Is S.F.’s real estate market feeling effects of coronavirus scare?

March 11, 2020

With the coronavirus infecting stocks and choking off San Francisco’s hospitality lifeblood, its influence on the city’s powerful residential real estate market is taking longer to coming into focus.

While the effects of the public health scare on the real estate market will not show up in official statistics for another month, some day-to-day changes are affecting both the market and the way real estate agents do business in the city.

Nina Hatvany is an agent affiliated with Compass Real Estate who has 28 years of experience and has closed on more than $2 billion in sales in her career. She told me that during this virus situation, where group interactions are being limited both locally and internationally, it’s actually sellers and not the buyers who appear more reticent to engage with the marke.

“We had a couple of sellers who decided not to sell right now,” she said. “If we have less volume — we will see (the numbers) in about 30 days.”

“The buyer sentiment still seems very positive and people are just taking sensible precautions,” she said.

Realtor Jennifer Rosdail with Keller Williams Realty told me the local market is still busy when it comes to buyers and offers, and that except for hand sanitizer being more apparent as a staging tool, there are few differences so far from the normal hot spring market that kicks off after Super Bowl Sunday. 

“Yesterday, I had clients lose out on a home in Glen Park even though they were way over asking price and had all cash and no contingencies,” she said. “I have observed that people who have pulled money out of the stock market are feeling good about real estate.”

Frank Nolan, co-owner and vice president of San Francisco-based Vanguard Properties, said he also had recent clients who were moving stock market money into local real estate. However, he provided a more measured assessment of the industry’s health this spring. 

“I think it’s a mixed bag to be honest,” he said. “There’s a price point — under that $3 million mark — that market it still very competitive.”

Nolan said virus fears may be having a bigger impact on the high-end market as some sellers are just waiting in an attempt to ride out the health scare. “I do see some slowness in the luxury market on the south side of town — a lot of properties are sitting but not all,” he said.

Realtor Gregg Lynn, a luxury specialist for Sotheby’s International Realty in San Francisco, told me that many of high-end listings he manages have been under preparation with clients moving out and repairs, painting and staging taking about six to eight weeks. Lynn said as each listing becomes ready, he’s now having in-depth calls with selling clients to evaluate market conditions and assessing whether to move forward or postpone marketing. 

“So far, each decision has been ‘let’s go,'” he said. “Last week, one of our listings received seven offers.” 

Overall, Hatvany said the current financial downturn is less worrisome for the local real estate industry compared to the 2008 crisis, which was directly linked to home mortgages. 

Nolan agreed that while the contemporary stock market shows a lot of similarities to 2008, not all is the same. “You couldn’t get a loan in 2008,” he said. “You can still get a loan today. That’s a big difference.”

But one thing all real estate agents in the city seem to agree with now is the pervasive use of hand sanitizer, soap and disposable towels during open houses.

Hatvany said she knows her health is always at risk in showing homes. She said the hand sanitizer — both for herself and for potential buyers — and a sense of humor in talking about precautions surrounding the virus are emerging as her go-to methods in dealing with it on a daily basis. 

“I’m a little less eager to go into the office,” she said, adding that routine handshakes have also been disappeared recently. “I’m also the one who has to open the doors and flick the lights on in every house.”

Nolan also said Vanguard now has hand sanitizer, hand soap and disposable towels at every open house. 

“Just this past Sunday I had people coming to an open house with masks and gloves on,” Nolan said.

And as far as handshakes at open houses are concerned, they’ve gone the way of the dodo. “Generally no – mostly elbow to elbow now,” Nolan said. “The Japanese had it right – they just bow.”