Becky Schwab, associate broker and realtor at NextHome Unlimited, has seen a lot of change in the housing market over the past 30 years, but even after three decades of experience, 2020 brought surprises.
Being a realtor during a pandemic not only meant adapting to masks and social distancing but innovating with technology, shifting priorities for home buyers and an unprecedented housing shortage.
More tech, fewer open floor plans
“How it used to work is that people would go online and view houses then tell me what they’d like to see in person,” Schwab said. “Since the shutdown, people are spending more time browsing real estate sites. They’re utilizing technology like virtual tours to see inside the homes first.”
Virtual home tours are increasingly common, as is the ability to complete home buying paperwork electronically. After a year of acclimating to contactless shopping, consumers are more comfortable than ever with using technology to browse and purchase.
Schwab said that will likely be the new normal for real estate, too.
“Customers have come to expect it and Realtors will have to adapt to the masses,” she said. “Our office already used DocuSign and ZipForms to complete transactions from anywhere so (going contactless) wasn’t much of a shift for us.”
The increased use of technology when shopping for a new home is just one of several trends Schwab has observed, particularly in Dickinson County. Rural property is in high demand as more and more people realize they can live in a smaller community and work remotely.
“We don’t always know where buyers are coming from until they get here, but I think everyone is working with out-of-state buyers looking to live in small communities,” she said.
Schwab also noticed a shift away from the open concept living that has dominated home design for the past 50 years. Many home buyers are looking for more space overall, but they want it to come with more separation.
“Being home with kids for the past year — trying to work from home and do remote schooling — what I’m hearing from buyers is that they’re looking for less open floor plans so they have more privacy,” she said. “They’re looking for home offices and home gyms, living spaces separated from the kitchen.”
A sellers’ market
The United States has a housing shortage which is impacting even small and rural communities. According to Realtor.com’s December Housing Report, this year began with the lowest amount of homes available for sale (housing inventory) in the U.S. ever, with fewer than 700,000 homes for sale — a drop of nearly 40 percent year over year.
In Dickinson County, inventory fell 54% from a year ago.
“I’ve never seen such low inventory,” Schwab said. “There’s a pent-up demand for housing but we don’t have inventory to meet that demand.”
Comparing January 2020, pre-pandemic, with January 2021, the difference is marked. According to the Flint Hills Association of Realtors, at the end of January 2020, there were 103 active listings in Dickinson County. One year later, at the end of January 2021, there were only 48 active listings.
Homes are being snapped up almost as fast as new houses come on the market. The same report shows that at the end of January 2021, there were 44 contracts pending compared to 26 at the end of January 2020.
The tight market means buyers need to have their financing secured and a clear list of criteria before even beginning to look at properties, Schwab said.
“You need to be ready to make a quick decision because you will probably be in a bidding situation,” she said. “If you’re the type of personality that needs to really soak up the information, to sit down and talk about it, this is not your market.”
A good Realtor can help buyers clarify what they need in a property and prepare them for a competitive market. The same is true for sellers - an experienced, competent Realtor can guide them through everything from listing a property at the right price to deciding between multiple offers -- and having their next home ready to go.
“Sellers need to be proactive about knowing where they’re going to end up after they sell their home,” Schwab said. “I’ve seen several people put their property on the market then pull it off again because they can’t find a new place for themselves.”
This is a sellers’ market, Schwab stressed. High demand is expected to continue for some time and we are entering what is historically the busiest time of the year for buying and selling homes.
“We need listings. If people are thinking about putting their house on the market or even have a question about selling, I would love to help them through that process,” she said.