A New Approach Amid A Changing Market

Jennifer Stevenson, President of New York State Association of Realtors and Owner at Blue Heron Realty, uses a compact stabilized handheld camera to record walk throughs to show properties to customers practicing social distancing. Christopher Lenney/NNY Magazines

Back in February, the north country’s real estate market looked strong, with home owners in the driver seat and sales on the upswing in all three counties.

    It was particularly a seller’s market in St. Lawrence County, where  sales were up 10 percent. 

    But then the coronavirus hit and everything in the real estate world stopped. 

    After some cajoling by the State Association of Realtors weeks later, the state agreed to allow Realtors to show homes virtually. 

    But it wasn’t until May 29 that they could go back to work, they could go into homes and the real estate market finally opened up. 

    Realtors have never seen anything like this before. The market was never at a virtual standstill, they said. 

    “It’s very unique,” said Jennifer Stevenson, president of the New York State Realtors Association. “It’s unprecedented times.” 

    And, in many ways, Realtors are still trying to figure out how to go forward. 

    Lance Evans, executive officer for the Jefferson-Lewis and St. Lawrence Board of Realtors, said he knew of one Realtor who was having “a blow out year” — he was having his best year ever — before the pandemic hit. And now he’s behind last year’s sales. 

    So where are we now? 

    Brittany Matott, president of the St. Lawrence Board of Realtors, isn’t sure yet. 

    “It’s too early to say but it’s definitely a slow start,” she said. 

    With the coronavirus, sales were down and sellers waited to list their properties until Realtors could do their job to show and market properties, Mr. Evans said. 

    Interest rates are as low as they’ve ever been. That will help, Mr. Evans said. 

    In the end, the economy will drive how the region’s real estate market will do. 

    Unemployment is near Great Depression numbers. It could depend on how long people are out of work. 

    Potential buyers are probably reassessing whether they should wait to see what happens next for them and how long they’ll be out of work, he said. 

    Banks are looking at interest rates and whether buyers are pre-approved for the same amount of dollars that were approved before the market was shut down, he said. 

    Sellers could also be looking at what’s going on with the number of people not working now and wait until they think they can get more money for their homes. 

    It also depends whether sellers can find homes to move into. If they can’t find a new home to move into, they can’t sell theirs. 

    “They were all set to go and waited until they knew the market opened up again,” he said. 

    People also were ready to buy a home and suddenly they could not. 

    In the early going, however, inventory is down and Realtors are finding multiple offers are occurring as the result of so few homes being listed. However, buyers will have more to choose from once sellers decide to list their homes, as they are expected to do. 

        Traditionally, listings begin in March or April. That could not happen with the pandemic. So now it’s now June and what would have been happening back then, is happening now, Mrs. Matott said. 

    Things should be picking up, Realtors said. Mr. Evans thinks the market will be “busy for now.” 

    So far, more homeowners listed their properties in 2019 than in 2020. In Jefferson and Lewis counties, there are 140 new listings since May 17, while 13 properties in St. Lawrence County have appeared since then. 

    Out of the 140 in the two counties, 25 are located in Watertown, with the majority along the water. In Lewis County, 17 homes have gone up for sale since May 17, of which seven are in Lowville. 

    In St. Lawrence County, there are pockets of the county that are traditionally stronger than others, Mrs. Matott said. Canton and Potsdam are strong markets. 

    Even with the delay in the market this year, waterfront property in St. Lawrence County already is getting attention from buyers, especially from people outside of the area. 

    There’s also some good things that came out of situation. Mrs. Matott, who’s been working as a Realtor for six years, believes that the jobs of Realtors are forever changed as of the result of what happened with the shut down from the pandemic. 

    They’ll use more tools in their selling arsenal. 

    Virtual showings will continue to be used. Realtors with 30 or 40 years experience learned how to use electronic signing for contracts during the coronavirus. There also won’t be a need for as much face-to-face contact anymore.   

    “I think that’s something you’ll continue to see,” Mrs. Matott said. 

    While the market is not as robust at this time last year, Ms. Stevenson sees some good signs statewide. There are already interested buyers and interested sellers, she said. The low interest rates are “very favorable” for buyers. The market will eventually gain strength and meet client needs, she said. 

    During the financial crisis of 2008-09, bursting the housing bubble was the cause of the recession. This time, however, some national economists believe that the housing market might help bring us out of the financial collapse caused by a public health crisis. 

    “Generally, I’m optimistic,” Mr. Evans said. “I think potential buyers will buy what they need to buy.” 

    He thinks the market will be “busy for now,” Mr. Evans said.