What coronavirus is doing to home sales, construction in Butler County

The home construction and home sales industries are considered essential for the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic, but each is working to tackle its own set of challenges.

Warmer weather usually generates a hotter market for home sales, but the March’s stay-at-home order meant to rein in the spread of the new coronavirus is starting to have undesirable effect on the housing market for Butler County and Southwest Ohio.

Active inventory of single-family homes and condominiums was 2,950 as of Thursday, according to Kelly Meyer, president of the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors, which covers 22 counties in the metro area, including Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren counties.

“That’s a little bit lower than our normal trend line, which would be one of the early indicators that things it’s starting to slow up a little bit,” he said.

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Since March 10, showings are down “fairly significantly because people just aren’t looking,” he said.

“Clients just don’t want to leave home to go look,” he said. “A lot of times there are two people working in the home with kids, so going out and taking a look at a new home is really something that is discretionary and they’re putting that on hold unless they have to move.”

Prior to local pandemic-related cases and deaths, home sales had been generally healthy. February home sales in the Greater Cincinnati area rose 7.4 percent compared to February 2019, the second-best increase for that month since 2006, according to Meyer.

Open houses are on hold for the time being and listing agents are placing a greater emphasis than ever on virtual walkthroughs.

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Some showings are still happening, especially for those who need to buy a home because their current home is under contract and they need to move, he said.

Realtors are providing a list of safeguards a homeowner should have when showing their home to a potential buyer. That includes providing hand sanitizer in liquid or wipe form, signage to dissuade potential home buyers from touching light switches, counters and door knobs and footies for buyers to place over shoes. Once a showing is done, the realtor should wipe down the door knob and key before they place it back into the lock box, which also should be wiped down.

Realtors also are being encouraged to practice social distancing between them and their client, he said.

The amount of home sales likely will drop during the pandemic, but Meyer said that likely will be short-lived, followed by “a flood of activity.”

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“There’s still a lot of buyers and sellers out there and all (this pandemic) is doing is delaying what they want to do,” he said. “It’s just going to be a month or two and then all of those people who sat on the sidelines for those two months are going to be back out there and they’re going to be back in droves.”

Dan Dressman, executive director for the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati, said home builders are grateful that Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine declared the industry an essential business.

“That kept all of the guys working, for the most part, as well as the contractors, suppliers and service providers,” Dressman said. “They’re busy on their job sites and, obviously, they’re practicing safe distancing and having hand-washing ability at the job sites.”

As a result of that and local governments continuing to issue permitting for home construction, “things are still humming along,” he said.

“The biggest concern we have now is that there are going to be disruptions in the supply chain,” he said. “There’s some inkling that could potentially occur.”

HBA is requiring its members to only allow 10 people at a job site at one time with those people involved in one type of trade, Dressman said.

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“Since they’re outside, for the most part, and they’re practicing safe distancing, there’s really not a whole lot of risk,” he said. “I would assume that’s one of the reasons why the federal government actually included residential construction industry as an essential business” after DeWine did so on the state level.

Instead of stopping by to look at a model home at any time during regular hours, potential home buyers are now required to make an appointment, and the person showing the home makes sure to wipe down all surfaces following the showing, he said.

“They’re also doing more virtual marketing, having virtual open houses where you can do a conference call and they’ll walk you through the rooms online so you don’t even have to go in person to that particular site,” Dressman said.

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