IN FOCUS Discussion: COVID-19 & Utah’s Real Estate Market

In Focus

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – The experience of shopping around for a house drastically shifted when the COVID-19 pandemic hit at the beginning of last year. Potential buyers were no longer able to physically attend showings or open houses due to safety concerns. Real estate agents and brokers then turned to showing homes virtually or through video calls to better assimilate with the times.

But as buyers are allowed back inside, Tracy Thomas, Associate Broker for Urban Utah Homes & Estates says COVID-19 safety precautions are still very much in place.

“We were finding ourselves in a whole new territory and we had to start thinking outside of the box to keep everyone safe and minimizing the spread of the virus,” shares Thomas. “Sometimes the real estate agent was the only person allowed to touch anything inside of a home during a showing or buyers were required to wear gloves. Other times, sellers were asked to keep all their lights on and doors open to reduce the need for physical touch.”

And if it wasn’t already competitive enough to purchase a home, the COVID-19 pandemic’s boosted the market even more for Utahns selling their homes. With property values continuing to increase, houses are selling well over asking prices, especially in Salt Lake County.

“It’s had an impact on Utah’s real estate market in a way I don’t think we could have predicted. We had three months of steady decline right after the pandemic hit and then a surge in sales starting in June,” says Alicia Holdaway, President of the Salt Lake Board of Realtors. “July 2020 was a record month with more than 2,000 home sales.”

Some aspiring homeowners have opted to build instead of buy. Holdaway says they’ve seen an increase in the number of people looking to build their own homes, but that doesn’t make up for the demand.

“Building presents its own challenges and different red tape. There’s a lack of land and lack of trade, workers, and contractors. So we can’t keep up with that demand either,” she adds.

Amy Shaffer, a Clinton resident knows the impact of the increased real estate market firsthand. She and her family lived in Logan for 12 years until her husband got a job in Salt Lake City in 2019. They moved into a rental until they could sell their house four months later. But they had trouble finding a new home to buy.

“We signed a six-month lease, planning that when the lease ended, we would buy a home. By the time the lease ended, the market was nowhere near what we expected it would be,” mentions Shaffer. “The prices skyrocketed and the competition to get an offer in for a house was insane.”

Shaffer and her husband made the decision to halt their search for a home with the challenges they were facing, as their children were starting a new school year.

“We were completely blindsided. We had this whole plan and we thought it was going to be no big deal. This whole thing threw us for a loop. We never expected to go back to renting and now, we’re paying almost double in rent than what we were paying for our mortgage back in Logan,” she continues.

Holdaway says one of the contributing factors for the heightened seller’s market is that the COVID-19 pandemic allowed a number of people to figure out that they could work from home indefinitely.

“Although more people have been moving to Utah for the past several years, the leash of having to be near your workplace is being released. Locally, more people are moving out of urban areas and more suburban areas. They want more space, whether that’s for a home office and for their kids to play,” she shares.

Utah’s recreational options also adds to the appeal for out-of-state buyers from states like California, Colorado, and New York that are densely populated.

“During a time like COVID, when you can’t travel, your access to nearby recreation and outdoor activities becomes that much more important,” Holdaway says.

Thomas has been working in the industry for about 15 years and said she can’t remember another time when there was this much demand for homes. The last time the local real estate market performed this well was in 2005 and 2006, right before the recession of 2008. She offers a few tips for potential buyers who may find the process frustrating.

“With this low of an inventory level, buyers need to get out and see everything within their search. They need to be ready and willing to write an offer immediately, one that’s above the asking price. If a house is available at 8 o’clock in the morning, we have no guarantee it will be available the following day,” shares Thomas. “We’re finding many properties have multiple offers within one or two days. It’s a challenge, but we’re up to the challenge.”

To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Shaffer, Thomas, and Holdaway, click on the video at the top of the article.

Catch IN FOCUS discussions with ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen weeknights on the CW30 News at 7 p.m.

Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. In September 2020, she embarked on a new journey as the anchor for the CW30 News at 7 p.m. Although she’s not out in the field anymore, she is continuing her passion for social justice and community issues through the nightly “In Focus” discussions.

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