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Will Buyers Keep House Hunting During Coronavirus?

The pandemic is hitting during peak spring real-estate season.

Photograph by Flickr user NCinDC.
Coronavirus 2020

About Coronavirus 2020

Washingtonian is keeping you up to date on the coronavirus around DC.

Temperatures are warming, daffodils are sprouting — it’s officially feeling like spring around here, which typically means DC’s housing market is about to go even more bonkers than usual. But spending a weekend bouncing around open houses definitely does not qualify as social distancing. Not to mention, the tanking stock market is undoubtedly hitting a lot of potential down payments. So, the big question: will buyers call off their search?

So far, local agents say they have not felt a dip in business from coronavirus, but they concede it’s too soon to tell what the impact will be. Steven Berson, an agent with McEnearney Associates, actually listed his own house in Crestwood Thursday morning. “I had no qualms about putting it on the market today,” he says. “Maybe people won’t want to go to an open house, but to walk into a house by themselves with an agent—I don’t think most people have any issues with doing that.”

Still, Berson is planning to have an open house on Sunday afternoon. Though he says the stock market is concerning, he points to the low inventory of houses currently on the market, plus low interest rates as reasons to feel confident. He says McEnearney has issued guidance about staying safe during coronavirus, including regularly wiping down surfaces and door knobs during open houses, and encouraging agents to frequently wash and sanitize their hands.

Peter Grimm, an agent with Berkshire Hathaway, listed two houses Thursday, both on Capitol Hill. He also says favorable interest rates and low inventory have so far meant a very strong spring season. But, he says, “48 hours ago, it was different than it is today, in terms of everybody’s consciousness about [coronavirus]. We’ve wondered if we’ll be impacted. So far, we haven’t felt it, but over the next couple of days, it’ll be interesting to see.”

Grimm is planning open houses at both properties for both Saturday and Sunday. In addition: “We’re doing doughnuts and coffee for the neighborhood at 611 Lexington on Saturday morning.”

Compass, one of Washington’s largest real-estate brokerages, is taking several precautions, according to regional president Kimberly Harris, including canceling in-person meetings, deep-cleaning offices, and ordering 3,000 bottles of hand sanitizer for employees. “On an hourly basis, we are gathering new data to inform our decisions, as well as collaborating with our peers in Seattle, San Francisco, and New York, to ensure that we are proactive in the DMV,” Harris says via email.

She says one of the most frequent questions from agents right now is whether they should host open houses. Compass’s response? “We are encouraging agents to discuss this with their sellers and weigh all relevant factors (i.e. Is the home occupied? If occupied, who lives in the home? Where is the listing? Does the agent/seller have cleaning and protection supplies? etc.).”

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Senior Editor

Marisa M. Kashino joined Washingtonian in 2009 as a staff writer, and became a senior editor in 2014. She was previously a reporter for Legal Times and the National Law Journal. She has recently written about the decades-old slaying of a young mother in rural Virginia, and the brazen con of a local real-estate scion. Kashino lives in Northeast DC with her husband, two dogs, and two cats.