COVID-19 CoverageFeaturesReal Estate

Examining the State of the Industry

Realtors and lenders discuss the effects of the pandemic.

Between the pandemic and the plummeting price of oil, Houston’s economy has been hit even harder than it was after Hurricane Harvey.  What is that going to mean for the city’s real-estate industry?  We asked some of our top Realtors and lenders that question, and then asked about how they’ve been keeping busy while confined to their homes. Here are their insightful answers:

Bob Jones

“Real estate is an essential business, so we are still hard at work during the pandemic. From most accounts, we may slow a bit but will have a major surge in the market as soon as restrictions are lifted. We are working to do everything possible to transact business remotely, from virtual tours to electronic closings. Regarding the price of oil, we expect prices to cycle back up as they always do. The city is much more financially diverse, and oil is not the only driver for the Houston economy. It will be a buyer’s market in general, but some locations and homes will be more of a seller’s market.

“I live in Montrose because it is the best neighborhood in Houston for walking to great restaurants, and there is a wonderful sense of community. [When I’m not] busy with buyers and sellers, I’m tackling those things you always put off and never want to do. Plus a bit of Netflix.”

Brooks Ballard

“Having both at the same time creates a big conversation. Oil prices have affected our prices because that’s more of a long-term portion of our economy. Whereas the pandemic has affected everyone. It was faster, and the combination of the two has slowed the process of buying down. The month of March started out to be a strong spring buying season, which is what we expected. Week by week, we started seeing decreases in sellers wanting to list their homes.

“The number one trend that will emerge from all this will be the use of technology. Lately, the real estate market has embraced technological innovation to improve productivity, but the market has expanded rapidly. We expect many of the tools we are taking advantage of in the digital world from virtual tours to virtual open houses to even virtual appointments will continue to take center stage after the fact. This may speed up the implementation of new technologies that allow for greater connectivity and access to properties, limiting some of the need for physical presence in the home.

“I have lived in Houston the majority of my life and have seen many challenges that Houstonians have had over the years but no matter what it is the city always thrives. That is the makeup of Houston and what makes this city a great place to call my home.

“During this quarantine, I have entertained myself by reconnecting with my advisors, clients and friends through virtual happy hours to make sure they are okay. I have definitely remembered how fun it is to sing, dance and goof off with my spheres. It cannot be all work and no play all the time!”

Cody Grizzoffi

“The pandemic has actually brought more and more people looking to purchase and refinance. Right now, my business has been steady and busy, but the interest rates are all over the place with the uncertainty of what is happening in the world. They normally go up and down throughout the day, but now it is happening more and more.

“I have been extremely busy with work. I am used to working from home, but with my husband now having to work from home, too, and our two kids having to be schooled at home, there really isn’t much time for anything else. Right now, the best we can do is try to keep life as close to a regular routine as possible.”

David Bowers

“The long-term rental market seems very good right now, although the City of Galveston had temporarily shut down the short-term rental business. Real estate is deemed an essential business, but of course with social distancing. All of this has initially pushed interest rates lower. Both the pandemic and the price of oil really seem to be different pressures. Regionally, we are used to the fluctuations in the price of oil. It is like the tide—when it’s in and the price of oil is high, there are lots of high-end sales. When the price goes down, people make purchases more carefully. However, in this pandemic, no one sees the light at the end of the tunnel yet. People are legitimately fearful, and that does affect buying motivations.

“I had my first ‘virtual’ open house on March 28, and it was very educational getting this going. I like to talk about old houses, so [narrating an open-house video] is also fun. It is like being a one-person historic-homes tour docent on film. It is recommended that video tours only last 10 minutes. I am learning to have the camera go ahead of you up a staircase, instead of behind you. And I quickly found out which closet doors could be opened and which ones are best staying shut!

“I live in historic Galveston in an 1899 Victorian on the Mardi Gras parade route, and my office is three or four blocks from my house. There is a wonderful small-town feeling about Galveston—an island community with lots of cruise ships, rich in history, and rich in architecture. Throw in over seven million tourists a year, and [you also get some] exciting theater, restaurants, bars, and festivals—with lots of drag!

“I understand there have been a lot of weight gains with everyone at home. The office seems lonelier, but I like to walk, and people along the way seem more talkative and friendlier. I am reading more, and I don’t know why. I text lots of people I know who are cooped up in
their houses, just to check on them. Texting seems so much less intrusive than calling, and it’s my preference for staying in touch with people. These things may not be as entertaining as [our usual routines], but right now is not necessarily a time to contemplate entertainment. I worry about all those bar and restaurant owners and workers with no job. They created the venues for the entertainment I enjoyed before the pandemic.”

Freddie Minahan

“Real estate is all about relationships, so I will continue to maintain a great rapport with my clients, stay knowledgeable, and work hard. Technology is so powerful, and I’m happy to be at Compass because they have wonderful tools that benefit my clients during these unprecedented times. I will be doing virtual tours for my listings, so consumers can see every aspect of a home without having to get up from their couch or leave their office.

