April Newsletter | Life in Quarantine

Quarantine: Not Ideal, but Not All Bad

Well, April has been a month to remember, hasn't it? I saw something online recently that said "2020 sounded like the most futuristic year and now we’re all like 'I traded my neighbor a handkerchief for some carrots' "

That pretty much sums it up. I had big plans for 2020. I was going to get three businesses up and running, take a big trip to the British Virgin Islands with my family, and launch a whole new, perfectly planned decade. But it was not to be.

My big plans these days are:

  • Keep one business alive
  • Pay my team members
  • Watch the sunset
  • Order enough groceries to last a week
  • Keep a sourdough starter alive (her name is Rona)
  • Don't throw away any food unless absolutely necessary
  • Figure out how to turn various household items (backpacks, bags of rice, books) into passable home-gym equipment
  • Stay sane

It's going pretty well, honestly. I know the world is crazy at the moment, and people are sick, and out of work, and lots of heroic nurses and doctors and first responders (several in my family) are working themselves sick, and some things just really stink. I'm not discounting any of that. Yet, I'd like to celebrate some wins.

This sums up my outlook on life actually. It's imperfect, and sometimes really hard, and unfair, and yet there's always more than enough good to redeem it for me.

And such is quarantine. There are several great things that have come out of quarantine for me.

First, it's been a really extended opportunity to reflect on what I miss about "normal" life, and what I'm really in no hurry to rush back to. I would never normally give myself a whole month of reflection, but here I am.

I think when "normal" resumes, whatever that looks like, I'm going to be more resistant to committing to things. I like taking a break between meetings to walk for 10 minutes, to eat lunch outside. I like spending an entire hour on my morning routine, meditating, stretching, and planning my day. I like spending more time with my dog and my family. I like having time to cook every day.

I'm also rethinking some things in my business. In the first few weeks of this, I added more check-in time with my team members, specifically to review our pipeline, and it's going so well that I think I'll continue it. We also made some major adjustments to how we market and show listings, obviously. We have a listing now under contract, more on that below, for which we seriously restricted showings. The result was two highly qualified showings, one strong offer, and a signed contract less than a week after going live.

I know from experience that one of the most stressful things we put our seller clients through is the parade of showings their first few weeks on the market. Of course, they're glad that people want to see a home. But 20 showings in one weekend is stressful. Agents and buyers frantically request showings last minute, show up late, leave doors open, let cats out, track mud in, lose keys, leave lights on, mess with the thermostat, ask dumb questions even though they have no intention of buying the home, and generally drive all of us insane. I always believed in the past that tolerating this craziness was necessary to get a home sold. Now I'm not so sure. Maybe if we raise the barrier for showings, so we have fewer but higher quality ones, it's actually better for everyone. It certainly was at Twisted Elm. We didn't have to deal with any of that nonsense. That one change alone will probably save us hundreds of hours a year, and result in happier sellers.

I could go on, but suffice it to say, it's not all bad.

How are you holding up?

Quarantine "Stay Sane" Resources

As I mentioned, one of my current goals is to "stay sane." Here are several resources I'm using to do that, that you might like, too.

The Hero Nation. I've been part of this coaching group for over a year now, and I absolutely love the coaching and the community. They're currently giving away some free resources for small business owners. Specifically, this package includes some 30-day business planning goals, that have seriously helped me focus and get clear on what's important.

Survive to Thrive Challenge. My nutrition coach Heather McConochie paired up with Ashlyn Showalter to put together a modified fitness challenge specifically designed for this pandemic. It includes journaling resources, daily workouts, group calls, and an active Facebook community. This has really kept me motivated to stay healthy and get creative with home workouts. 

Fortitude Strength and Conditioning: My CrossFit gym on the east side that Chris and I have loved being members of for over 5 years. Fortitude got right on it at the beginning of this pandemic and moved classes online. 

Each Friday, I go to a yin yoga class at Sukha Yoga on the east side. Recently, that hasn't been possible, obviously, but Sukha also moved online fast at the beginning of all this. Erin hosts an amazing yin class on Fridays via Zoom. Her motherly loving energy is incredibly calming, and something I look forward to every week. If you like the idea of lounging around in comfy stretchy positions like a baby for an hour, covered in blankets, come check this one out. 

21 Day Abundance Meditation from Deepak Chopra. Athan, the owner of my gym, was kind enough to invite me to a 21-day meditation group a few weeks ago. I'm on day 11 of 21. I have not ever committed before to daily meditation but I figured, there's no time like a pandemic. With so many messages about scarcity these days (lack of testing, lack of information, lack of toilet paper, and so forth) it's been so helpful to start each day with messages about abundance to balance that out. If you're interested, email me. I don't see anywhere online you can access it independently, but I know other groups are starting. So if you're interested, email me and I'll introduce you to one.

The Market

We've been keeping an exceedingly close watch on the market for the last 6 weeks. It immediately became apparent to me that checking on monthly numbers was not going to cut it in this environment. I wanted to know "What happened in the last 7 days?"

You'll still hear a lot of people quoting March numbers, and telling you that because March was a strong month, everything is peachy. That's really not helpful, in my opinion.

