Boston’s real estate market is rebounding and it seems that the only people who aren’t surprised by this are the realtors. The Covid-19 pandemic and its attendant shutdown meant that the real estate sector had to make a few changes, and they did. From virtual showings to pre-scheduled, socially distant, in-person tours to touchless closings, those like Jamie N. Imperato of the Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty are at the vanguard of getting life back to something that feels like normal. We checked in with Imperato on how the region’s real estate market is fairing and an edited version of our conversation follows.
Scene North End: How are you and your fellow real estate professionals holding up?
JI: Fortunately, our team has stayed consistently busy despite the pandemic. Market data shows that real estate in the Greater Boston area is still very active.
We’ve found that our fellow industry professionals have been tremendously accommodating for buyers, sellers, and other agents when it comes to special requests, such as providing a virtual tour, following CDC guidelines strictly when viewing someone’s home, and things like that. It’s nice to see everyone work together toward common goals. We’ve had to make some adjustments to our typical procedures, but all things considered, we are still projecting a very strong year.
SNE: We went from a red-hot market – questions of whether we could ever have enough construction of residential units to keep the market going were debated in City Hall and the State House – to a screeching halt. Have you ever seen anything like this before?
JI: I wouldn’t say we necessarily came to a screeching halt. There was certainly a slowdown, especially with new construction since the sites were put on hold for many weeks. However, the market overall remained active. The Boston Fire Department still conducted inspections, as did home inspectors and appraisers. With the advancement of technology over the last few years, listing and selling processes were already on a path to being almost fully digital – and the pandemic influenced an even stronger push. Technology has allowed real estate to continue at a steady pace throughout the pandemic.
SNE: What is the one of the most frequently asked questions from buyers since the pandemic? From sellers?
JI: The most frequently asked question from our buyers lately is, “Is now still a good time to buy?” Yes. Interest rates at an all-time low. It is an extremely prudent time to buy and lock in your living costs at such low monthly payments for many years. But, inventory is low, so they should expect to be fairly timely and competitive. The most frequently asked question from our sellers lately is either, “Should we hold off on listing our home?” or “Do you think we’ll be able to get enough prospective buyers to generate an offer on our home?” We tell our sellers that those buyers who are in the market right now are serious and ready to take action.
SNE: Are traditional open houses a thing of the past? And, might that be a good thing?
JI: Through the earliest days of this, certainly from March through May, we were not able to host open houses. We are only conducting private showings by appointment and follow- ing CDC guidelines, such as distancing and wearing a mask, gloves, and booties. I’ve done FaceTime showings for buyers who are not comfortable or not able to visit properties. On more than one occasion, prospective buyers have conferenced in their relatives or friends on our FaceTime showing for second opinions. We’re not quite sure when open houses will resume, if ever. We typically have a minimum of 10 to 15 exclusive listings for sale at a time, so we rely heavily on open houses when selling our properties. We will most certainly begin hosting them again – if our sellers allow it – as soon as we are able.
SNE: Have virtual tours, pre-screenings, online chats become a must-have for every property?
JI: I would think if you did not have a virtual tour of your property or a very clear floor plan at the least, it would be very challenging to compete with other comparable listings that do. Some of our properties were photographed prior to the pandemic and we may not have done a virtual tour. In those instances, I went to the properties myself and videoed them on my phone for prospective buyers. Typically, they are not making an offer to purchase a property just based on a video alone, rather it helps them decide if they like it enough to find a way to see it in person (if possible), or if they dislike it and can continue on with their search.
SNE: How have the different neighborhoods fared across the city?
JI: Judging by our current exclusive offerings, Charlestown has certainly remained steady and strong, as have South Boston and East Boston. The Back Bay market activity has slowed a bit.
SNE: We’ve misplaced our crystal ball, so what is your best guess on what the end of the year and the start of 2021 will look like?
JI: We believe the Boston real estate market will gain even more momentum as businesses, hospitals, arts and cultural spots, and the colleges and universities move to fully reopening – or establishing the “new normal.” Buyers will feel more confident and comfortable, such as with job stability, encouraging them to resume their property search. We hope that the end of 2020 will be its highlight and the start of 2021 will bring a renewed sense of a much brighter future for all!