemed an essential service by the orders provided by Gov. Steve Bullock, real estate business is still taking place, albeit at a much slower pace and with a non-traditional look.

The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) has issued guidance for open houses and how to conduct transactions during COVID-19. The Montana Association of REALTORS® (MAR) reminds all brokerages to look at the guidance set forth by NAR and to work with their clients and their clients’ needs.

Some clients are opting for virtual tours and not stepping into houses before making an offer. Other clients are okay with their houses being shown, as long as sanitation and social distancing efforts are utilized.

The process of bringing a real estate transaction to fruition requires more patience and flexibility on the part of all parties.

“Virtual tours of homes existed before the COVID-19 outbreak but were more of a fringe approach to selling homes. Now, the concept is becoming the go-to way for agents to present home tours to clients.”

Whether it’s a delay in getting a property inspected, or delays on notarization or finalizing financing, slowdowns are inevitable in the transaction process right now.

In Montana, the reason most people are looking for homes at this point relates to a job relocation or finding a way to move closer to family.

But the normal spring fever spurred on by folks looking to either buy their first home or upgrade to a larger home has almost completely dissipated.

People are afraid to commit to the purchase of a new home for a variety of financial reasons, most notably the uncertainty that lingers in the national economy. But also, because they don’t have a clear path of what their personal finances are going to look like next month, let alone over the next few years.

Meanwhile, others are reluctant to put their homes up for sale right now because they don’t want strangers trudging through their home during a global pandemic.

Virtual tours of homes existed before the COVID-19 outbreak but were more of a fringe approach to selling homes. Now, the concept is becoming the go-to way for agents to present home tours to clients. Many homes and properties are being sold sight unseen, which is extremely unusual.

Brint Wahlberg, a REALTOR® in Missoula, told the Montana Free Press that he doesn’t believe a buyer’s market is going to develop in the near term. But if this pandemic lasts for months, or people are stuck in their homes through the summer, then that could change drastically.

“If we’re back to social distancing in June? If it’s multiple years? Then all bets are off,” he said.

The most interesting bit from the piece in the Montana Free Press was how some agents are trying to get creative with listings to attract potential buyers who may still be perusing homes online but are wary about taking the next step because of the virus.

One listing in Missoula, highlighted in the article, read:

“This spacious Farviews home on a downhill lot provides amazing views, a work-from-home and home-school friendly layout, and a fully finished 15′ x 30′ shop that can serve as a man cave/she shed/gender nonconforming relaxation area/quasi-secure bunker for the zombie apocalypse … use the shop for overflow, or for your woodworking or craft projects, or for your post-quarantine block party.”

But it’s not just potential buyers and sellers who are worried about the impact of COVID-19 on the real estate market. There are others who are more directly impacted by the virus who face serious risk.

THE IMPACT ON RENTERS

The first concern for renters, who are living in a home that is on the market, is their own safety.

Normally, they are given at least 24-hour notice that an agent is going to bring someone through the home. That is done to ensure the privacy of the renter is not infringed upon. But now, it creates a whole different concern.

“There are some renters that have said, ‘I’m absolutely not opening my house to anyone,” MAR president Diane Beck told the Montana Free Press. “And, I mean, at this point in time, I don’t know of anyone who’s going to argue with them.  Whether it’s their personal health or the potential of somebody walking through their house with the coronavirus, there’s just so much unknown right now.”

Agents across Montana are working with their clients to make sure they are meeting their client’s needs and addressing their safety concerns at this time. Some sellers have pulled homes off the market or in some cases are willing to have virtual tours occur but are not wanting potential buyers to walk through the house. You will also find some sellers that are completely fine with keeping their house listed and have in-person showings occur.

MONTANA REOPENS

On Monday, April 27th, Montana began a phased reopening of the state. There are no dates set for when Montana moves to the next phase of reopening, but instead state officials and public health officers will rely on COVID-19 case numbers and other criteria to help them determine how quickly Montana can reopen.

Currently Montana has a 14 day travel quarantine in place for those arriving in Montana. Montana Association of REALTORS® (MAR) reached out to the Governor’s office for clarification on how this would impact those traveling to Montana to conduct housing transactions. MAR received confirmation that the travel quarantine does not include those traveling for real estate business. People may be shown homes or other properties and are not subject to the quarantine as long as they just do their home search and then immediately leave the state.

Real estate business continues in Montana with a non-traditional look and some extra patience from all parties. As the state slowly reopens and summer arrives, chances are the housing market will pick up as people continue to relocate for work or decide they want to move closer to family.

Once the dust settles and “normalcy” returns in the post COVID-19 era, many things will probably change on how real estate transactions are handled. Will virtual tours be the new normal? Will there be changes in the financial and title side of homebuying? While no one knows these answers yet, it will be interesting to see if technology and virtual tours remain the “go-to” when buying a house.


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