“We are so fortunate to live in Houston, because it is such a resilient market with so many different areas to choose from. If inventory is low, then it will be a seller’s market. If inventory is high, then it will lean in favor of buyers. Ultimately, if a home is priced appropriately, then it will sell.

“I’m always driving to appointments in Montrose, Heights, River Oaks, West U., Tanglewood, and Oak Forest/Garden Oaks, so living in the Heights makes getting to those areas easy. The restaurants, shops, and walk/bike trails are an added bonus to living in the Heights. I am a homebody and love hanging out with my French Bulldog, so that part of the stay-at-home order has been easy for me. I’m also a big foodie and wine lover, so I’ve been ordering to-go from restaurants. A few favorites are Savoir, Traveler’s Table, La Fresca, Barnaby’s, and B&B.”

Greg Cassity

“Business for me has actually been pretty steady. During the first weeks of the stay-at-home order, I had two homes under contract. My clients tend to be more financially secure, although I did have some that wanted to delay deals—and that’s perfectly fine! I want them to be confident and comfortable throughout the process, and I’ll be there to help before, during, and after the sale or purchase of their new home. I definitely think commercial properties such as malls, shopping centers, and restaurants will unfortunately take a big hit.

“This has caused many people to realize what is most important in their lives. The stressful and chaotic nature of the world sometimes makes it easy for us to lose track of what matters most to us. From all of this, proper hygiene has also been reintroduced to many, along with being more conscious of washing our hands. We are connecting more with each other through social media, Zoom calls, FaceTiming, and my favorite: virtual Happy Hours. In my business, I am becoming more aware of what I touch, since as agents we are opening many doors and turning on light switches during our showings. Virtual open houses and tours via social media will become more of a trend. Our listing videos at Nan and Company Properties are outstanding, and our marketing team definitely utilizes their creativity to help promote us.

“I currently live in East Downtown, aka EaDo. The area continues to change with new-construction homes, restaurants, and entertainment venues. Being close to the stadiums is a plus, especially when it comes to not having to deal with parking! Seeing the large crowds of people in the area generates a sense of excitement that’s exclusive to this part of the city.

“I have a newfound love for TikTok! But of course, real estate is my main focus and I continue the hustle. This unfortunate period has made me more focused on getting work done from home. I am a guy who likes to go into the office and connect with my team members. The environment that we have at Nan and Company Properties is extremely positive, and we all support each other’s success and root for each other every single day. Besides working, I have rearranged my furniture, cleaned out every cabinet, and found old items to donate. I also have a dog named Benz, who will turn 15 this July. He is my baby, and he’s been such a precious piece in my life.”

Hudson Holmes

“It is hard to say at this time what will happen. On Galveston Island, we have always been fortunate that our community and businesses have been resilient through many unfortunate events. After this national emergency ends, we expect that sales and listings will continue an upward trend, but not as much as the prior year.

“Hopefully, we will see better hygiene practices for all, and a stronger sense of community. I think both sides of the market—buyers and sellers—will benefit. In the short term, sellers may not be getting the prices that they anticipated before the virus hit. But we believe the market will remain steady after all of this has concluded.

“I love [spending my free time] on Galveston Island. And, being Islanders, we tend to be pretty laid-back, and we love our cocktailing.”

Janet Friedman

“For people seeking financing, the stay-at-home order means that more transactions will likely be remote (fax, e-mail, FedEx, etc.) and less in-person. People will be even more busy and have less available time.

“Those in the oil and gas industry will not have the security net they had in the past. Key jobs will be at a premium. Employers are going to be holding on to their key employees. 

“With the coronavirus, loan guidelines are going to be changing. A lot of documentation will be needed to support job losses and mortgage payment deferrals when someone can’t pay due to a job loss.

“Also, lenders may require homeowners to have more money in reserve (savings after closing) to qualify for a loan. Changes are coming—including an adjustment in people’s attitude toward money. I think people are going to be more conscious of spending money, and job security will be important to employees and employers. How an industry or employer has treated its employees will be noted. Some may go the other way and just not care, and spend as much as they can. Major change is a given.

“New jobs may include  negotiable terms regarding future pandemics. Pandemic insurance coverage may become a benefit with employment packages.

“I think there will be more divorces, and probably more babies, which means movement in the housing market both for divorcing folks and growing families. Will people just hunker down for security and stay where they are, or decide that they’ve spent a lot of time in a house and don’t want it anymore?

“Mortgage rates should be low, so lenders may be swamped and closings may take longer, especially with new guidelines for lending. And social distancing could mean that sellers  will want to avoid having a lot of folks walking through their homes, so fewer homes on the market will cause prices to rise. Or,  with more stringent lending guidelines and work volatility, prices may drop.

“I’ve lived in Montrose for a long time, and love it—convenient, and a great location. I’m working as I can, and I talk, text, and e-mail friends and family. I also read, watch movies, clean, cook, work out, organize, and rest—things I had little time to do before the stay-at-home order!

Jeremy Fain 

“I think that the trend will be over the next year or so will be quality showings rather than quantity of showings. The buyers that are out looking are well qualified and are taking action with writing contracts while the more causal lookers have cooled off a bit. Even though the number of general showings may have gone down the showings that we’re getting are making things happen. We’re getting an offer on a property we just put on the market from the very first showing so I think that speaks volumes of positioning yourself well within the market. 

