Tuesday, July 28, 2020 / by Ken Couture
After starting the year with a burst of sales, Las Vegas’ housing market all but screeched to a halt when the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Buyers disappeared, sellers shied away and sales cancellations soared, all to the shock of probably no one, given the valley’s overnight economic collapse.
Las Vegas’ housing market had a volatile history long before the pandemic turned the Strip into a ghost town of closed casinos. But resorts and other businesses have reopened the past few months, and the housing market, at least for now, is bouncing back from the chaos.
Southern Nevada homebuilders signed nearly 1,230 sales contracts in June, the most since February, and reported 208 sales cancellations, down almost 43 percent from May, according to figures from Las Vegas housing tracker Andrew Smith, president of Home Builders Research.
“Builders are happy right now with the way things are going, all things considered,” he said.
The pandemic initially sparked an “unprecedented” drop in sales, he noted. But house prices haven’t cratered during the turmoil, and builders did not offer piles of incentives to lure buyers, according to Smith.
“They knew demand was still there,” he said. “It wasn’t like people didn’t want to buy houses.”
On the resale market, single-family homes traded for a median price of $325,000 last month, an all-time high, and buyers picked up more than 2,460 houses, up nearly 45 percent from May, trade association Las Vegas Realtors reported.
Cheaper money has helped the market amid all the turmoil, as sliding mortgage rates have let buyers lock in lower monthly payments.
Plenty of people also have kept their jobs during the pandemic, and among the enormous amount who were put out of work, many have returned to their jobs the past few months as casinos and other businesses reopened following state-ordered lockdowns.
Still, like practically everything else in Las Vegas, the housing market faces plenty of unknowns.
The number of coronavirus infections is rising fast in Southern Nevada, unemployment remains high, and with air travel and tourism still reeling from the public health crisis, tens of thousands of local hotel-casino workers could permanently lose their jobs.
Moreover, Gov. Steve Sisolak’s temporary freeze on evictions and foreclosures, which he enacted in late March, is winding down just as federal unemployment benefits are scheduled to expire Saturday, raising fears of increased homelessness.
The cutoff could wipe out the vast majority of income for out-of-work Nevadans, as the feds have provided $600 per week for unemployed workers on top of their regular state jobless benefits, which in Nevada top out at roughly $470 per week for traditional filers.
If all that isn’t scary enough, there’s always the question of whether casinos, Las Vegas’ financial lifeblood, would be forced to close again to help tame the raging coronavirus outbreak.
If that happens, Southern Nevada’s economy would go dark once more, and among the countless problems this would create, homebuilders could see their sales pipeline disappear yet again.
“They’re just keeping their fingers crossed like everybody else,” Smith said.
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