York County's Real Estate Industry Is Doing Well Despite (Because of?) the Coronavirus

Mar 23, 2020

Coronavirus led to a fire sale in the stock market, which led to steep interest rate cuts by the Fed. And that has led to a bump in closings and refinancings in markets like York County.
Credit Kaitlyn Cannon / SCETV

Business is suffering some of the worst effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Some, like restaurants, may not be able to make it back, even if our collective quarantine were to end today.

But a few industries are doing very well. In York County, at least, residential real estate is cruising along, thanks in part to historically low interest rates and an already healthy market in the ever-growing Charlotte metro region.

At Atlantic Bay Mortgage Group's Rock Hill office, Margaret Robinson is doing twice the refinancing applications she normally would.

“Most of the time you do a few refis and a lot of purchases,” she says. “Now we’re doing a lot of purchases, even more purchases because of the rates, and the refis are now coming in.”

For existing homeowners looking to lower their monthly mortgage payments, low rates can translate into hundreds of dollars less per month out of pocket, Robinson says. Much depends on the size of the mortgage to begin with, of course. But it would not be unreasonable to say, for example, that a $200,000 home with a 30-year mortgage could see monthly payments drop from more than $1,200 to less than $1,000.

So homeowners are flocking to Robinson to lock in lower rates (which, for the record, are higher for refis than for new mortgages) while they can, as the Fed tries to stave off a coronavirus-induced economic meltdown.

For new buyers, low interest rates have, so far, been good for sales in York County. Jay Rinehart, owner of Rinehart Realty in Rock Hill, says his office has been quite busy of late. He says smart buyers see the opportunity in front of them and are making fast decisions.

“A buyer that’s been in the market for a while and that has their lending either already in place or has maybe a pre-qualification letter, is now looking at the interest rates and going ‘Wow, I don’t know when we’ve ever seen them this low,'” Rinehart says.

This isn’t to say people aren’t jittery. Rinehart admits that showings are down now that people are avoiding even small gatherings like open houses; and Robinson says some buyers are holding off, despite the low rates, because they might be on shaky financial ground while they wait out the pandemic.

“We’ve had some Realtors say the borrow just says, “No, I’m not going to purchase. I’m going to wait and see what happens,'” she says. “I think … just the fear that some people are having is causing them to back away.”

Robinson and Rinehart both say they do their best to keep things in perspective for buyers. Rinehart says that if buyers are facing economic uncertainty, it's understandable that they would be nervous about buying a house. But despite the disruptions to business and soaring unemployment claims, there are a lot of people whose finances will not really be affected by the outbreak. For those people, Rinehart says, it's best to remember that a home purchase will outlast this outbreak by decades, and that if there is no economic hardship on the horizon for a perspective buyer, current rates are as as good a deal as they're likely to ever see.

But even when buyers want to close now, they might have to wait longer to move in. Social distancing concerns led York County to limit title searches to just five agents at a time, and to no more than two hours in the search room.

“You can’t close until you do a title search and do a clear title,” Robinson says. “It is going to affect some move-in times.”

Rinehart says the standard 30-day closing time could bump to 45 or even 60 days.

Check out the companion piece to this report, by Kaitlyn Cannon of SCETV. Click here.

Scott Morgan is the Upstate Multimedia Reporter for South Carolina Public Radio. Follow Scott on Twitter @ByScottMorgan. And follow South Carolina Public Radio on Facebook and on Twitter @SCPublicRadio.