“I live in a condo on the east end of Washington Ave. near downtown. I work so much that it’s easy to lock up and get out to any part of town very easily to take care of what needs to be done. Being centrally located also provides me the ease of getting places quickly as most things in real estate pop up rather immediately. Plus, I have an amazing view of the downtown skyline which is irreplaceable; I stand and look at it for a few minutes every evening while reflecting on my daily gratitude!

“Work! There honestly hasn’t been much downtime at all during this quarantine. I have been on my computer from sunup to beyond sundown which is a fortunate place to be right now. I recently inherited a large collection of original LPs of many different operas, symphonies, and classical masterpieces. I’m playing them one by one throughout the days so I can work through the library. It’s a breath of fresh air to hear the quality of musicianship from decades ago. Schubert 2 is playing in the background as we speak!”

Mike Copenhaver

“We live in Boulevard Oaks, close enough to walk to restaurants, nightlife, museums, and parks. The huge live oaks lining both sides of our street welcome us home.

“To keep busy during the stay-at-home period, I am continuing to work serving my clients. I am also continuing my real-estate education with webinars and market research for this unprecedented period.”

Noel Phillips

“When the oil and gas prices are up, Houston’s real-estate market is robust. So obviously, we all want the oil and gas prices to return to the levels where they were even just a couple of months ago. We are already seeing some effects of the pandemic on the real-estate industry. Even though this pandemic has negatively affected some buyers, it has also motivated others to buy. So the market is moving, contracts are being negotiated and finalized, and closings are taking place—including mortgage loan refinances, because the interest rates are so low right now.

“Everyday life as we all knew it prior to this pandemic could possibly change in ways that may take some time for us to accept. But it may also change in ways that may be beneficial to all of us. Those changes will range from how we greet people to how we conduct ourselves in large social gatherings like concerts, political rallies, work-related seminars, or even going to a movie or play at a theater. But it will most likely change how we all conduct our businesses. With regard to my industry, I’m certain that online video closings and electronically closed transactions will become more of the norm in how we do business.

“I have lived in Montrose for 20-plus years, and I’m an inner-looper through and through. I love being near the trendy restaurants, even though most are only providing take-out service during this stay-at-home period. And it’s comforting for me to live near the Medical Center and most of my business partners, customers, and friends.”

Thomas Phillips

“We have to remember that this is not the first time real-estate professionals have been in this position. What’s happening today, minus the pandemic, has happened before and will happen again. The market shifts in a cyclical pattern, and the business goes on. Granted, we are in uncharted territory that we’ve never seen before, but I’m not fearful.

“During this time, I quickly shifted my business to a virtual-based business to allow my clients to opt for virtual tours of homes, buyer and seller consultations, and even virtual open houses. I could see Realtors using this business model to their advantage, even after the pandemic passes. The majority of individuals looking for real estate start online, and adding the virtual-tours aspect for consumers is another valuable tool for them to leverage their time more efficiently. I also foresee a trend in the corporate commercial space. Now that it’s been proven that our online infrastructure can handle massive numbers of people working from home, it will be interesting to see how many big corporations opt for keeping the virtual model. They could save thousands of dollars by limiting their commercial footprint and having employees work from home.

“Market trends are different, depending on which area of town, price point, and neighborhood you are talking about. For example, the inner loop was already shifting to a buyer’s market at the end of 2019, but many areas of the suburbs were a seller’s market, with bidding wars going on. If the oil prices stay down, then we will most likely see the inner loop in a buyer’s market.

“I live in Cottage Grove, which is Heights-adjacent. I love all of the local restaurant and coffee-shop options, plus the ease of access to the hike-and-bike trails in the area. I just love living in the hustle, bustle, and diversity of the metropolitan area. It’s like the heartbeat to me.

“If I’m not busy improving my skill sets or tuning up my business gear (as I mentioned) to address changing marketing models, I pass the time getting in CrossFit workouts in our home garage gym, or spinning on my Peloton bike.”

Tom Schwenk

“Hopefully this pandemic will make folks understand the importance of hiring a professional to market their home, or to help them purchase one. I think those of us who are nimble and flexible enough to stay afloat will come back even stronger than before. I believe a lot more of the transaction will be done online. However, I firmly believe that real estate is local, and this facet will be more important than ever.

“It’s probably both a buyer’s market and a seller’s market, depending on the circumstances. The market usually depends on the inventory. While the pandemic is on, most folks, of course, are sheltering in place and the inventory will be less than in normal times, so it should be a seller’s market. The reverse is also true, as fewer folks appear to be in the market for a new home. I am calling it a “new” market, one where both buyers and sellers cooperate so they can start the next adventure in their lives.   

“I live on Galveston Island because of its diversity and welcoming spirit. Living on an island somehow makes us part of the same tribe, and of course those of us lucky enough to live by the sea are lucky enough! And I’m not bragging, however I probably have the cleanest closets on the island! I’m also having Zoom cocktail parties with family and friends all across the country now.”

This article appears in the April 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.


Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and, among others.
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