This has been a year like no other in recent memory, with lots of surprises, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among the most unexpected has been the strong real estate market in the Golden Isles.
Christi Johnson, marketing director at DeLoach Sotheby’s International Realty, on St. Simons Island, said she spoke with company officials and they agree the market has been “incredibly strong” since taking a dip at the onset of the pandemic, earlier this year.
“Since June of this year, Glynn County has seen unprecedented activity at all price points,” Johnson said. “Most of this activity has been driven by flight out of urban areas as a result of the COVID virus, and, to a lesser extent, the civil unrest occurring in our country.”
The strong sales are specific to the home, with a demand for privacy, a view, amenities such as a pool and more space to accommodate a home office, she said.
“Right now, all areas of Glynn County would be considered strong, based on last year’s numbers, up approximately 12 percent,” she said. “The higher-valued homes will be in locations such as waterfront, marsh front, golf course frontage, or have the larger square footage space the buyer may be requesting.”
The strong sales are the result of a large number of buyers paying cash and historically low interest rates, she said.
“The lower rates have made the market available to those who may have been qualified for a lower price range at the higher rate, and now they can qualify for a higher price,” Johnson said. “The low rate also makes investment property attractive for investors. They can make money on rental income, giving them a better return than money sitting in the bank.”
The traditional peak for real estate sales is in May, when people have extra cash from their income tax returns, but this year has been an anomaly because of the number of people moving into the region from larger cities, many with the ability to work from home.
“This elevated activity is due in part because one thing the COVID virus has taught us is that working remotely is now an option in many industries and smaller communities like ours tend to be better environments for both retirees and young families with children,” Johnson said.
The demand, driven in part by the pandemic, makes real estate professionals uncertain as to how long the current boom will continue.
“Though it is hard to imagine that this level of real estate activity will continue at this pace, we are not seeing any slow down at this time,” Johnson said. “Our prediction is that real estate activity in the Golden Isles will begin to slow from the current red-hot pace over the next few months but we will continue to see above-normal activity for the foreseeable future into 2022.”
Sherrye Gibbs. managing member and qualifying broker at Sea Palms Coastal Realty, said many people driving the sales are people who vacationed in the Golden Isles in the past and had plans to move here. But when the pandemic started, Gibbs said those future plans accelerated with the help of historically low interest rates.
“As we all know, COVID-19 initially grounded most of the U.S. population, and while families huddled together, stuck at home, staring at the same walls (and each other) day after day, people began to actually look at where they were living and how they were living,” she said. “Conversations of ‘this house is too big for us; this house is too small for us; this city is too big for us; it’s too cold here; buying in the Golden Isles is a good investment; or we can work from anywhere’ were more prevalent.”
People began going online to check out new houses or investment properties, and the ability to tour homes and meet with real estate brokers virtually made it convenient to conduct transactions.
“For the first time since 2005 when the housing bubble began to burst, we were receiving multiple offers on the same property,” she said. “COVID-19 created a fever for purchasing real estate in the Golden Isles.”
The south end of St. Simons island enjoyed the strongest sales in September, with 98 sales during the month, followed by mainland unincorporated Glynn County with 83 sales.
High-value homes are also seeking strong sales both for full-time living and as vacation rentals, she said.
As for how long the strong sales will continue, that’s a question many in the real estate business continue to ask.
“Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and a highly contentious presidential election, the residential real estate market has been nothing short of remarkable,” Gibbs said. “Unless some unforeseen circumstance derails the current rebound in the residential real estate market, I see a continuance of what we’ve been experiencing.”