March Baton Rouge-area home sales are running ahead of last year’s pace, despite the coronavirus pandemic and the shutdown of most businesses.
According to the Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors, as of Monday, there were 605 residential sales recorded for the month of March. That's 2.7% higher than the 589 closed sales that happened by March 23, 2019. And the number of pending sales reported so far in March is 949, 7% lower than 1,046 pending sales total for the entire month in 2019.
“These figures show that the typical spring selling season is still in effect, even if the physical part of the purchase process is atypical,” the association said.
Kendra Novak of Novak Realty said the fact that sales are holding steady despite the pandemic shows all the hard work real estate agents did over the past several months. It generally takes a few months from when people first start looking for a house to the closing actually occurring.
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“We won’t really see the effects of COVID and people staying at home for three or four months,” she said. Novak said she isn’t seeing a “big slowdown” of new listings coming into her office, but potential sellers are asking more questions.
March is traditionally a busy month for home sales, as families try to line up moves to happen after the end of the school year. But beginning on March 17, most activities in the state were curbed in an attempt to get people to stay at home and slow the spread of the disease.
The number of showings has dropped dramatically. The Realtors’ association said the number of people looking at houses is down 37.5% from this time in 2019 and off 46.8% from this year’s high, which was set March 11.
The association said this indicates that people are still interested in buying houses, but buyers and sellers are respecting health guidelines by limiting the number of people looking at properties.
The Baton Rouge Area Chamber is putting its strategic plan on hold to focus all its efforts on business recovery during the coronavirus pandemic.
Chelsea Meng, president of the GBRAR, said a number of steps are being taken to reduce the potential exposure to the coronavirus as part of the homebuying process. Doors, cabinets and closets are being left open in vacant homes, so potential buyers can look at the surroundings without touching things. Disinfectant wipes are being left out in houses. People who are still living in the home they are trying to sell are shooting videos of the interior. At a closing Meng went to Wednesday, the buyer stayed in her car, and a title attorney wearing gloves brought the paperwork out to her to sign.
“There are a lot of different precautions being taken,” said Meng. “But with the interest rates so low, it’s hard not to take advantage of them. People need houses.”
However, with the uncertainty and logistical issues, Meng said lenders are starting to give more time for a closing to happen. Instead of the traditional 30 days, it’s gone up to 45-60 days.
“It’s really sensitive and hard to navigate,” she said. “But I’m surprised at how well things are going, considering.”