Looking for a San Diego home to buy during COVID? It’s slim pickings

A global pandemic has not stopped people from buying houses in San Diego, but it has reduced the number of properties available.

There were 31 percent fewer homes for sale in San Diego County from April 6 to May 3, said reports from the Redfin data center, as skittish sellers took houses and condos off the market to wait out the COVID-19 crisis.

Homes for sale in the San Diego region, called “housing inventory” by those in the real estate industry, have been low for more than a decade by most standards. But, the latest figures illustrate just how difficult it could be to buy a home right now in the fifth-most populated county in the United States.

As of May 3, there were 5,166 active listings in San Diego County, down from around 7,250 at the same time last year. Real estate agents have reported for nearly two months now about sellers wanting to take homes off the market to wait out the crisis — making a home search now more difficult.

Gary Kent, a La Jolla-based real estate agent, said he just started working with a married couple looking for a home and they keep running into homes with multiple offers already. He said they are looking for a home, despite the pandemic, because they are expecting a baby and their one-bedroom apartment will be too small.

Kent recently found out just how much pent up demand there was from the seller’s angle, too. He listed a 1,732-square-foot home in Bay Park last week and had 16 showings in six days. He said the seller received a “very generous” offer on the sixth day.

“This is the first (house) in about a month I’ve put on the market and ‘boom,’ within an hour, I had people calling me,” Kent said.

The Bay Park home, recently renovated, is listed for $949,000. It reflects data showing very few price reductions in the wake of COVID-19, and high-priced homes still selling.

The cost of a San Diego County house hasn’t changed , with the median price county price — including resale single-family homes, condos and newly built homes — still around $590,000. It is the same phenomenon happening nationwide with the median sales price still sticking around $290,000 into late April.

A home for sale in Bay Park that got an offer in six days. Real estate agent Gary Kent said he started getting calls about the nearly $1 million home within hours of listing it, despite the COVID-19 pandemic still going on.

(Courtesy of Gary Kent)

Although, much of that data reflects transactions that began in late February and March. While most of the coronavirus panic started in early March, it still didn’t seem to stop as many home purchases as one might expect. Also, early data shows the number of pending sales the last few weeks is on the upswing, but that still doesn’t mean that much for housing inventory at the moment.

Alan Nevin, director of economic and market research at Xpera Group, said real estate agents don’t seem to have much problem selling homes at the moment — and getting at or above asking price — but the problem is finding homes for sale.

“(Real estate agents) tell me they have buyers waiting in line to buy homes,” he said, “but the inventory is so low. It’s really frightening.”

There is a chance the number of homes on the market could increase in San Diego County if sales continue to slow and homes stay on the market longer. Redfin said there were 2,025 home sales from March 31 to April 27, down 28.7 percent from the same time last year. However, early data already shows pending sales increasing in April into early May.

San Diego isn’t alone with sellers deciding to take homes off the market. From April 6 to May 3, Redfin said the nationwide average of de-listing, or homes removed from being for sale, made up 6.7 percent of the market. It was 9.6 percent in San Diego County, with about 700 homes removed.

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