Texas Realtors Assess the Impact of COVID-19 on Real Estate

Hobby School Survey Found Most Optimistic for the Long-Term, Despite Slumping Sales and Income

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A survey of Texas Realtors by the Hobby School of Public Affairs found most are optimistic about the industry's long-term prospects, despite current pain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Pexels

More than half of Texas Realtors report having lost sales during the coronavirus pandemic, but most are optimistic the industry will weather the crisis with only temporary pain.

Almost six out of 10 – 57% – said they expect property prices to stay the same or increase over the next six months. And almost 40% said they have applied for federal relief programs.

A survey of Texas Realtors by the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston looked at how the pandemic has affected sales, prices and Realtor income. It was conducted with Texas REALTORS.

“The pandemic has forced the real estate industry to change how they do business, just as it has in other sectors,” said Sen. Kirk P. Watson, founding dean of the Hobby School. “Almost two out of three said they have or might lose deals because of the pandemic. They are worried about the economy. Despite that, most Realtors are relatively optimistic about the long-term prospects.”

Among the survey’s findings:

  • 45% expect home sales in their area to decline slightly in 2020 compared to 2019, while 18.4% expect a dramatic decline. 36.4% expect sales to remain flat or increase.
  • Almost two-thirds (63.8%) say recently lowered mortgage rates have been good for business.
  • About one-third (32.9%) expect prices to be unaffected by the pandemic, while another third (36.1%) anticipate a slight drop. 6.8% forecast a dramatic drop, while 24.1% expect prices to rise.
  • 7% expect to earn less this year than in 2019; just 22.7% expect to earn more.
  • 44% said a lack of inventory will be the biggest threat to their business when normal operations resume. Just 12% expect a surplus of available properties on the market.

The full report is available on the Hobby School website.

The overall economy was a big concern. More than three-quarters of Realtors surveyed said they expect the number of foreclosures to increase as homeowners have trouble making mortgage payments.

“While most Realtors said they expect only relatively mild impacts to the housing market, we found they were much more concerned about the overall economy,” said Pablo M. Pinto, director of the Center for Public Policy at the Hobby School. “At the same time, they are also concerned about the risks to family and loved ones that could rise with reopening the economy.”

Almost two-third of Realtors surveyed said they had applied for at least one of the federal or state safety net programs offered. 37.6% had received funds from the Paycheck Protection Program, and 15.3% had successfully applied for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan. Slightly more than 10% received funding from both programs.

“We also found that about 23% had received unemployment compensation,” said Sunny Wong, an economist and researcher with the Hobby School. “But more than half said they had not applied for unemployment and did not intend to.”

That, Wong said, roughly lines up with the 51.6% that said they had “no need” for one of the relief programs.

There was more unanimity about the forced move of business online. Almost 40% said they can conduct all or most of their business online, and about that many said at least some of their real estate business could easily be moved online.

“It’s too early in the pandemic for any of us to know exactly how our daily work will change, but it’s likely that the future, at least the near future, will be different,” said Mark P. Jones, a research associate at the Hobby School and a political science professor at Rice University. “But the responses from Realtors suggest they are ready to embrace new technologies and online communications for their business.”

The survey of 1,177 Texas Realtors was conducted between May 21 and June 10. About 65% of respondents had been in the business for more than a decade; about 85% focus primarily on residential real estate.