Realtors adjust to the new norm during COVID-19 pandemic

Real estate analysts say the economic downturn is causing home sellers to think about waiting to put their homes on the market.

While mortgage brokers say homeowners are not only using low rates to refinance right now, many are taking cash out of their homes as a safety net.

In February before the economic crisis began, the Houston Association of Realtors reported a 13% jump in buyers closing on homes over February of last year.

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Now realtors and mortgage lenders are having to take new steps to try to keep transactions moving forward.

Realtors are now using live streams and virtual tours online to show homes to prospective buyers to avoid spreading the COVID-19 virus in person. HAR says it is developing a platform for more realtors to do the same after removing open house listings from its website.

Real estate is considered an essential business. Realtors are trying to keep transactions going, but industry experts say they expect a slowdown from sellers.

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"A lot of people are a little nervous about what to expect," said mortgage broker Cindy Smith with Hometrust Mortgage Company. "A lot of individuals who were thinking of selling and buying up have put that on hold because they don't want to bite off more than they can chew with the uncertainty of the economy."

Closings are changing, too. Many lenders now accept electronic signatures.

But mortgage brokers say they're getting calls from homeowners who want to refinance while rates are low.

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"With the Fed cutting the rates as they did, what was that about two and half weeks ago, that generated a lot more phone calls of people inquiring as to what was going on. What the rates were, what type of products were available, as far as cash out or just term refinances, we've just seen it all."

Mortgage brokers say they're hearing from homeowners who want to take out home equity lines of credit to give themselves a safety net of cash. Said Smith, "We've seen them calling back and asking what about a cash out. I just want to make sure I have all my cash available in the event that I do lose my job."

HAR expects to release its monthly report on the real estate market on Wednesday.