Peoria area home sales surge despite COVID-19, economic slump

By Elise Zwicky For Chronicle Media

With interest rates low, potential home buyers who may have initially put their plans on hold when the pandemic began are showing more interest now as they see “sale pending” signs going up in a market with a low inventory of homes for sale, according to Kendra Sipes, president of the Peoria Area Association of Agents. (Photo by Elise Zwicky)

Despite unprecedented obstacles created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Peoria area home sales rose in the first quarter of 2020 by just over 13 percent.

The Peoria Area Association of Agents reported that 1,134 homes were sold in January, February and March of this year compared to 1,001 homes sold during the same three months in 2019. 

In addition, the average sale price for a home sold in the first quarter this year was $132,787, up from $127,618 in 2019, while the median sale price was $113,250 compared to $106,000 last year.

Kendra Sipes, PAAR president, said agents have found a way to continue doing  business despite families being asked to stay at home and businesses and jobs closing as the country has tried to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease.

“When your home becomes your entire world as it has for so many for so long, that’s all the more reason to secure a place that you’re comfortable with, that you enjoy,” Sipes said.

The first quarter numbers weren’t entirely surprising, she added, because agents had been sensing an increase in buyer confidence toward the end of last year and the start of this year with mortgage interest rates being historically low.

And while PAAR is expecting the second quarter numbers to be lower due to the pandemic, Sipes said there are signs that buyers are still wanting to move forward.

“Right about mid-March when the initial shelter in place went into effect, our showings and activity and everything just dropped drastically,” she said. “But at the beginning of April, we saw things kind of turn around a little, and in the last two weeks we’ve seen an upswing in showing activity, so we’re actually almost back up to where we were in early March.”

Swipes said potential buyers who may have initially put their plans on hold when the pandemic began seem to be getting antsy now as they see more “sale pending” signs going up.

“We have buyers out there that are ready to buy, but we just don’t have the inventory for them right now,” she explained. “So as agents, we’re starting to encourage those sellers that were maybe waiting to put their house on the market to do it now, because there are buyers out there.” 

Sipes said the current inventory is a 4.3 months supply of houses on the market in the Peoria area, compared to an inventory of 4.7 months of homes in 2019.

A Bartonville couple who plan to put their house up for sale for a move to Bloomington-Normal were heartened by the local numbers.

“We thought perhaps we should wait, but now I feel more encouraged,” said John Richmond, who with his wife, Barb, has already bought a new house in the Bloomington area. “We can’t wait too long to try to sell it because who can afford two houses for very long?”

Kendra Sipes, president of the Peoria Area Association of Agents, said agents have found a way to continue doing business despite unprecedented obstacles created by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of the Peoria Area Association of Agents)

Richmond said he’s not overly worried about having potential buyers walking through the house once it’s on the market. “Even Barb, who has been the most vigilant, seems prepared to have people (in the house),” he said. 

PAAR has developed a plan that uses technology to keep agents, staff and clients safe during the pandemic. Virtual tours, virtual open houses and virtual walk-throughs have become commonplace, along with face masks, shoe coverings, gloves and sanitizers.    

Sellers are helping by opening all doors and turning on all lights before a showing, which eliminates the need for the agent or buyer to touch light switches or door handles. And real estate agents are leaving the house as they found it, rather than turning off the lights as they would have before the pandemic. 

“It takes longer to show a house because of all the things that need to be done before and after, but we’re just very lucky that we can still do business right now because housing is an essential need,” Sipes said. 

PAAR CEO Reginia Tuttle came up with the idea of making cloth face masks with the Realtor logo for members to wear while showing properties and doing consultations during the COVID-19 scare. “Within the first few hours, we had over 100 agents wanting a mask with the Realtor logo,” Tuttle said. 

“We’ve not been charging for them, but real estate agents have been making donations to PAAR Cares, which is our 501(3)(c) that we use to give back to the community through things like our turkey drive in the fall, food vouchers to the food banks, money to provide wheelchair ramps for the disabled or just to assist real estate agents in our community during times of disaster,” Sipes noted. 

Cara Green, a Pekin mother of three who’s considering buying a house, said she hasn’t walked through as many homes as she likely would have prior to the coronavirus situation, choosing to narrow down the choices more by looking online. 

“My realtor wore a mask and had gloves the times we did walk through houses, and I brought hand sanitizer with me,” she said. 

Sipes said agents have been restricted to only bringing four people through a house at a time. “If there is a buyer that wants to bring more family to see a house, we’re taking them through at different times so we can keep that social distancing inside the house,” she said.

Peoria real estate agents have found another way to support the community by making every Thursday a Realtor Dine Out Day.

“It’s been a great way not only to support our local businesses and restaurants but also to share what is open because we post it on social media,” Sipes said.

Moving forward, PAAR will continue to exercise caution, adopting a safety-first attitude in all transactions, Sipes added.

“Now is actually a great time to sell and buy. We know there’s pent-up demand. The question is when we’ll see that released,” she said.