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The Las Vegas Housing Market is in a Position of Strength During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Sometimes people are surprised to learn this, but Las Vegas is about more than casinos and hotels. The city is known as a tourist destination, but it’s also one of the fastest growing real estate markets in the United States. Underneath the heat of the desert sun, residential communities have emerged throughout all corners of the valley, from Henderson to Summerlin, with local pride reflected in the arrival of major league sports teams like the Golden Knights in the NHL and the Raiders in the NFL. Between custom estates and high-rise condos, the options are endless, but there’s one common element — Las Vegas just feels like home. It’s where people of all ages and backgrounds can maximize dollars, raise families and plan for the future. As a partner in the Nartey | Wilner Group, I specialize in luxury home sales throughout Las Vegas with a clear hands-on understanding of the market. Like the rest of the country, we’ve never seen a challenge quite like the COVID-19 pandemic, which prompted a statewide shutdown by Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak. Driving economic forces like casinos, restaurants and nightclubs are now closed, leaving thousands out of work. The world-famous Las Vegas Strip is effectively a ghost town with no guarantee of when things will return to normal — or how “normal” will even be defined in the future.

Las Vegas faced a similar crisis during the Great Recession of 2008, which hit the city especially hard. Foreclosures and short sales were among the highest in the nation and lingering unemployment levels frequently outpaced other parts of the United States. The economic downtown was a reset button for a community marketed around the world as a high-energy vacation destination where “what happens here, stays here.” If Las Vegas was going to recover, it needed to grow up and evolve. It needed to plant the roots of its future in quality soil.

Since that time, Las Vegas has discovered a sense of balance. As the economy recovered, home builders took advantage of Southern Nevada’s wide open spaces, offering new homes at a greater variety and value compared to those in neighboring California. Add in an attractive tax structure, a convenient airport and an efficient road system, and the “high roller” lifestyle is just the icing on the cake — whether or not you like to gamble. As the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic plays out, I believe Las Vegas is in a greater position to weather the storm of a post-pandemic recession. According to Las Vegas Realtors (formerly the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors), median home prices reached a new record of $319,000 in March, up 6.5% from the same month in 2019. Even more impressive, median prices for condos and townhomes were up 11.4% to $185,000. The numbers reflect a stable and steady increase of activity from the lows of 2008 and 2009. The most common complaint for buyers over the past few years was that demand dramatically outpaced supply. Las Vegas simply couldn’t build new homes fast enough.

I had close to $40 million going into contract or escrow as the pandemic hit. Some clients are now taking a wait-and-see approach before finalizing plans. Yet there’s still activity. There’s still confidence in the real estate market here. My phone is ringing off the hook with people asking the same questions. Is now a good time to buy? Do you think we can get a deal? Are prices going down?

It depends on the goals of the homeowner. Prices will adjust. Mortgage rates are at historic lows (and could get lower), opening the door to not only new home purchases, but also opportunities to refinance. Cash buyers will continue gravitating to Las Vegas, but may show up more sporadically than in recent years. Some foreclosures are inevitable, but unlike the downturn of the Great Recession, new buyers will be in line to quickly pick them up. However, I predict banks will be more lenient and flexible this time around. Everybody is in the same boat, including lenders. Every person is affected. Every business is affected. As we navigate uncharted waters, prospective homeowners are doing their research; keeping their eyes on prices, interest rates and news headlines before pulling the trigger. There’s nothing wrong with that. Banks may modify guidelines based on unemployment. The economy may bounce back from the pandemic quicker — or slower — than expected. Through it all, interest in Las Vegas properties remains strong.

The tricky part is showcasing homes. Under social-distancing orders from the governor, there are limits to showing properties to prospective buyers in Nevada. Open houses are out of the question. In-person tours are by appointment only and aren’t allowed at all if the residence currently has a tenant. If I personally show a home, I’m covered in proper medical gear, including gloves and face masks. I ask a list of questions about health and symptoms over the past two months before scheduling a tour. The property is promptly and thoroughly sanitized after each visit.

Of course, the industry was already going in a virtual direction to efficiently showcase homes online, which is now more important than ever. The Nartey | Wilner Group adapted early to the shifting landscape with immersive 3D tours and other interactive elements. Meetings via video conferencing systems like Zoom are skyrocketing in popularity right now and the world of real estate is no exception. Expect online tools and resources to become even more routine long after the COVID-19 crisis is over.

Through it all, the most effective sales performers will emerge from this with a greater connection to the general public. Real estate has always been about building relationships, and that’s especially true now. From beginning to end, buyers and sellers should know their well-being is more important than finalizing a transaction. I entered the real estate industry with a goal to make money and after 23 years, I’ve accomplished that. However, repeat business was crucial to my sales growth, and that doesn’t happen without honesty and authenticity. It’s a scary time, and real estate agents should feel compelled to meet their client’s concerns with empathy and transparency, even if it takes a
couple more phone calls or a few extra months before the contract is signed. It’s not only vital to their business in the long run, it’s the right thing to do. Despite its growth and diversification as a community, the recovery of Las Vegas still depends on how quickly the casinos bounce back. Tourism, trade shows and entertainment are driving forces of revenue that continue to define the image of the city. However, the housing market is in a greater position of strength and resiliency to carry forward into a promising future. Las Vegas is a wonderful place to visit but as new homeowners learn by the day, it’s an even better place to live.