March numbers are based on February activity. Here's why: buyers write a contract in January or February, it closes 30-45 days later, in March. So the March numbers reflect January and February buyer sentiment. And we all know January and February was a very different universe than March 2020.

So I've been paying attention to different metrics. Not the March summary numbers, but the daily pending and closing figures.

I wanted to keep an eye on "How many buyers wrote contract this week? How many closings happened this week? Are buyers still making offers? Are pending homes actually getting to the closing table, or are buyers panicking and pulling out of contracts?"

What we'll see come out in a few weeks about April 2020 is this:

Prices in Austin held steady in April, up just slightly from March 2020. But we had about 600 closings when we'd usually have more like 1,000 closings. Sellers also held their homes off the market, and there were fewer homes for sale than usual, about 70% of normal in April.

People may have deferred their moving plans, but life doesn't stop. People still get married, have babies, get divorced, move jobs, and all the other life changes that drive real estate decisions. So, what will they do next? Will 400 some-odd buyers who waited become active in May, along with the rest of the May buyers, creating lots of competition and bidding wars? Will the 600 or so sellers who kept their homes off the market list all at once, to meet the demand, keeping prices mostly steady? Will those 600 sellers list, plus more, to create an inventory surplus and temporary pressure down on prices? Will we have huge job losses in Austin that disrupt everything?

Who knows? I won't pretend to. My gut, however, is that we have pent up demand on both sides, both buyers and sellers, and while this summer will be, well... interesting, I don't think we're going to see any massive price fluctuations one way or another. I do think there will be some buyers who negotiate really creative, good deals. And there will be some sellers who find themselves delighted by a bidding war. And there will be some people in every category who don't get so lucky. It will vary heavily by home, by neighborhood, and by date. The market in Austin right now is neither all good nor all bad. It's complicated.

So if you're considering a real estate decision as a seller or buyer, and wondering what the best move is this summer, let's talk. There really is no one-size-fits-all solution. You need a creative strategy, a plan A, B, and C, tailored to you. And that's what we do best.

So just drop us an email at isabel@spyglassrealty.com to discuss.

Contracts and Closings

Ben and Reema

Congratulations to Ben and Reema who closed on a new home in East Riverside in April. Ben and Reema were first time buyers, and they worked with me, Morgan and Emma to navigate a contract in the middle of COVID. Between the time they found the home and actually closed, the world went crazy, but they DIDN'T. It was incredibly inspirational and fun to watch.

Ben and Reema, we just want to say a huge thank you to you for being amazing clients, and for trusting our team to help you find your new home in uncertain times.

Ben and Reema's sale alone contributed to about 1/4 of our monthly closing goal. I share that because I'm not sure clients always know just how important their transactions are to our team. And during this time, we've become hyper-aware of just how important each of you is to keep each of us on the team gainfully employed.

So Ben and Reema, as a thank you to you, we're setting aside some of the commission from your sale into a fund I'm starting and will continue growing throughout the next few months. I'm calling it the Austin Small Business Resiliency Fund. The basic idea is to have some cash at the ready to help Austin small businesses who are struggling when the world begins to reopen. Your transaction makes such an impact for us, and we'd like to increase the reach of that positive impact. In short, THANK YOU! And congrats.

11008 Twisted Elm Dr, 78726


Just Listed -> Pending   

We hit the market with this listing on Twisted Elm on April 9th, in the midst of shelter in place. While we knew that would be an interesting time to sell, we also knew that homes were still trading in Austin despite shelter in place, and that inventory was low.

Due to all the concerns that you all know too well about COVID, we had to get creative about how we prepared and marketed this listing, and how we handled showings.

We did a more comprehensive marketing package than is standard for us, which included floor plans and Matterport walkthroughs: https://www.seetheproperty.com/story/344089/b. I like them so much that I think I'll make this standard for most listings going forward. We also included lots of information on MLS and asked agents to send us pre-qual letters or proof of funds when requesting showings. We also were extra specific about showing expectations. Basically, wear gloves, masks, and booties, and don't touch anything!

The result was fewer showings than usual, but better-qualified showings, and a quick, strong offer. Our seller was less stressed by useless foot traffic, we dealt with fewer agent phone calls, and we still got a strong offer in less than a week. This is really making me rethink the wisdom of "easy" showing instructions since this was an overall better experience for everyone.

We're now out of option, past appraisal, and headed to closing early.

Congrats, Marcia! It's been a pleasure so far.

Posted by Isabel Affinito on
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Love the deeper look at the market. So much more helpful than an already out of date info graphic

Posted by Jasen on Saturday, May 2nd, 2020 at 4:01pm

Thanks Jasen! I've really been focused these last few weeks on looking at the numbers in real time, and then trying to make sense of them for myself in a way I can easily explain. I won't claim to know for sure exactly what's happening or what will happen next, but I prefer to look at the data unfiltered and make my own determinations, rather than relying too heavily on whatever generic market stats might be floating around out there.

Posted by Isabel Affinito on Sunday, May 3rd, 2020 at 4:17pm

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