Spokane Journal of Business

Commentary: Home is everything during pandemic

Lessons learned quickly in recent time of crisis

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Our home is everything now. It’s our office. It’s our gym. It’s our children’s classroom and their playground. Our new restaurant is our kitchen. Our new reality is reframing what it means to be together.

We’ve had to invent new ways to love, and new ways to spend time together. We’ve had to rethink how we do business, and what is essential, and remake our space out of pixels, so we can still create something new when every day feels the same.

The National Association of Realtors has created an engaging three-minute video on this theme that not only captures where we are, but someday will serve as a time capsule of what the COVID-19 pandemic meant to all of us who lived through it. You can find on YouTube by searching “our home is everything now.”

Our home is here.

The Spokane Association of Realtors was founded as the Spokane Realty Board in 1911, over a luncheon in the Historic Davenport Hotel’s restaurant. In the middle of this COVID-19 pandemic, both the Spokane Association of Realtors office and Davenport’s historic hotel are closed. Our concert halls, our playhouses, our parks and playgrounds, our schools and libraries, our arenas and stadiums are all closed by a microscopic virus that has pulled the plug on normal living for most on the planet.

The Spokane Association of Realtors closed its physical office on Spokane’s North Side on Monday, March 16, when Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued his State of Emergency Order on Gatherings. Later that week, I convened our board of directors to plan for an extended shutdown that came on March 25 with the governor’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order.

Real estate was deemed nonessential. That left 16,500 transactions in limbo across Washington state. People who had bought couldn’t move in. People who had sold couldn’t move out, and millions of dollars stopped moving through the banking system.

I remember sitting alone in our classroom that day, calling and zooming and deciding as we shut things down. It was a scary time. I’ll confess I was anxious.

That was when models predicted many hospitals in Washington state would reach capacity or become overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients within the next several weeks unless we substantially slowed down the spread of COVID-19 throughout the state.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. As this reality became clear, our governmental affairs staff at Washington Realtors engaged with the governor’s office to see if there was a compromise point at which we could literally get people moving again. Our members are thrilled they did.

The governor sent a memorandum on March 27 that declared real estate an essential service. Transactions started moving again, though rarely in person and then only under severe restrictions. That continued until Phase 2 easing began for Spokane County in late May.

Real estate brokers are a resilient bunch. We embraced the typewriter as these became available in the late 1800s. We embraced computers as these became available in the late 1900s, and we are embracing digital documents and electronic signatures that are now commonplace throughout the industry.

A recent survey by the National Association of Realtors shows a majority of people out there looking to buy a home are not only online but on mobile devices: 76% of all buyers found homes using a mobile device. Once found, however, most homebuyers and sellers turn to the expertise of a Realtor to handle the transaction.

NAR research shows 89% of all homebuyers and home sellers use the services of a Realtor. People still want and need professional guidance to help them with the largest purchase or sale of a lifetime when all kinds of things can go wrong. Realtors put in the time to know the market, eliminate the uncertainty about what steps to take in what order, and work with you until the day you get, or give, the keys – many have a friend and a Realtor for life. 

How’s the market? Glad you asked. 

Residential real estate in Spokane County showed all signs of having its best year ever as we began 2020. Early this spring, we rolled over $300,000 for the first time ($308,012 in March) for the average sales price of a Spokane home. Our market was, as many national sources recognized, hot – until COVID-19 tripped on the plug to the Christmas Tree. 

For the first third of the year—January through April, which includes part of the shut-down—market performance was encouraging. Sales were up almost 10% from the same time last year, which was itself the most robust market ever at the time. Both the average and median prices were up more than 13%.

Looking forward, I believe Spokane real estate will continue to do well this year, better than much of the rest of the country. 

Our pinch point continues to be inventory, as there are currently more people looking to buy a house than are looking to sell. The long-term solution is more inventory. Spokane County needs to build housing like it hasn’t since the end of World War II.

We need to revisit self-imposed restrictions based on 20-year old assumptions under the Growth Management Act and build smartly for a growing population.

This latest economic shutdown has also exposed weaknesses in our rental market. As Realtors, we are concerned about the health of this housing option for many of our friends and neighbors, too. As such, the association has commissioned a study to look at the impacts of housing—or lack thereof—for the most vulnerable in our community. We’ll share the results when we have them in hand. Additionally, we are hoping to work with the Spokane City Council to determine how best we can expand housing opportunities for everyone.

Realtors are your friends, your neighbors, your best advocate in buying real estate, and your best adviser in selling real estate. As businesspeople, we know tomorrow is a new day with just as much risk and uncertainty as yesterday.

We can do this together. Just as we shut down with you, we’ll recover with you, too. That’s Who We R.

Tom Clark is a broker with Kestell Co. Realtors. He has 30 years of experience as a residential real estate broker, trainer, mentor, and manager. You can reach him through the Spokane Association of Realtors: 509.326.9222 or Front@spokanerealtor.com

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