Webster St. and East Morton St. houses are leased by different real estate companies. Real estate selling and leasing companies must halt operations due to the coronavirus. (Patrece Savino/B&W Staff)

Lehigh Valley real estates sees changes due to the coronavirus

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Real estate selling and leasing companies must halt all “in person, physical operations,” according to the  Pennsylvania Association of Realtors, following Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s order for all “non-life sustaining businesses” to temporarily shut down as of 8 p.m. on March 19.

This includes in-person signing, house tours, inspections, appraisals and livestream tours by parties other than the homeowner. 

“We had a client yelling at us this morning because they’re relocating for a job,” said Loren Keim, professor of real estate at Lehigh and owner of Keim Residential and Commercial Realtors. “They have to be here in four weeks. And so they want to find something right now, and they don’t understand why they can’t go out and look at properties.”

The state of New York at first considered real estate a non-life sustaining business, but then reclassified the industry as essential on Thursday, according to The Wall Street Journal

The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors is pushing Gov. Wolf to deem real estate an essential business.

“Properties can still be listed, and settlements can still occur, but with modifications ensuring social distancing efforts are still in place,”said Rebecca Francis, manager of The Rebecca Francis Team, which specializes in high-end residential real estate in the Lehigh Valley.

In February, the housing market in the Lehigh Valley was doing well and expected to be even better in the high season of April, May and June, Francis said.

There was a record high of realtors in the Lehigh Valley.

Francis said there was a high demand for homes in the Lehigh Valley and a low supply. She said the supply of homes in February was down 37 percent compared to last year. 

While the market is down, the Pennsylvania order does not halt real estate transactions, just like many other places that deal in lux homes for sale delray beach, despite poor market conditions.

Some reporters and agents are saying that the housing market will crash due to the virus, but Cass Chies, owner of Diamond 1st Real Estate and board member of Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors, said she disagrees.

“Because we aren’t seeing prices fall or foreclosures, and the market was strong to begin with, I think our market in the Lehigh Valley is going to be stronger when we get out of this,” Chies said. “I get calls and emails every day with buyers that want to look at properties. They’re ready to go.”

Chies said the real estate industry has been predicting a recession for the past few years. Nobody expected the coronavirus to cause the recession. She said once COVID-19 slows down, the industry is going to boom. 

Keim said different sectors of the industry will suffer in different ways. 

“On the commercial side, the investment side, there are a lot of buyers right now that want to get money out of the stock market into hard assets like gold or like real estate, so there will still be buyers in the marketplace,” Keim said. 

She said real estate and office space investors may be negatively impacted. Small businesses in strip malls, shopping centers and office buildings are going to default.

Francis said after the orders are lifted, there will be less demand for large office spaces because people are adapting to working from home. 

People tend to invest without seeing the space beforehand and instead base their decisions on the projected return of the investment, Francis said.

“But a home for a family, it’s harder to make the decision without walking through the house because it can be a very emotional decision,” Francis said. 

On March 30, there were 15 new listings on the market and 16 pending sales on Multiple Service Listings, Francis said. The average amount of listings per day for February was 25. March is usually higher, due to the turn of the season. 

“I think part of what’s going to happen is you’re going to see a lot of pent-up demand. So that will probably create even more of a shortage of homes than we’ve had in the past,” Keim said. 

Chies said she predicts that buyers will be more cautious of overspending like they were after the 2008 economic crisis. 

Kiem said people who were potential buyers in the real estate market may not come back after COVID-19 has settled down, due to the financial hit some consumers are taking right now. 

Francis said, similar to after 9/11, she believes there will be an influx of people moving from New York City to Pennsylvania. She said people want space, especially after a crisis such as COVID-19. 

Francis said after being at home more due to the virus, people will view homes and real estate as more than just a place to sleep.

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