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Home builder

A homebuilder carries a sheet of plywood for new construction at The Village at Candia Crossing in Candia on Friday.

Real estate agents are wiping down doorknobs at homes for sale, forgoing open houses and predicting the coronavirus crisis could level out prices.

“New traffic has been dramatically down” for the past week, Moe Archambault, owner and broker at Moe Marketing Realty Group in Bedford, said Friday. “People are just being cautious and staying home.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has made almost every industry readjust and take measure of how shuttered businesses and people hunkering down in their homes will affect their operations and revenue.

“I surmise that we’ll have fewer multiple offers just because you can’t get 30 people at an open house to see it,” said Rachel Eames, past president of the New Hampshire Association of Realtors. “I do think we’ll see prices level.”

Prices for single-family homes in New Hampshire continued to increase in February, with the median price rising 7% from a year earlier, to $289,000, according to data from the state Realtors association. The number of sales that closed in February dropped 7.2%, while pending sales grew by 22.8% over February 2019.

“Since the markets are still unsteady, it’s difficult to predict their influence on homebuyers in the next few months,” said Dean Christon, executive director of the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority. “While mortgage interest rates are low, unemployment and the uncertainty of the job market are likely to have an impact.”

COVID-19 also is affecting the residential construction market.

“Renters in the state already face a very tight rental market, with about 1% availability statewide,” Christon said. “There’s no sign that the supply of rental units will increase significantly this year.”

In fact, Christon said, with construction slowing down because of coronavirus concerns, new units expected to come on the rental market this year likely will be delayed.

Archambault said contracts for newly constructed homes are taking longer to finalize. His builder has been delayed answering specific buyer questions because he is dealing with new issues, such as keeping his subcontractors spread apart on job sites, Archambault said.

Eleven home lots in Merrimack and Hooksett that people committed to earlier this month would normally have contracts finalized by now, but only 60% were completed by Friday.

Gov. Chris Sununu’s stay-at-home order, which he issued Thursday, might require more workarounds.

“We might have to do more remotely with electronic signatures and FaceTime,” Archambault said.

Working with renters

Stacy Beck was grateful her son’s landlords gave him a $200 monthly break on his rent. Her son, Max, has had his hours cut at his job at Dunkin’.

“Even if he works 40 hours, he still doesn’t have enough money for the bills” and needs help from others, she said from Florida.

The landlords, Blake and Michelle Hermis of Hooksett, reduced the rent by $200 for each of their four tenants in two Manchester buildings.

“We have good tenants, and times are tough, so this is what we could do to help them out and still be able to pay the bills,” Blake Hermis said. “It’s the right thing to do. People are hurting.”

“Like everyone else, we’re trying to work with everybody we possibly can,” said executive James Tobin with Brady Sullivan Properties, one of the region’s major landlords for both residential and commercial space, including in Manchester’s Millyard.

Flexibility on mortgages

As for buying a home, interest rates for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage hit a U.S. weekly average of 3.5% as of Thursday. Rates peaked at 4.94% in November 2018, according to Freddie Mac, a company that buys mortgages and repackages them to investors.

“Banks are really trying to do whatever they can to help customers,” said Kristy Merrill, president of the New Hampshire Bankers Association. “We’re really encouraging people if they’re feeling financial hardship because of the coronavirus to call their banker.”

Some banks are allowing customers to defer payments.

“I think the questions around new mortgages right now are a little bit of a logistical challenge,” Merrill said. ”Some appraisers don’t want to go into homes, and some homeowners don’t want appraisers to come in their homes either.”

She said banking officials are trying to understand how the $2 trillion emergency aid package to help blunt the economic fallout from COVID-19 will affect banks, which ultimately can pass along financial relief to customers.

One title insurance and real estate closing company in Minnesota got creative.

“We started with separating parties into different closing rooms, offering curbside service and then saw the opportunity to offer the drive-thru option and acted quickly to make it happen for our customers,” Connie Clancy, president of Legacy Title, said in a statement.

Back in New Hampshire, Archambault has noticed a shift in people’s psyches over the past two weeks, since the governor banned people from eating in restaurants, shifted classes to take place online and called a halt to larger gatherings in mid-March.

“I think you saw denial the first week and reality the second week,” he said.

Archambault worries about the growing number of Granite Staters testing positive for COVID-19.

“Every day that I go out is a risk, so I think the risk is going to be higher and higher because the risk of getting something is going to increase,” he said.

What’s Working, a series exploring solutions for New Hampshire’s workforce needs, is sponsored by the New Hampshire Solutions Journalism Lab at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications and is funded by Eversource, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the New Hampshire College & University Council, Northeast Delta Dental and the New Hampshire Coalition for Business and Education.

Contact reporter Michael Cousineau at mcousineau@unionleader.com. To read stories in the series, visit unionleader.com/whatsworking.  

Sunday, May 24, 2020