Have you heard the rumors? People from California are buying houses over FaceTime! New Yorkers want to get away from another winter on lockdown—they’re buying places cash, sight unseen, for over asking price! Charlotte is the new Boston! There are no houses to buy in town because everything is going in a week with multiple offers! Are the rumors true? Three grande dames of selling houses in Charlotte gave their opinions on the state of real estate in these wild and unprecedented times.
First of all, the rumors are sort of true. “I sold four houses via FaceTime,” Kathy O’Brien said. She and her son, Patrick O’Connell, are a team at Four Seasons Sotheby’s International Realty. “It took confidence with the buyers,” she said, noting that she had met them previously, so that once she “talked them off the ledge,” the mobile phone showings went well and all were happy when they arrived.
“There’s something to be said for making up for lost time this spring,” Dottie Waller, who is with Four Seasons Sotheby’s as well, said. Between July to July a year ago versus this year, the numbers are pretty much the same…but there’s certainly a lot more interest in buying. There are fewer properties for sale, and people are buying not so much sight unseen, but because there’s so little for sale, you have to jump on things.”
So where are all these people coming from? New York, Boston and Washington, D.C., mostly. Waller said the appeal of “the mountains, the lake” and the progressive politics are all attractive to families who might have spent last spring on lockdown with their families in a small space arguing over who should be the next president. $1,000,000 gets you a lot more in Charlotte than it does in Manhattan.
Nancy Farley, along with her partner ,Jay Strausser, are also with Sotheby’s. She said in recent months she’s had “five closings because people have decided to get out of the city…The buyers that I’ve been working with, they’ve been thinking they wanted to move up here in three to five years, but COVID pushed that up much quicker.”
“Charlotte, right now, is all about timing,” Farley said. “In real estate, people say it’s location, location, location, but right now it’s timing, timing, timing.” All three realtors agree that if a buyer wants a shot at a property, they have to move quickly. “There’s such low inventory that that’s part of the problem…anyone living in the city, they are pent up.” She predicts that should the coronavirus situation remain the same, “There could be another push in the spring.”
She did say that most of her buyers, despite the influx of city folks, are still local people, or people who grew up here and want to make the move back.
All three realtors pointed to low inventory as one reason for the hustle to snap up a new property, noticing that, though there’s a lot of unexpected movement in the $700,000-plus range, there isn’t much to choose from in the $300,000 to $700,000 zone. “That price point doesn’t exist right now,” Farley said.
Waller and O’Brien think that if you’ve been thinking of selling, particularly with a house in that price range, now is a great time to take advantage of the hot market—granted, a backup housing plan or a contingency worked into the contract that doesn’t render you homeless is recommended. Farley said she sees things a little differently. “If you’re looking for something else locally, if you don’t have a place to go, you might be setting yourself up for disappointment…There are not a lot of places for you to go.”
Even with eager buyers from out of state and the potential for a long, lonely winter indoors on the horizon, all three realtors cautioned that you can’t make the real estate equivalent of a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
“You can’t go berserk,” O’Brien said, noting that staging, landscaping and touch-ups are still necessary for sellers to put their best foot forward. Farley said that an overpriced property is still an overpriced property, and that anything languishing on the market is probably there because the list price is just too high.
Waller said her professional strategy at the moment is the traditional realtor’s philosophy: “Make hay while you can.” Faced with grim prospects in March, she said she is making up for lost time from the spring, when real estate agents were not allowed to show houses because of the coronavirus. When commerce opened up again, she said, “It was like whoooooo! The hysteria kind of built up.”
O’Brien said Sotheby’s is cautioning agents to temper their expectations; with COVID-19 still in play, mortgage rates that are currently low but could go up at any time, and a presidential election coming up in three months, the economy could take a turn again. “There’s gonna be a correction,” she said, but for now, the market remains hot, and, she said, “Real estate is a great place to plunk money. You should always have some real estate in your portfolio.”