Northeastern Pennsylvania’s real estate market is heating up as it emerges from the COVID-19 shutdown.
Prospective homebuyers are starting to show more interest now that real estate agents can begin showing homes, even if the customers have to wear masks and avoid touching anything in the house.
“We definitely have a strong buyer demand,” said Paul Marcks, Greater Scranton Board of Realtors president and associate broker with Wayne Evans Real Estate in Scranton.
When the state shut down non-essential businesses in March, real estate agencies were allowed to close on home sales if the contract was signed before March 19, Marcks said.
Agents also could list homes, but they could not show them.
Now that agents can show homes, Marcks said there are “a ton of showings.”
“We are open and business is booming,” said Terry Solomon-August, who works for Antonik & Associates Real Estate, Nanticoke, and is president of the Luzerne County Association of Realtors. “Problem is, we have very low inventory. From what I understand, that’s a nationwide problem.”
She said the inventory was low even before the COVID-19 shutdown, as data from both Realtor associations shows.
On June 15, for example, the Luzerne County association listed 42 new listings, but 64 went under contract, meaning sales were pending.
“You’re still in the hole,” Solomon-August said. “We still have a lot of buyers out there. Buyers are looking to buy, interest rates are low. But not many people are selling. If you are selling your house and list it at the correct market price, you will get multiple offers, which drives up the price. It’s a sellers’ market.”
That hasn’t stalled business, though, as people who couldn’t look at houses for eight weeks are coming out.
“We had a great first quarter,” Marcks said.
When the shutdown happened, agents didn’t work for eight weeks, he said.
He said all are concerned about where the economy is headed.
“Are we going to have clients if the economy doesn’t come back?” Marcks said.
Comfortable with precautions
Jessica Balcacer, 21, and her fiance, Oliver Peralta, 23, of Scranton, decided to look for their first home once the real estate market reopened, she said. They are working with Marcks to find a house.
“We started looking the first day they opened back up,” said Balcacer. “We have seen probably 10 houses with Paul. There’s been a couple that we liked and either they’ve been pending or they accepted another offer.”
She said they previously weren’t considering buying, but with interest rates being low, “We thought, ‘let’s do it.’”
She said they feel comfortable with all the precautions taken during a house showing.
“This whole experience wearing masks and all the sanitizing is all we know,” Balcacer said.
“Every time we go see a house, we meet Paul on the porch,” she said. “We have masks on. He sanitizes our hands. We can’t touch any surfaces.”
Marcks said those are the requirements by the state. Prospective buyers also have to sign a property access form acknowledging the risk of entering the homes.
The clients also must answer five health-related questions 24 hours before seeing the house.
If they answer yes to any of the questions, the seller can refuse to let them go into the house.
Only the agent and a maximum of two other people are allowed in the house at the same time, Marcks said.
The clients are asked not to touch any surface, but if they do, the agent has to sanitize it with a wipe.
An earlier proposed requirement included everyone wearing booties in the house, but that didn’t make the final cut.
“I was glad to see that one go,” Marcks said.
He said they presented a slip hazard.
Solomon-August said she has been busy keeping up with the COVID requirements.
“We have to wear masks,” she said. “We’re only allowed, as an agent, to take two people into a property to show at a time.”
She carries sanitizer and disinfectant to showings in a basket.
“I feel like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz,” she said.
Gabrielle Lang, marketing director of Classic Properties, said the management team released a SafeHome PPE Kit available to the agency’s home sellers in Northeastern Pennsylvania at no cost.
It comes with CDC-approved face masks, foot covers, gloves, disposable bag, and more all in a zippered tote to be left outside for when potential buyers arrive to tour the home.
Inventory lower this year
The number of homes listed for sale in in Lackawanna and Wyoming counties, especially new listings, were down throughout the region in March, April and May, compared to the same months last year, according to data from the Greater Scranton Board of Realtors.
In Lackawanna County, new listings totaled 150 out of an inventory of 492 homes in March of 2020, compared to 210 listings out of an inventory of 648 homes for sale in March 2019; in April, new listings dropped to 55 with 470 homes listed for sale, compared to 261 new listings out of an inventory of 712 homes for sale a year earlier; and, in May of this year, new listings were back up to 150 out of an inventory of 484 homes for sale, but those numbers were still well below May of 2019, when there were 257 listings out of an inventory of 743.
In Wyoming County, the board reported, new listings totaled 17 out of an inventory of 84 homes for sale in March 2020, compared to 25 new listings out of an inventory of 111 a year earlier; in April of this year, there were five new listings out of an inventory of 85, down from the 29 new listings out of 113 homes for sale in April 2019. In May of this year, there were 19 new listings out of an inventory of 92 homes for sale, compared to May 2019, when there were 48 new listings out of the 136 homes for sale.
The Luzerne County Association of Realtors reported 319 new listings out of 1,693 homes for sale in March and April of this year. Last year in the same period, the 751 new listings were among the 2,071 homes for sale.
Solomon-August said she did not have May data from the Luzerne association.