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Ohio's Stay-At-Home Order Makes It Even Harder To Buy A New Home

Home for sale in Gahanna.
Debbie Holmes
Home for sale in Gahanna.

Matt Hairston is determined to keep looking for his first house, even as the ongoing pandemic decreases the already low number of homes available. These days, Hairston and his girlfriend, who live on the Northwest Side, spend more time searching for their dream home online.

“We probably would see a lot more during a normal time,” Hairston says. “And obviously there’s no open houses, so there’s none of that driving around looking for open houses and going through homes that way.”

The 40-year old software developer at Nationwide Insurance says he is concentrating more on suburbs out east in Pickerington or Blacklick, where he can get more space for less money.

“We’ve definitely seen like a nose-dive of how many houses are actually being listed," Hairston says. "It’s handfuls now compared to like hundreds."

Realtor Ginson Speich with Keller-Williams Greater Columbus says his business is down more than 30%.

“I had multiple homes fall out of contract due to buyers losing their jobs, furlough, which then changed their financial ability to execute the purchase, so contracts fell apart,” Speich says.

Home for sale in Reynoldsburg.
Credit Ginson Speich
Home for sale in Reynoldsburg.

Speich says his marketing strategy for home sales reflects the new COVID-19 world.

“I’m just trying to continue to innovate in a shifting market, through 3D, VR tours for homes and trying to keep my clients, my family and other people safe," Speich says.

Realtor Jill Freeland with Freeland Realtor Group says she carries facial masks, hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial wipes when she shows a property.

“We call ahead of time to make sure no one in the house has had any sort of problem, any flu-like symptoms, colds, COVID, anything like that,” Freeland says. “Some of the realtors actually provide, the listing realtors will provide what they call touchless showings, where they have the seller turn on the lights, open all the interior doors before they leave, so that when we walk in we don’t have to touch very many things, if any.”

Freeland says upscale buyers seem to be more hesitant. She explains a doctor moving here from San Francisco delayed buying a home in the $1 million range.

“His airplane trip is what scared him,” Freeland says. “He didn’t want to make several flights. He wanted to come once and then start his job in early June. So, he decided he’s going to rent for a year and then next year, I’ll help him find a house.”

Andy Mills, president of Columbus Realtors Association, says that April and May normally kick off the busy season for home buying. Things are much different this year.

“There’s still plenty of people that have lost their jobs,” Mills says. “There’s still plenty of businesses that have been significantly impacted by this, and what that end result is, even with some of the assistance that the government has put out there, I think is only to be determined in time.”

Unlike after the 2008 financial collapse, Mills says Central Ohio still has a limited inventory of homes on the market, so he expects prices to remain steady.

“It’s not really comparable, because you weren’t forced to essentially stay at home and businesses weren’t shut down right? So, this feels like it’s impacting everyone to some degree,” Mills says.

Mills says the Columbus Realtors Association crafted a special provision in purchase contracts to protect buyers and sellers should COVID-19 events throw a wrench in a deal.

“I’ve never in my career seen people’s willingness to try to work with each other to solve individual solutions,” Mills says. “And as long as that continues then, you know, I think we end up being able to potentially recover quicker.”

Hairston says while he thinks his job is safe, he and his girlfriend will keep looking for that one-story, open floor plan, move-in ready home.

“We’re not going to rush into any decisions,” Hairston says. “Especially with the lower inventory in the market, we want to make sure that we get something we want and we don’t just buy.”

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.