Fresno Realtor Don Scordino stands in front of a four-bedroom house in Madera Ranchos that his clients have purchased. Photo by David Castellon

published on February 4, 2020 - 12:51 PM
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It was only a few years ago that January was a slow time for new home listings at Shannon Johnson’s Hanford real estate office, maybe two or three for the month, if any.

This past January was different, with ten new listings on the board, and the month isn’t over yet.

On top of that, Johnson, owner of Realty World Advantage in Hanford, said she and the real estate agents in her office were a lot busier than normal for a January, fielding calls from people interested in looking to buy homes in Kings County, rather than waiting until after the usual winter lull in real estate activity.

“Typically, January starts off slow. Families are just getting back from vacations and holidays and just getting back in the swing of work and school, and the weather isn’t that great, and, honestly, a home search typically isn’t at the top of their minds,” Johnson said. “I always tell my clients it will pick up starting in the third to fourth week in February … maybe not jumping in [buying] right away, but starting to get their feet wet — talking to agents and starting to look.”

Activity in the Valley’s real estate market tends to pick up more when spring starts rolling around, particularly because people moving to or from states that experience heavy snow and other severe winter weather generally avoid moving in those conditions, if they can, Johnson noted.

The pickup in activity was also being experienced by other real estate brokers not only in Kings County, but Fresno, Madera and Tulare counties, too.

“That is definitely happening in the Fresno-Clovis market. It [has been] a very busy winter, and January sales should reflect that,” said Don Scordino, a broker associate with Fresno-based Realty Concepts and president of the Fresno County Association of Realtors.

“My phone wasn’t that busy last [January],” but it has been this month, “so I would say I have a dozen more clients this month than I did last year,” added Oscar Carrasco, a Realtor for Movoto Real Estate in Fresno who mostly works with property sales in Madera County.

The trend here is falling in in line with a forecast by Realty.com, which in mid December reported that activity in 20 major U.S. metropolitan housing markets likely would be busier than normal this month.

“Could January be the New April for Home Shopping?” asked the headline on the website’s article, referring to April normally being considered the start of the home-buying season nationally, after the winter slowdown runs its course.

“However, the spring shopping season now starts in January for many of the nation’s largest markets,” which include New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Seattle, San Francisco, Atlanta, San Jose and Denver, the article continues, noting that the information is based on average monthly views per listing on Realtor.com from 2015-2019.

Information isn’t yet available on the views for this January — nor are actual home sales figures for California and the Valley — as the month isn’t over, but the report states the data from the earlier years shows higher numbers of people beginning their home searches earlier each year since 2015, leading to the likelihood of a busier real estate market this month, at least in the metro areas where the changes have been most distinct.

“As shoppers modify their strategies for navigating a housing market that has become more competitive due to rising prices and low inventory, the search for a home is beginning earlier and earlier,” the website’s senior economist, George Ratiu, stated in the report. “With housing inventory across the U.S. expected to reach record lows in 2020, we expect to see this trend continue into the New Year.”

But tight inventories — also a problem here — aren’t the only things leading to the elevated activity, as some of the experts noted that last January actually was slightly slow here because interest rates increased to just below 5%, but they’ve since dropped about a percentage point lower, which is further fueling the interest of potential homebuyers and igniting speculation for a more active January this year.

The local Realtors added that the economy is doing well and consumers are more confident in their job security than they have in recent years, which is helping many decide they’re ready to buy a first home or move to a better one.

“Houses are getting snatched so fast due to the low inventory, other people are missing out on their houses,” said Ed Morton, an agent for Avedian Properties in Visalia.

He advises his clients to decide quickly and waste little time putting offers on houses they want, as well as to take advantage of the winter slowdown of competing buyers looking for homes.

“I say [that] I’m working in December, I’m working in January, let’s go look, because a house may slip under the radar and you may get it.”

For people who have put their homes up for sale during the winter months, the trend of more potential buyers looking for homes then could be a godsend, as more people looking increases the chances of getting higher offers and quick sales, Scordino said.

On top of that, some people avoid putting their homes for sale in the winter, figuring the demand will be down, based on past seasonal trends.

That means there isn’t as much available inventory right now, Scordino said.
“So that makes it better for a seller, because there’s less competition.”

One thing that could alter the trend is if a lot more houses are being built, but even though there is active homebuilding the Valley, experts have said it’s far from keeping pace with demand, and much of it is geared to high-end buyers and renters with less emphasis on housing for low- to middle-income people.

As such, Scordino said, he expects the busier-than-normal starts of the year for him and his fellow Realtors likely will continue next January and possibly a few year beyond that.


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