Realtors and lenders are working at home, reassuring clients and moving to electronic closings.
Just like other businesses reflecting on the upended stock market and global economy, Northeast Florida residential real estate businesses are assessing what to do.
The Northeast Florida Association of Realtors closed its doors and changed how it does business to reduce the risk of spreading the new coronavirus, said Communications Director Melanie Green. It canceled all in-person classes, events, tours and meetings until further notice at all the NEFAR offices.
As of March 17, employees will be working at the offices, but all transactions will be done digitally and through a delivery service.
She said it was too early to tell how the virus will affect the residential market because “we have no quantitative information.”
The Northeast Florida Builders Association canceled events for the remainder of the month, following the guidelines set by the mayor’s office, said Executive Officer Bill Garrison.
Michelle Mousin, Realtor with Engel & Volkers, said homebuyers are considering the uncertainty, watching their stock portfolios shrink and “hunkering down, putting things on hold.”
People are “concerned because their portfolios are affected. It’s all tied together,” she said.
Much of Mousin’s business is in the high-end market from St. Augustine to Atlantic Beach and over to Intracoastal West.
Houses already listed are still for sale, and Mousin said her group is “trying to calm and reassure our clients.”
“We are seeing more people searching online, watching virtual tours, virtual open houses and not going to open houses. Things are really shifting,” she said. Realtors are working from home.
Mousin said financial advisers have told her the high-end residential market will be impacted the most by the sudden economic changes and the volatility.
Those buyers will wait for the uncertainty to pass, she said.
Chip Lynn with Closing Bear LLC, a title insurance and closing company for residential and commercial real estate closings, said he already has seen an impact on the life cycle of real estate transactions.
Lynn, Closing Bear CEO and managing attorney, heard from Realtors that a few listings have been canceled by people who don’t want potential homebuyers walking through their houses.
Some created rules such as requiring buyers to walk around the outside of a house first to see if they are interested. If they want to view the inside, they must wear masks and not touch anything.
Before the virus, the closing process usually was engaging, he said, with handshakes, high-fives and taking pictures, but now everyone keeps their distance. Electronic closings will increase, he said.
Lynn said low interest rates make it a great time to buy and lenders are still full speed ahead as far as the deals go.
Loan officer Andrew Cady with Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp. said he was not seeing a lot of issues locally yet.
“What we are seeing locally more than anything is apprehension” from buyers, he said.
Nationally, he is seeing where there is a “heavy concentration” of the virus, like in Washington state, that appraisers are rejecting orders “and not wanting to go into homes.”
He heard that a national title company in New York is “not doing any more closings until this passes.”
That adds implications when there are interest rate locks and expiring borrower documents.
Cady said most people in a transaction are moving ahead with business as usual. There is some softening in loan applications from people who want to see what will happens before buying.
He said there’s a fear that people may lose their jobs due to shutdowns and that workers in industries like the airlines, cruise lines, restaurants and bars will loose the “approve” ability of their home loan.
At the same time, Cady remains optimistic and sees opportunity with low interest rates for homeowners to refinance and consolidate debt with the equity they have in their homes.