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Pandemic weighs on local real estate market

Full impact of shutdowns has yet to be determined

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NORTH METRO ATLANTA — Some data already shows the coronavirus pandemic has impacted the residential real estate market in north Metro Atlanta, but it will be a while before a more clear picture comes into focus.

That’s the word from Loredana Ghete of Keller Williams North Atlanta. Ghete said most of the houses closing now went under contract before the pandemic had a strong foothold in the state, so the upcoming weeks and months could better reveal a downturn or increase in listings and closings.

“We are seeing a little bit of a slowdown in the number of transactions, but at the same time, what is closing right now is a result of actions taken a month or 50 days ago,” Ghete said. “No one has lived through a pandemic, so we don’t know what is the economic impact, and it is hard to say what it is or will be because of the uncertainty.”

Ghete said Metro Atlanta still has a 2.9-month supply of homes — a calculation depicting how many months it would take for all the current homes on the market to sell. A six-month supply is healthy, so Ghete said the metro area remains a seller’s market.

While homes spent more days on the market in March year over year, Ghete said the number of listings in metro Atlanta were 950 in the first week of March and had jumped to nearly 1,300 by the final week of the month. Along with those figures, the number of withdrawn listings also increased, she said.

Many lenders are quoting rates around 3.5 percent for a 30-year fixed home loan. Donna Murphy of Atlanta Fine Homes said this is a slight decrease from a month ago, but it is a stable figure.

“In this situation, we would typically see an increase demand for homes,” Murphy said. “However, with the current shelter-in-place guidelines, people are staying home, and we are experiencing a temporary downtick on certain aspects of our businesses, like showings.”

Mortgage qualification guidelines have also been squeezed. Debt to asset ratios have been capped at 45 percent and credit score requirements have jumped from 580 to 640, depending on the lender, Murphy said.

“This, unfortunately, can affect the buying power of our clients,” she said.

An April 9 report from the Mortgage Bankers Association showed the Mortgage Credit Availability Index had dropped 16.1 percent in March, putting credit supply at its lowest level since June 2015.

There is some good news for sellers, though. Murphy said the pandemic has not impacted local home values.

Charlcie Forehand of Atlanta Fine Homes in Alpharetta said there are still plenty of buyers and sellers.

“Mortgage interest rates have begun to stabilize and are still at historic lows, making it a great time to purchase a home,” Forehand said. “Inventory is very low, which makes it a great time for sellers to list their homes.”

The full-scale impact of the pandemic on the real estate market is yet to be determined, but many agents are confident the market will bounce back if there is a significant downturn. How much time that will take is still a question mark.

Murphy of Atlanta Fine Homes said she expects the pandemic will only cause a temporary impact to sales. Forehand said business may have slowed, but the market is still active. She expects a rebound in the coming months.

“We have a pent-up demand for housing right now, so we expect summer to be very busy,” Forehand said.

Ghete of Keller Williams expects sales to decrease though May but to begin recovering by June and to be back on track by September.

“But it is going to recover gradually, it is not going to be instant,” she said.

In the meantime, real estate agents are having to change their approach in what is a mostly face-to-face market.

Atlanta Fine Homes is using the guidelines set out by the Georgia Association of Realtors for showings amid the pandemic. That includes using virtual showings and open houses whenever possible. For in-person showings, social distancing must still be maintained along with sanitization efforts throughout the home, before and after open houses. The guidelines also state at least 45 minutes should be scheduled between all showings.

Keller Williams also holds real estate classes, and Ghete said all have gone digital. The company’s agents are also encouraged to work from home and hold virtual tours whenever possible.

The closing process has also changed for some.

Roswell-based real estate attorney group Cook & James are offering “curbside closings.” Buyers drive up to either the Roswell or Woodstock office and sign closing paperwork in their own cars. Cook & James personnel wear masks and gloves and stay outside at distance to oversee the closing.

On April 6, the Georgia Real Estate Commission and Appraisers Board announced estate realtor testing and licensing has been put on hold indefinitely. No exams are being given and no licensing can occur, the release said.

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The fast-spreading Covid-19 has created an enormous impact on real estate market in north Metro Atlanta. The sellers want to sell house quickly, but feel scare to let someone into their homes. The buyers also in the same situation. In another view, stocks have fallen; entire industries are putting themselves on pause. All that may make it seem like an odd moment to consider buying a house. The Covid-19 crisis has disrupted the housing market. But with rates low and sellers anxious, home buyers could find good chance to own a good house.

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