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LI home sales plummet in March as virus stalls closings

Restrictions on in-person work by real estate agents

Restrictions on in-person work by real estate agents contributed to a sharp drop in home sales at the end of March, a report showed. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Long Island home sales plummeted in March as the coronavirus pandemic made it difficult or impossible to close deals at the end of the month, a new report shows.

The number of closed sales fell by 19.4% in Nassau County and 16.6% in Suffolk County last month, compared with the previous March, the Long Island Board of Realtors reported Wednesday.

The housing market is “virtually at a standstill” due to the pandemic, said Joe Moshe, owner of Plainview-based Charles Rutenberg Realty. “People are afraid to do walk-throughs, people are afraid to let people in the house and people are not getting mortgages because they lost their jobs.”

The number of sales “is going to go dramatically down” over the next few months, and prices could fall by 5% to 10%, Moshe predicted.

But eventually, he said, the housing market will revive, with many aspects of the home sale process taking place online, and with safety precautions, such as masks and gloves, once real estate agents are permitted to resume in-person interactions.

“It may take three to six months before things get more under control,” he said. “We’re hoping that a lot of the economy comes back, six months down the line hopefully things will come back.” Once that happens, he predicted, “you’re going to see a very strong surge in the market.”

On March 22, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s executive order shutting down nonessential businesses took effect, blocking in-person work by real estate agents and other professionals who handle real estate closings. On April 2, state officials allowed real estate agents, inspectors and appraisers to resume work, but only in their offices or virtually. Agents, attorneys and other real estate professionals have begun working out ways to close home sales without violating social distancing rules intended to slow the spread of the virus.

The new report shows that closed sale prices rose in both counties in March. The median price in Nassau last month was $530,000, up 2.9% from a year earlier. In Suffolk, the median price jumped by 9.5% annually, to $405,000, the report shows.

Those prices reflect market conditions two to three months previously, when those sales went into contract, Moshe said. “That’s where the market was trending, it was a decent market” before the pandemic struck, Moshe said.

Chris Silliman, a real estate agent with eXp Realty in Hauppauge, said the pace of sales had been so frenetic until mid-March, “it was like the spring rush happened in winter.”

Now, he said, “I have a bunch of clients that are just on standstill.”

Silliman said he offers online tours of houses. But, he said, “unless you’re actually in the space, in the house, you’re not going to put that offer in.”

New contract signings dropped year-over-year by 14% in Nassau and 6.6% in Suffolk, the new home sales report shows. The number of homes listed for sale on Long Island fell by 19% compared with a year earlier.

Silliman said he used to see 100 new home listings a day in his territory – western Suffolk and eastern Nassau – but he’s seen that drop to five or six a day, mostly foreclosures or short sales listed by banks. When the market eventually gets back into gear, he predicted, “there’s going to be a shortage of homes.”

The home sales report was issued by OneKey MLS, a new multiple listing service formed by the Long Island Board of Realtors and the White Plains-based Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors. The new service, which combined the two largest listing services in New York, is now the nation’s sixth-largest listing service, with more than 40,000 members in the real estate industry, the Long Island Board of Realtors said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly quoted Joe Moshe about the potential range of home price declines.

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