Buying A House in a Pandemic | The Source Weekly - Bend

Buying A House in a Pandemic

Low interest rates, less competition between buyers and a looming metropolitan exodus makes now a good time to buy a house, realtors say

The real estate market has slowed to a snail’s pace during a season usually characterized by frenzy and impulse. Sunny skies bring optimism and the feeling that more is possible—driving both buyers and sellers to make moves.

Buying A House in a Pandemic
As locals lose their jobs here in Bend, some mortgages fell through at the last minute in the last two weeks.
But just three weeks after the COVID-19 lockdowns began on the west coast, life has changed irrevocably for many Americans. Most buyers are fine with a livestream tour while they're shopping for houses from home, but they may hesitate to sign on the bottom line, sight unseen. Further, half of Americans say the outbreak has caused their household financial hardship, according to CNN.

But even in the worst of times, real estate agents can be counted on for a positive spin.

“I know several people in this town who had clients who were laid off or furloughed and their mortgage loans fell through in the last few weeks,” said Christin Hunter, a top producing agent for Windermere Real Estate – Central Oregon. “It’s such a volatile market in the lending world; the banks have to protect themselves. But when the buyers come back, once they get their job back, it’s likely they’ll be able to access a loan again, because the banks will see they didn’t lose their job due to performance.”

If you are not [economically] affected by the pandemic, if you’re still receiving income from your job, you can still get a loan. Rates are good, competition in the market is down; it’s a good time to purchase a home. -Clint Edwards, High Lakes Lending

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Hunter said she’s had clients from California, Seattle and Portland who aren’t shopping right now because they’ve been furloughed or are halting their searches because they’re staying home and not able to see the house in person. The entire real estate industry is pivoting with virtual open houses, promotional video previews and individual FaceTime tours for buyers, Hunter said.

While the real estate market is slow, all three agents I talked to for this article said prices for mid-range houses will stay high in Central Oregon for the foreseeable future.

“The best way I would describe it is hitting the pause button,” Hunter said. “It’s too soon for prices to come down. We’ll see some downward pressure on higher-end listings, but a massive downward cycle, no way.” Comparing the pandemic housing market to the deflated housing bubble of the Great Recession is apples to oranges, Hunter said.

“We’ve had a scarcity of inventory for the last several years,” Hunter said. “There’s no way you can make up for that inventory crunch in three weeks.”

Buying A House in a Pandemic
While now may seem like a weird time to buy a house, local real estate and lending experts say low competition and low interests rates make it a great time to get buy.

No time like the present

With statewide pandemic lockdowns, millions of people across America are working from home for the first time, and many may never go back to the office. While this lifestyle shift is not for everyone—particularly those in tight quarters with younger children—some workers may prove to their bosses that their productivity levels are higher without the distractions of needy co-workers and water-cooler conversations. Companies may also recognize the financial savings of no longer leasing office space.

“All these folks in urban areas, wanting and thinking of making the change, I think the ability to work remotely, we’ll see a mass exodus across the country,” Hunter said. “They’ll want a bigger house with room for an office, they’ll want to live in less populated areas where they have more space.”

This means buying a house in Central Oregon will remain competitive, and may even drive prices up in the distant future, when the pandemic is finally under control, if Hunter’s prediction pans out. A pandemic threat of this magnitude may also drive people to make big life’s decisions where they may have hesitated in the past.

“People will be more like, ‘there’s no guarantee of tomorrow, no time like the present,’ let’s do it now,” Hunter predicted.

Savings dries up

Sixteen million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the last three weeks. Others may still be employed but may see pay cuts, or shifts to part time. For those in the millennial generation who have yet to buy a house, even temporary setbacks could put an end to plans to buy a house in the coming years.

“Those who are looking for more affordable housing, people who don’t have has much saved up, they’ll have less disposable income,” said Chris Scott, a broker with Sotheby’s International Realty who is based out of Sisters. “These buyers might have to dive into the savings they were going to use for a down payment.”

Low interest rates

For those who are ready to move forward with buying a house, it is a good time to get a loan. Interest rates hit an all-time low over the past three weeks, with some rates as low as 3.25%, according to Clint Edwards, owner and broker of High Lakes Lending.

“If you are not [economically] affected by the pandemic, if you’re still receiving income from your job, you can still get a loan,” Edwards said. “Rates are good, competition in the market is down; it’s a good time to purchase a home.”