Health and employment concerns over COVID-19 depressed housing sales in April, with gloomier numbers expected in May as homeowners reconsider plans to sell.

April’s sales of single-family homes dropped by about 10% compared to a year ago, but pending sales — mostly expected to go final in May — fell by 20.5%, according to figures from the New Hampshire Association of Realtors.

At the same time, fewer people put their homes on the market — with new listings down a whopping 40%.

Realtor Rachael Eames planned to list six in early to mid-April, but only one seller decided to move ahead.

“You definitely have an acute awareness of the hurdles COVID-19 presents on showing a house,” said Eames, past president of the state Realtors group. “Secondly, there is, I think, an emotional and financial stress on people on whether their jobs are fully going to be there when they’re released to go full-time back to work” from being on furlough or layoff, she said.

April did set a monthly record for the highest median sales price: $325,000, up 11.5% from a year ago.

Residents have filed for unemployment in record numbers since mid-March, when state officials imposed restrictions on many businesses in an effort to stem the virus.

On the Seacoast, in a 13-community region, 11 fewer homes sold in April than March. In 2019, the opposite was true, with 12 more homes sold in April.

This April’s total sales in the region were down 18% over April 2019, but the median sales price of $505,000 was more than $40,000 higher than a year earlier.

“I didn’t think they were that bad considering what’s going on,” said John Rice, an associate broker at Tate & Foss Sotheby’s International Realty in Rye.

Noting that one home in Rye received nine offers, Rice said too few homes are for sale. In April 2011, when the state was emerging from the Great Recession, the Seacoast region had 678 active listings. Last month it had 215, Rice said.

“We are still seeing strong activity on the Seacoast,” Rice said. “The only problem we have is getting buyers to wear their masks and gloves and putting everyone at risk.”

April sales were the slowest for that month since 2013, and pending sales were the month’s worst since 2011, he said.

“Assuming there is no lasting catastrophic effect to our banking system, I think the market will bounce back — at least here on the Seacoast, where inventory levels are so low,” said Rice, chief statistician for the Seacoast Board of Realtors.

Interest rates for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage hit a U.S. weekly average of 3.26% 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.

This Saturday, Eames plans to show four homes to a Massachusetts couple. A Connecticut client has yet to find a suitable Lakes Region property.

“Houses just aren’t there to look at” in many areas, she 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.  

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