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Smith County real estate market thriving during coronavirus pandemic

KYTX-TV Tyler-Longview logo KYTX-TV Tyler-Longview 7/9/2020 David Lippman
a sign on the side of a road © Provided by KYTX-TV Tyler-Longview

COVID-19 shut down lots of things, but it has not stopped people from moving into their dream home or cashing out and making a profit.

Holly Hightower, a realtor and chair of the Greater Tyler Association of Realtors (GTAR) says the real estate market in Smith County is thriving despite challenges caused by the pandemic.

“We really didn’t see a drop-off in people listing,” she said. “I actually had more listings happen during COVID than I did at the beginning of the year.”

According to data from the GTAR, the median sales price of a home in Smith County during May, the month for which figures are available, rose by 6% from May 2019 to $220,000. The number of closed transactions dropped 15.5 %. The average home took five fewer days to sell, and combined with a 14.5% drop in active listings, there are now 3.2 months of inventory on the market. Hightower says four months is more typical for the area.

Hightower believes demand has remained strong because the shutdown forced people to reevaluate what they have. “People being at home,” she explained, “has meant, ‘man, we need to either upsize or downsize, or move to the country. Like, we really want to be where we want to live.’”

Hightower says buyers these days are more interested than ever before in having space for a home office, and they also want more land and the serenity that comes with it. “They are like, ‘we still want good internet connection, but we want to move to the country. We want to have some space between ourselves and our neighbors.’”

Hightower says homes priced under $250,000 tend to only stay on the market for a week before someone buys them, unless the design or location is far out of the ordinary.

“And we’re still seeing bidding wars,” she added, “which is something that people need to be ready—and I’m not just seeing it in $250,000 and below, I’m seeing it up to the 750’s.”

Smith County’s real estate market may be an outlier in its success. According to Metrotex, an association for realtors in Dallas, the median home price declined 3.9 % in May, closed sales dropped by 34.9 %, and the average home took one day longer to sell. The Houston Association of Realtors (HAR) said that while the median price declined by just 0.4% in May year-over-year, the number of sales declined by 20.7% and the average sale price fell 7.4%, indicating a sharp decline in sales of the most expensive homes.

Data for June is available in Houston, and HAR reported increases in sales and the median sale price.

“We don’t see the large upwards bubbles and the downwards bubble,” Hightower said of the Tyler area. “Those trends don’t happen here. We see a lot more stability in this market.”

Hightower says she has seen an increase in first-time home buyers in the last few months. She believes the desire for more space and the stimulus checks from the CARES Act may have contributed.

“They have been saving up,” she explained. “And, you know, with the little boost that they got, some of them, that put them over the edge where they could go ahead and purchase and start investing in equity in a property that they own.”

On the seller side, she says some are looking for a different size home to meet their needs in a COVID-19 world. Others are fearful about being able to afford a home and want to cash out. She says those sellers are leading to an increase in rates for rental homes.

“They’ve gotta still have a place to live,” she said. “So they’re renting. They don’t have that overhead, where it’s hanging over them and looming, ‘are we going to be able to pay it?’”

Hightower says some sellers have been more particular than others about showings and the level of precautions agents have to take. Some allow prospective buyers inside, while others request that only the agent enter the home. However, she says buyers are doing more research online, and virtual showings have allowed them to see what they are buying from a distance.

“Had this happened, you know, 15-20 years ago, we would not be as prolific,” she stated. “I don’t think that the market would be as stable as it is now, just because we are fortunate to have the tools where we can do things virtually.”

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