Everyone wants to know how the crisis will, or could, affect their real estate-related plans. Right now, we can still buy and sell homes. The biggest procedural changes are restrictions on showings. There are definitely fewer open houses. But you can still tour most homes in person. You can still get a mortgage, conduct an inspection, go to settlement and record a deed, although fewer people are allowed to crowd around the settlement table in most cases. The local Northern Virginia Association of Realtors attorneys even drafted a COVID-19 Addendum (yes, that really is the name of it) to allow the parties to adjust for unforeseen circumstances related to the virus by adjusting contract deadlines to help keep transactions on track.
It may be having some small impact on inventory, alhtough not one that is quantifiable at this time. There are a few less homes on the market than there would otherwise have been, as federal job transfers from the DC metro area to other places have been put on hold. And some sellers, concerned about lots of people coming thought their home, might be holding off; we do hear anecdotal information about that. On the other hand, we have talked to sellers more inclined to sell how out of concern about the ultimate effect on the economy and home values. There are also fewer buyers, as an unknown number, concerned about their personal financial situation, postpone their purchase. Honestly though, the biggest challenge with respect to inventory (the number of homes availabel compared to the number of buyers wanting to purchse) is a continuation of years-long trends in declining inventory and it is not yet apparent whether the coronavirus has shifted that imbalance one way or the other.
Real estate is on the Department of Homeland Security's advisory list of functions "essential to critical infrastructure viability." This includes agents, property managers, lenders, title and settlement functions. That is not binding on states and localities though, and in some places, such as Michigan, stay-at-home orders have not exempted real estate services from the restriction.
Having answered how the virus has affected real estate is a lot easer than answering how it could, as this amounts to pure speculation about circumstances that are hard to imagine even from our current reality. There seems to be concensus that the worst is still ahead. It is hard to conceive what our society would look like In the worst case, with high rates of illness that impede or halt the ability or availability of staff to tour properties, inspect, appraise, and survey them, provide loans, execute title searches, and record deeds. If such rates of illness led to a rigid stay-at-home order that did not exempt real estate services, I think so many aspects of our lives would be turned upside down that many real estate-related plans and needs might be just submerged by other concerns. I pray that doesn't happen.