Housing MarketMortgageOriginationReal Estate

New Jersey’s housing market struggles under extended health emergency order

Lenders complain of onerous regulations while Realtors deal with buyers moored on the sidelines

New Jersey mask

On May 7, when many states were making preparations to reopen portions of their economies, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy extended his state’s public health emergency edict for another 30 days. This was not good news for New Jersey’s housing and mortgage markets.

“We’re seeing a drop of roughly 50% to 60% in business,” said Frederico Viegas, founder and Realtor at Sky Realty Associates in Ironbound. “A lot of that has to do with people being able to see homes.”

Viegas acknowledged the proliferation of virtual showings but argued “it’s still not the same as somebody walking in, going room by room and getting a feel of the home size and where the sunlight is coming in.” He noted New Jersey still has “plenty of buyers” but most were “just waiting until this passes so that they could go out and see more homes.”  

But not every seller is welcoming buyer visits.

“There are sellers that do not want people in their homes,” said Angela Sicoli, broker/owner with Century 21 Reward Agency in Nutley and 2020 president of New Jersey Realtors. “There are ways of dealing with that. We have scheduled showings on properties where agents make appointments for every half-hour. The agent stays outside and the buyer goes in and takes a look at the property.”

Sicoli stated the new protocol is disruptive, complaining “that personal touch is gone and, yes, business has lagged.”

On the mortgage side, Trey Rock, vice president of production at Garden State Home Loans in Cherry Hill, is still originating mortgages, but not with great ease.

“The process of doing business has gotten a lot more intense,” he said. “Verifying employment, getting clients into homes and completing a refinance has been difficult, for sure.”

Nonetheless, Rock reported his company’s sales volume was comparable to the same period last year, adding that “our goals are still well within reach for the year.” Part of Rock’s strategy involves maintaining a frank and honest dialogue with borrowers on what to expect in this strange new environment.

“The big thing that we always pitch to our clients is: Hey, during COVID-19, this is a rocky process,” he continued. “Regulations are changing from Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and FHA. We’re getting different curveballs every day. But as long as we have open lines of communication, we will get through this.”

Mark Toth, vice president and branch manager at EMM Financial in Brick Township, is finding vibrancy in his Middlesex County market.

“If someone wants to sell you their house at $200,000 and you put an offer in at $190,000, you’re not going to get it – you have to put an offer more towards the actual price of the house,” he said. “And there are multiple bids and it’s gone in a few days. That’s how quick things are turning over.”

Toth pointed to low inventory and a high demand for property as the fuel to this fiery market, and he credited those who are willing to venture beyond self-quarantining for driving sales.

“People are afraid to come out of their house, let alone sell their house,” he continued. “For anyone who has a house on the market, the demand is so high for that house that they’re getting full price and sometimes over full price.”

But Toth is concerned that the new forbearance wave and government messaging on deferred mortgage payments will create problems for his market.

“They’re saying: ‘Hey, you don’t have to make your mortgage payments for three months, defer your mortgage payment and don’t worry about your mortgage payment,’” he said. “Well, now what has happened is all these people who have chosen to defer their mortgage loans cannot get a loan for a year. There’s a massive problem coming.”

Carlos Quan, branch manager with Nationwide Mortgage Bankers in Denville, is less concerned about future headaches and more focused on current dilemmas.

“I have business that I can work on, but it’s extremely difficult to get loans approved because guidelines change every day, especially on government loans,” he said. “I deal with a lot of Spanish-speaking people and they want to meet me face-to-face – and this is a challenge.”

Quan is uncertain how the post-pandemic market will respond after the state’s public health emergency ends.

“We are in such drastic contraction that when all this is lifted, it should take off,” he said. “That’s what I’m thinking. But if businesses are no longer there, that’s going to represent a problem because it will take longer for people to come back.”

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