Forgive me for stating the obvious, but the Houston real estate market is in completely uncharted territory. It has been for more than a year, and without the benefit of a crystal ball, there’s no saying how long this unpredictable ride is likely to last.
Despite a global pandemic that took a devastating toll across the United States in terms of lives and livelihoods, real estate throughout Greater Houston has thrived. Early on, as the full scope of the coronavirus pandemic became clear, leadership at the Houston Association of Realtors (HAR) reached out to elected officials all across the Houston area to ensure that real estate was designated an essential service. That designation was a critical step toward allowing Realtors to serve consumers in desperate need of housing — helping them find homes to buy, as well as to lease.
The HAR Technology team — the group responsible for the popular HAR.com website and app — also worked quickly and diligently to roll out virtual open houses and virtual showings. These were vital during stay-at-home orders, but also after they were lifted, when many consumers were concerned about not being able to safely attend in-person open houses and showings.
I am incredibly proud of these achievements and the work that HAR does throughout any given year to promote the industry and develop new tools for consumers and real estate professionals alike. It’s worth noting that HAR membership grew to more than 42,000 during the pandemic. I never could have imagined that possible back in March 2020, when it felt like the world had been turned upside down.
If you had asked me when the COVID crisis began what I expected its effects on real estate to be, I would not have been optimistic. In fact, I was expecting the worst between a pandemic and layoffs across the energy industry. However, consumers still needed housing, and demand proved so strong, especially with interest rates at historic lows, that new listings barely kept up with sales. By the time we closed the books on 2020, we had achieved a record year for Houston housing. Halfway through 2021, we are on track to set a new record.
Houston demonstrated similar resilience following Hurricane Harvey in August 2017, when widespread property damage had us all wondering if we would ever come back from the devastation. We did so quicker than most expected and even managed to achieve a record year for home sales in the process. Astonishing!
However, challenges lie ahead for the remainder of 2021. We still need more homes to enter the market, because without inventory, there can be no sales. And we need to make sure the homes that are on the market are affordable to all consumers — whether they are buying their first home or their fourth. That has been especially challenging in the home construction arena, as a nationwide lumber shortage has driven new-home prices way up.
I think it’s fair to say that if Houstonians can endure the pressures of a global pandemic, we can probably survive anything! That has everything to do with the dedication and commitment of all of us that make our living in real estate to promote homeownership and home leasing, along with our love for the Greater Houston area that we call home.