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Amid real estate turbulence, Adirondack brokers see upswing

New York’s real estate market has seen significant turbulence in the last few months as the coronavirus pandemic, and state guidelines designed to curb the spread of the virus, temporarily shuttered businesses and left millions of people out of work. But local real estate brokers are reporting signs that the market may now be on the upswing, at least in the Adirondacks.

Real estate agencies in the seven-county North Country region will be able to restart in-person showings as soon as this Friday — if the region moves into Phase 2 reopening.

The local real estate market saw a hit in March, after New York state announced its first confirmed case of COVID-19.

A market analysis from the Northern Adirondack Board of Realtors shows that the number of new listings in Essex County declined by 25%, from 36 this March to 27 at this same month last year. There were fewer homes on the market in Essex County overall: 305 this March, compared to 374 last March. And though the number of sales was slightly higher — 21 this March, compared to 19 last March — the median sale price was 7% lower. In Franklin County, the number of new listings this past March remained the same as last March: 24. The number of sales declined by one, from 19 to 18, and the number of homes for sale overall declined from 265 in March 2019 to 215 this past March. The median sale price was higher this year, $162,500 compared to $94,825 last March.

Statewide, the number of new listings and pending sales both fell in April by more than 65%, according to the New York State Association of Realtors. Median sale prices also declined by 2.6% last month compared to the year prior — the first time that’s happened since January 2016. But interest rates for buyers on a 30-year fixed mortgage fell to 3.31% last month, according to NYSAR, the lowest monthly average commitment rate since Freddie Mac started tracking the trend in 1971.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, rural and suburban areas outside of the city saw an uptick in homebuying as people sought safety and solace away from the metropolitan center. With the city now the epicenter of the pandemic in this country, many local real estate agents believe that the Adirondacks could see a similar resurgence as people seek safety and solace again — and as more people are able to work remotely.

“We’re in (the resurgence) right now,” said Brooks Reynolds, owner of the Reynolds Group in Lake Placid. “It’s happening now. We continue to get calls and inquiries on properties. And it’s not just out-of-towners. I think it has motivated locals to make the next jump.”

Showings

Real estate agents are able to show properties remotely and virtually under the current guidelines. That has been a challenge, according to Rob Gillis, owner of Gillis Realty in Tupper Lake.

“We’re certainly handcuffed right now,” he said. “The current method to show properties — it’s very difficult to get a buyer excited because we can’t be on the property with the buyer. We physically can’t be at the house, so we can’t show them all the good stuff the property has to offer. It’s an extra hurdle we have to overcome.”

Though the coronavirus has derailed many norms, the seasonal nature of Adirondack homebuying seems to be holding firm.

Despite the virus, with the arrival of warmer weather has come an uptick in inquiries from potential buyers, according to Gillis.

“Because we were all sequestered at home, guess what everyone was doing? Searching online,” he said in a phone interview on Wednesday. As Gillis spoke, a phone rang in the background. After looking at the number, Gillis said: “That’s actually someone calling through Zillow right now.”

People buying properties without seeing them in person is relatively rare, according to Reynolds — and it’s possible that if showings resume, those new inquiries will turn into sales.

“I think getting to meet people is part of why we do what we do. It’s fun. It’ll definitely enhance the experience for the buyer,” she said.

But real estate transactions could continue to be different for a while, even if the industry is allowed to reopen under Phase 2, according to Reynolds.

“I would say everyone, agents as well as most potential clients, has an awareness of safety around them now,” she said. “I don’t think it will prevent people from viewing properties, but I think we’ll all be careful for a while. I don’t think that everyone will just return to normal overnight.”

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