Housing Sales Off, Rental Market Strong During Coronavirus

Alfred Branch

WESTPORT, CT — As the state anxiously prepares to reopen — and faces deficits in a post-coronavirus (COVID-19) environment — one area that has not only survived but thrived during the pandemic has been the residential rental market, according to Mark Gilrain, president of the Mid-Fairfield County Association of Realtors.

In more normal times, home buying and renting can be robust in Norwalk, Westport, Weston and Wilton, the communities covered by the association. But with home sales down since the onset of the pandemic, the rental market has picked up.

Gilrain says that 2020 started strong for home sales, up 8 percent through March compared to the same period in 2019. The coronavirus was all over the news, but was still early.

Then came April, a devastating month for public health, jobs, the economy and home sales.

"In the first half of April, we saw the number of accepted offers drop to 43 percent of those from the same period last year," Gilrain says. "However, as the 'new normal' becomes more understood, we are seeing buyers staying in, returning to, or entering the market place."

The last couple of weeks in April saw a 40 percent increase in accepted offers in those four communities, reaching a total of 125, he says. (To sign up for free, local breaking news alerts from more than 100 Connecticut communities, click here.)

Showing properties has been a little trickier during the pandemic, but Realtors are adapting, Gilrain says.

"Realtors have adopted and are following protocols that minimize physical showings (live video, pre-recorded tours, etc)," he says. "When in-person showings do take place — and showings are considered essential business — Realtors and consumers adhere to masks, gloves, distancing, wiping, hand-washing, limited participants, and other means to ensure everyone's health and safety."

Overall housing inventory is less than half in 2020 of what it was in 2019, but anecdotally Gilrain says that he is seeing some sellers who took homes off the market begin to wade back in. And he's even seen a few properties receive multiple offers, a sign that the market has not bottomed out.

"There are still many people interested in selling," Gilrain says. "With Realtors out educating clients and consumers, we believe more sellers will find their way to list and show. We expect to see inventory begin to climb toward more ordinary levels. Prices are holding strong. I've heard of one Realtor getting offers on four of five listings [in one recent weekend]. I know another property that took an offer above asking."

While he didn't say which town that above-asking offer was in, it "came from a working couple with young children who are relocating to this area and were only able to see the home by a custom video tour completed" by the agent.

"Fundamental value in the market seems to remain and the appeal of life in our towns continues to be a significant draw."

That interest largely has been for rentals in area, as people — primarily New Yorkers — look for quick ways to get out of New York City or other parts of the state during the pandemic.

"The rental boom you mentioned is a reality," Gilrain says. "Offices throughout our towns report increased phone and internet traffic related to specific listings or searching for rentals in general.

"The surge of interest comes from all quarters but might be most typified as New York City or Westchester residents looking for short or long term accommodation further out, or simply accelerating a plan to move to the suburbs that was already in place. By the numbers, a so-so rental performance for the first months of 2020, became turbo-charged with lockdowns and COVID-19."

The area's rental market is 35 percent ahead compared to the same period last year, and the summer rental market is even more robust, with Westport leading the way.

This article originally appeared on the Westport Patch