By Eileen Dallabrida
Covid-19 has turned the world upside down, keeping people out of offices, public places and schools and forcing families to spend more time than ever at home.
The pandemic is fueling a boom in home sales, as buyers look for properties with enough room for living, working and remote schooling. In a recent 24-hour span in Delaware’s red-hot residential real estate market, 47 homes in New Castle County went under contract. Of those properties, 33 were on the market for less than a week.
That was good news for Shelly Vaughn, whose four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath in Faulkland Heights sold in less than two days.
In all, there were 48 showings of the house over the weekend, which yielded six offers. Vaughn accepted a young couple’s bid of $320,000, $25,000 above the asking price. In addition to paying top dollar, the buyers agreed to take on the costs of any repairs and give the seller an extra 30 days to find a new home.
“They also wrote the sweetest letter, telling me how much they love the house and look forward to raising a family there,” Vaughn said.
Bids above the listing price, flexible closing dates, and personal letters are just a few strategies in consumer quests to win homes. Buyers also are utilizing escalation clauses that automatically outpace higher offers by competing bidders. Others are cutting straight to the chase with highest and best offers. Some are waiving home inspections.
The market is hottest for homes like Vaughn’s, properties priced between $250,000-$350,000 and in move-in condition. Vaughn invested $25,000 to get her house in tip-top shape, replacing carpeting, painting walls in neutral colors, installing luxury vinyl plank flooring, and upgrading the original 1962 metal doors. Her two-and-a-half car garage, fenced corner lot, and open concept kitchen and family room put it over the top.
One home, listed in the mid-$250,000s in the 19808 zip code that includes Faulkland Heights, Marshallton, and part of Pike Creek, attracted 22 offers.
“There’s tremendous demand for starter homes and properties that are a step up from starter homes,” said Carol Arnott-Robbins of Berkshire Hathaway Fox and Roach in Greenville.
Less demand at the top
More expensive homes, especially properties at or near the $1 million threshold, are taking longer to sell and are less likely to command full asking price. Recent sales include a house in Greenville priced at $1.75 million that sold for $1.6 million after 87 days on the market.
The exception is beach properties. For example, a sprawling contemporary home adjacent to wetlands, listed at $1.4 million in the tony Lewes community of Wolfe Pointe, was under contract in less than two days.
In addition to increased demand, there’s a paucity in inventory, with 30.8 percent fewer properties available in New Castle County in July than there were a year ago, according to the most recent statistics available from Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach. In Kent County, there were 17.9 percent fewer homes available.
At the same time, properties under contract leaped 30.4 percent to 1,184 homes, compared to 908 properties for the same period a month earlier. The average sale rose to $266,543.
Sussex is booming
Lots that had been on the market for several years at Cinderberry Village, a 55-plus community in Georgetown, are now humming with the construction of single-family homes in the high $200,000s range.
The construction boomlet is propelled by retirees from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, drawn by Sussex County’s low property taxes, said Ron Hinkle, president of the Cinderberry homeowners’ association.
“There are only three lots left and the way things are going, they won’t last long,” he said.
Nationwide, sales of new homes soared to their highest level since December 2006 in July. Single-family home sales jumped 13.9 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The median sales price was $330,600, up 7 percent from the same time last year.
With more than 30 million Americans unemployed, economists had anticipated much lower numbers. But subsequent analyses concluded that joblessness has disproportionately impacted low-wage workers, who are typically renters.
Here are a few recent listings from around the state:
- In Rehoboth Beach, a bayfront contemporary home boasts polished concrete floors, a lap pool with a built-in sun ledge, and a clawfoot tub with a water view. The buyer also gets the keys to a Razor boat moored at a 150-foot-long deck. The price tag: $2.625 million.
- In Kent County, new construction is attracting buyers. In Camden Wyoming, the listing price on a 3,464-square-foot newly built brick house with a four-room master suite was bumped up $20,000 to $460,900.
- In Newark, a farmhouse built in 1810 and listed on the National Historic Register, is in need of updating but retains many of its charming original features. The park-like five-acre grounds include an English-style herb garden and terraces. It’s priced at $585,000.
At home in the office
With more people working from remotely, a home office is appearing on more wish lists, Arnott-Robbins said. “Some buyers need two designated places that can serve as home offices,” she said. “They don’t want the little desk in the kitchen.”
For buyers over 50, in-law suites or first-floor masters that can accommodate aging parents also are growing in popularity.
Victoria Dickinson of Patterson-Schwartz sees three factors driving the market, starting with attractive lending rates. Conventional 30-year loans start at 2.85 percent, according to Mortgage Rate; interest on a 15-year loan begins at 2.65 percent.
“The rates are good, inventory is low, and people are working from home and want quiet spaces where they can work that are separate from the kids,” she said.
Many buyers are willing to make tradeoffs in their quest for function. “Fewer formal dining rooms, more eat-in kitchens and mud rooms,” Dickinson said.
Touring homes is a lot more complicated in a pandemic. Masks are mandatory and many sellers require visitors to wear gloves and booties. Prospective buyers also must sign an affidavit that they have not been exposed to COVID and disclose recent travel.
“Open houses are pretty much a thing of the past. Sellers don’t want a bunch of strangers coming through their house and touching their things,” Arnott-Robbins said.
Eileen Smith Dallabrida is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in USA Today, National Geographic Traveler and the Christian Science Monitor. She is a national runner-up for the Investigative Reporters and Editors award.
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