House Hunters

Expert Says Houston’s Real Estate Market is Booming—Even in the Middle of a Pandemic

Interest rates are at historic lows, yes. But Houstonians are buying up homes at staggering rates.

By Laura Furr Mericas Illustrations by Amy Kinkead/ December 14, 2020

Houston’s real estate market continues to defy logic as buyers keep snatching up homes at a record pace in 2020.  

Interest rates are at historic lows, yes. But unemployment counts and total Covid-19 cases continue to rise. Houston’s housing supply was even on the low end, especially for more moderately priced homes. Still, November marked the sixth month in a row where Houstonians bought more houses than they did in the same month the year prior. According to HAR’s monthly market report, Houstonians purchased 7,990 single-family homes last month,  compared to 6,359 in 2019—more than 25 percent in growth. 

Buyers are paying more, too: The average sale price in Houston jumped by about 15 percent to a historic high of $341,765 in November. And luxury homes—or those going for more than $775,000—saw a staggering 80-percent increase in demand, as well. 

But what do all of these numbers really mean? We talked to Stacy Mathews, president, owner and broker of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Premier Properties, to get first-person understanding of the lay of the land. 

Talking big picture, how has the pandemic impacted the real estate biz in Houston? 

Our business has been great. Sales have been up for us. I think probably if this has changed anything for us, it’s that people now are working from home. And therefore people, when they're making moves around the city, they're buying so they can actually work from home. That changed a lot of their buying needs. But no, we've not had a slowdown in the real estate market. We had our slowest period in May. And that was because the closings that take place in May all originate in February, March, and April. And with Covid really hitting ground in March, that would be reflective of an off-month. Back then Covid was such an unknown. 

What are some of the new needs you’re seeing?

We're looking at people needing more room to accommodate them staying at home all day with their children, all working … We have found that a lot of people are now getting some of their dream homes. People are moving out of town, versus in, because they can get their dream home further out and they get a little bit more land.

What areas specifically are they moving to? 

Our Galveston markets are doing very well. We've seen a move out in Fort Bend County and Brazoria County, even on the east side in Chambers County.

How has the pandemic impacted sales prices?

In our experience, the pandemic hasn't done anything to the pricing of listings or closings. We have had appreciation, in fact. We have had situations where we have days on market be one day or two days in some areas, which will never deflate the price of the property. It has not affected the values like I thought it would have. We braced for it, thinking that was going to be the worst.

Have you noticed any changes in your average homebuyer? 

We've seen a shift to be a little bit more affluent because now they're buying more home for more money. We have seen in our company probably less first-time homebuyers and more moves up. 

Do you think these trends will continue? 

I think it's definitely going to set the trend for most home-buying going well into the future. What we found during this pandemic is that people do not have to be working at an office to get the productivity that they need. So coming back out of the pandemic, some of that's not going to change. A lot of companies are downsizing. We see vacancies in the commercial arena, and I don't think that's going to come back 100 percent when the pandemic is over. It's going to be a lifestyle change, and it’s going to stick. 

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