Denise MacDonell is a prominent realtor living in Halifax, and from the Antigonish large and influential Clan MacDonell. She is with Red Door Realty, and I asked her to weigh in on the meaning of the coronavirus on the real estate industry in Halifax & Nova Scotia.
By Denise MacDonell
Love in the Time of Covid
Real estate is, at its core, a love affair. Like all great affairs, practical concerns can temporarily take the fun out of it – getting up-close-and-personal with a sewer pipe can definitely kill a moment. Romance ultimately wins the day, and our heads are turned by beautiful granite, custom cabinets, and steam showers. (Brazilian hardwood in the living room makes it easy to forget there’s a 30+-year-old boiler in the basement.)
2019 was the year that saw many people fall head-over-heels for real estate in Nova Scotia. Average sale prices rose and inventory dropped – ideal conditions for sellers, the perfect storm for buyers. Agents scrambled to find enough homes to show prospective buyers who were travelling here from other cities, provinces, and countries. Days were long, and time off was difficult as real estate professionals scrambled to field offers for selling clients and find property for buying clients.
We all looked forward to some time off in January and February, traditionally a slower time in the market. Battery-recharging time.
Except it didn’t happen.
We barely had time to take down the Christmas decorations, and we were back at work. Inventory continued to be low, and decent properties with reasonable (and unreasonable) price points were selling fast. Our days-on-market figure went from 60 to 48 to 24. 2020 was shaping up to be even stronger for sellers than in 2019 was, and buyers were more eager than ever to get in on the action.
Love was in the air. Sellers loved the market, buyers loved the houses, and the brokerage community loved all of it.
Sadly, something else was in the air, too, and life as we all knew it was about to change.
It feels like the Covid-19 pandemic snuck upon us. It didn’t, really, but most of us were busy working and living life. We were aware it was happening, but it felt remote. Besides, people still need places to live, right? At best, we thought it would be an inconvenience. How wrong we were.
Over the past week, our industry has grappled with some big decisions. Do we act together, and decide as a group to stop all real estate activity? Do we leave it up to the discretion of the brokerages and individuals? Will our regulator (the NS Real Estate Commission) step in and stop all trading?
As of this writing, things are being left up to the discretion of the individual or the brokerage. I have spoken to a good number of my friends in real estate. We are doing our best to continue to work for our clients without in-person meetings. Virtual tours have become absolutely necessary (to be honest, they were before the pandemic).
Phone, text, and email continue. And if we have to meet a client, we’re acting according to the advice and guidelines provided by the Health Authority.
And yes, houses are still being shown, although viewing activity is reduced. Properties are still selling. If inventory was low, to begin with, it will get even lower, as many sellers will hold off on listing until we get through the worst of the restrictions. People who have already sold their homes feel an urgency to find another one, but many buyers are going to hold off. Uncertainty abounds
In the midst of this uncertainty, I have been struck this past week by the kindness of my real estate colleagues. I have touched base with many of them to ask about the business. Invariably, each one of them has inquired about how I’m doing, how my family is doing. One of my colleagues lives with an elderly parent, and we discussed the challenges inherent in that. Another can’t visit a gravely ill family member because of restrictions at the hospital; it is an unspeakably painful situation. Others are experiencing income insecurity, and are heartsick about staff that may have to be let go.
We all miss seeing each other.
In truth, none of us knows what the next weeks and months will bring to the real estate market. We may be forced to shut down completely for a period of time. I am certain our love affair with real estate will endure. More importantly, the compassion and kindness we are showing each other say more about us as people than any real estate deal ever could.