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Oct. 25, 2020

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Clark County housing market feels virus’s effects in April

Silver lining? Lower interest rates spur buying amid big slowdowns

By , Columbian business reporter
Published:
2 Photos
Jose Ramirez of Gecho Construction adds a fresh coat of stain to a new home at The Parklands in Camas in late March, as the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic began to be felt. Home sales fell dramatically in the following month.
Jose Ramirez of Gecho Construction adds a fresh coat of stain to a new home at The Parklands in Camas in late March, as the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic began to be felt. Home sales fell dramatically in the following month. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Clark County’s housing market saw major slowdowns in listing and sales activity in April, according to the latest data from the Regional Multiple Listing Service. The new report chronicles the market’s first full month of operation during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The market began to feel the heat from the outbreak and the associated stay-at-home order in late March, but the impact wasn’t fully reflected in the March data because the market was still operating under pre-pandemic conditions for the first half of the month.

In fact, the March data still showed significant gains from the month before, in keeping with usual seasonal trends — but local real estate agents cautioned that they had seen a significant drop in activity at the end of the month, and the April data continues that trend.

Steep declines

There were 675 new listings reported for the month, which represents a 34 percent drop from the 1,022 listings in March and a 40.8 percent drop from the 1,240 listings in April 2019.

Pending sales were reported at 596, a 20.5 percent drop from the 750 in March and a 32 percent drop from the 877 in April of last year. Closed sales, at 536, saw a 13.5 percent drop from the 620 in March and a 20.7 percent drop from the 676 in April 2019.

The latest data also puts the region’s year-to-date activity significantly behind last year. Compared with the first four months of 2019, new listings are down 14.4 percent, pending sales are down 11.8 percent and closed sales are down 4.1 percent.

Terry Wollam, managing broker at ReMax Equity Group in Vancouver, said the April data was admittedly negative, but he called it “pleasantly surprising” considering the limits that COVID-19 has placed on real estate activity. He pointed to low interest rates as one of the factors that kept sales going.

“Lower interest rates have allowed buyers to purchase a home with a lower payment,” he wrote in an email, “or buy a more expensive home at the same monthly cost than what a buyer would have seen in early March.”

Wollam also pointed to the region’s inventory in months — meaning the estimated time needed to sell through the existing listings — as an indicator of the strength of the market. The inventory in months was 2.5 in April, not far off from the 2.4 reported in April 2019, he said.

Sale prices fell from March to April, although they remain higher than they were a year ago. The average sale price was $412,800, compared with $426,300 in March. The median price, where half the sale prices were higher and half lower, was $385,000, compared with $391,700 in March.

The market is continuing to experience a relative shortage of listings, Wollam said, which is keeping up the pressure to hold home values steady.

“I do not see this changing over the coming months,” he wrote, “given new listings added to the market in March was lower year-over-year when compared to sales activity year-over-year.”

COVID-19 restrictions

The March 23 stay-at-home order didn’t prohibit real estate sales, but it did apply restrictions such as allowing home tours by appointment only and limiting the visits to a single real estate agent and a single potential buyer.

The pandemic itself added a further chilling effect, according to Mike Lamb, a broker at Windermere Stellar — some sellers, agents and potential buyers had concerns about holding in-person meetings even at the limited scale outlined in the stay-at-home order.

The order also prohibited all residential construction, which had the potential to become a major impact — according to Wollam, new construction accounts for almost a third of Clark County’s home listings.

Gov. Jay Inslee allowed limited construction activity to resume in late April, but only on projects that were already underway when the stay-at-home order began.

Inslee later announced a four-phase reopening plan for the state. Phase 2 will relax restrictions on real estate activity and will likely allow for new construction, but most of the state’s counties — including Clark — are currently still in Phase 1.

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