March Sees Largest Year-Over-Year Drop in Pending DC Metro Home Sales Since 2011

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This is usually the beginning of the busiest season for home sales in the D.C. metro area, but a new report shows March had the biggest year-over-year drop in pending sales since 2011.

The listing service, Bright MLS, reports 5,080 homes went under contract in March, down 15.3% from March 2019. The report shows 5,886 active listings, continuing an already-existing trend of declining home inventory in our area.

"People are very wary on the seller side of having people come through their house that they don't know, touching things," said realtor Katie Wethman.

She said those who are still buying and selling in the age of COVID-19 have had to make some drastic changes. For one, showing homes in person is a last resort. Instead, realtors are relying more heavily on technology to show homes virtually.

"Some of the tools out there are really good," Wethman said.

Listings have always included photos, and maybe even videos, but more and more sellers are opting for something called a three-dimensional immersion scan.

"The 3D tour that ... we're using for almost all of our sellers right now really is amazing," Wethman said.

The tours allow viewers to feel like they're inside the house, moving from room to room. Users can use their mouse to turn around, backtrack and even zoom in on certain areas. 

"Sometimes we've had to give sellers a warning that people are really going to be able to see every nook and cranny of your house online," said Wethman. "But that's what we want now."

It's definitely what Brian Woods wants. He co-owns BTW Images, which uses a special 360-degree camera to make those 3D tours.

"Definitely the 3D side has ramped more than what we could even imagine," said Woods. "We would do maybe 10 scans a month and now we're doing 50 a week."

Which he said his small business needs, since the 3D tours used to be a product he just offered on the side. He said his main business of still photography has significantly dropped, with sellers canceling appointments and taking homes off the market.

"We're down 50 percent in photography this time last year," said Woods. "It's been a really different type of fluctuation."

Realtor David Shotwell said some buyers have put their search on hold, but for those who have a deadline to move, he's prepared. 

"Myself and my clients we’re wearing masks, we’re wearing gloves, we’re either removing our shoes before we enter a home or wearing booties," Shotwell said.

Coronavirus Cases in DC, Maryland and Virginia

COVID-19 cases by population in D.C. and by county in Maryland and Virginia

Source: DC, MD and VA Health Departments
Credit: Anisa Holmes / NBC Washington

His car is now stocked with hand sanitizer and wipes, and his clients have to drive themselves to each location. He's also asking potential buyers about their health and gauging how serious they are before agreeing to meet in person.

"If they're just curious or bored at home, I'm not taking them out," Shotwell said.

They say serious buyers have become more efficient, often viewing everything online and even driving by to check out the street and neighborhood before trying to go inside.

"Seeing something in person really gives you a feel for how you can live in a home," Shotwell said. "Shelter is one of the key things we all need and we can't stop that because of a pandemic."

Wethman said she has had clients buy sight unseen in the past, usually state department or military personnel stationed overseas. But there are some things a camera or online open house just can't capture.

"It's the same way it's difficult to buy a car if you don't test drive it first," said Wethman. "[It's] really difficult to pull the trigger on a house when you haven't actually stood inside it."

Reported by Jodie Fleischer, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Jeff Piper.

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