Meg Staley, 39, moved back to her hometown of Norwich last July after spending 15 years working in Washington, D.C. for a structural engineering firm. After living with her brother for a few months while she adjusted to the move, she began searching for a home of her own early this year. Her search was halted by the pandemic.
As the coronavirus pandemic leaves many industries grappling to avoid economic collapse, the housing market has come to a near standstill in the Norwich area as well. Compounding factors have led to both a decline in inventory and the time houses spend on the market, local real estate agents have found.
Staley, along with her real estate agent Mary Miskiewicz, had a showing scheduled for early March. The showing was canceled and the house-hunting paused.
Miskiewicz anticipates the market will pick back up over the next few weeks as the state relaxes some of the precautionary restrictions.
Staley revamped the search for a three-bedroom home with a verdant yard and a pool days ago. While she’s from Norwich, Staley is looking along the shore too, but there are few houses on the market and those that are listed don’t stay up for long.
Houses are selling really quickly and at higher prices than you would normally expect to see for what’s being offered,” Staley said.
The house Staley most recently had her eyes on, a 3,000-square-foot ranch-style home with two acres of land and an inground pool, was on the market for just four days before offers were made.
“I’m going to make decisions based on what comes on the market,” Staley said.
She is hoping to plan house tours for the coming weeks. Staley isn’t worried about entering strangers’ homes. She strongly believes in the power of handwashing.
Irene Donovan, Miskiewicz’s business partner, has been in the industry for 39 years. Donovan’s sales were up at the beginning of the year.
“I was very busy the first couple months of the year. When the virus started spreading things came to a screeching halt,” Donovan said.
The state’s real estate commission announced restrictions for showing houses. Along with wearing gloves and masks some sellers asked the agents and prospective buyers to wear protective shoe covers as well. Realtors were told they couldn’t enter the homes with their clients for appraisals or inspections, Donovan said.
“A lot of people at that time, sellers and buyers, were leery about entering any properties,” Donovan said. “Needless to say, the homeowners didn’t want strangers coming through the home not knowing if anybody in that house was asymptomatic.”
While business generally slowed, there has not been a significant change in the market as a whole, Donovan said. Like Johnson, Miskiewicz Real Estate clientele has largely put their plans to buy or sell on hold for the time being.
Those proceeding in trying to sell their houses are largely doing so out of necessity, including young families that need to upsize, job transfers or elderly people looking to downsize, Donovan said.
Donovan, who was out of work for a few weeks following an allergic reaction requiring hospitalization, had her first house showing since returning to work last Saturday. She wore booties, a mask and gloves to the showing, which ran from 12 to 5 p.m.
“Before this we could show from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. but I think most folks are flexible with their showing,” Donovan said.
Christine Johnson, of Sterling, has worked in Connecticut as a real estate agent for 20 years, but has lived in the state for 38. She’s sold 44 homes in the last four months. With another 18 set to close in the coming weeks.
This places Johnson in a position to exceed her usual annual sales, which averages around 80 houses per year, but reached 111 last year. She partially credits the increase in sales to the pandemic.
“Interest rates are low right now and we don’t have a lot of inventory,” Johnson said. “As soon as a home goes on the market it’s usually sold in five to 10 days.”
Johnson, a realtor with 1 Worcester Homes in Putnam, sells homes throughout eastern Connecticut, from Salem to Plainfield and Pomfret.
Most of her recent clients were selling their homes in the effort to relocate, moving more out of necessity than convenience, Johnson said.
“The market is what you make it,” Johnson said.