Home-buying is still going strong in N.H. even though it’s gotten more complicated

  • Tom and Judy Clark get the sold sign after the closing at BHHS Verani Realty in Concord on April 30. The Clarks are moving up from East Boston to be closer to their children and grandchildren. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Selling agent Kristine Braley of Starkey Realty holds a sold sign after closing with seller Connie Pittman on April 30. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Robin Mooney of Broker's Title Closing gets the process started with the Clarks as buying and selling agents Kristine Braley (left) and Greg Leavitt of BHHS Verani Realty Concord look on in the pouring rain on Thursday, April 30, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Judy and Tom Clark greet Robin Mooney of Brooker Title Closing in the parking lot BHHS Verani Realty to start the closing on Thursday, April 30, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Judy and Tom Clark sign one of the many closing documents in their car at the start of closing process in the parking lot of BHHS Verani Realty in Concord on Thursday, April 30, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Robin Mooney of Broker’s Title Closing uses the notary stamp on the closing documents as buying agent Greg Leavitt looks on inside the office of BHHS Verani Realty of Concord on Thursday, April 30, 2020. Mooney had four closing on that day. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Tom Clark passes some of the closing documents to Robin Mooney of Broker’s Title Closing on Thursday, April 30, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Selling agent Kristine Braley documents the drive-through closing on Thursday, April 30, 2020. It was Braley’s first drive-through closing. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Robin Mooney of Broker’s Title Closing brings the closing documents into BHHS Verani Realty to be notarized on Thursday, April 30, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Tom Clark looks over the closing documents for the buying of their home in the pouring rain on Thursday, April 30, 2020. Clark and his wife Judy are moving up from East Boston to be closer to their children and grandchildren. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Selling agent Kristine Braley of Starkey Realty congratulates seller Connie Pittman at the completion of the closing on Thursday, April 30, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Molly Brown, a closing agent of Absolute Title, which has offices in Concord, Bedford and Portsmouth, wears a protective pod to process real estate documents in order to close on a sale. —Courtesy

  • Molly Brown, a closing agent of Absolute Title, works with a client on a real estate closing through protective glass. —Courtesy

  • Kerry MacDonald, vice president of Absolute Title, wears a protective pod to process documents for a real estate closing. Despite the virus, closings have been keeping at a steady pace. Courtesy

  • Buying agent Greg Leavitt congratulates the Clarks after the closing is concluded at BHHS Verani Realty in Concord on Thursday, April 30, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/4/2020 2:38:57 PM

As you would expect, COVID-19 has created a lot of change in New Hampshire’s economy. But you might not have expected what those changes are for the real estate industry.

“We’ve been open for 15 years; March was our single best month for new orders,” Matthew Neuman, owner of Absolute Title, a property title company with offices in Concord, said last week. “And April – we’re not even done with the month and it’s our second biggest month ever.”

Despite economic uncertainty caused by business closings and the complications that social distancing has placed on document signing and house tours, the business of buying, selling and refinancing residences hasn’t slowed at all.

“I’ve had four drive-through (closings) today. … Real estate is booming in New Hampshire,” said Robin Mooney of Broker’s Title of Londonderry, speaking at a closing in Concord’s Fisherville neighborhood on Thursday.

“It was a hot market before COVID and it’s still (hot),” said Kristine Braley of Starkey Realty, the seller agent for that sale, adding one proviso: “It’s currently not a seller’s market for a great big huge mansion on the lake, but anything under $300,000? There are multiple offers.”

The sale was special to Braley because it came from the last open house she held before the shutdown occurred. “It went under contract in seven days,” she noted.

The buyers, Judy and Thomas Clark, are  moving from East Boston, nor far from Logan Airport, to be near their grandchildren.

“No more airplanes!” said Judy Clark.

This is the first house they’ve ever bought after a lifetime of renting and they were a little dazed by all the documents they had to sign. “It seems like 100,” joked Thomas Clark.

Getting documents signed and notarized is one thing that has changed dramatically in the past month.

Absolute Title’s offices, for example, have installed 4-by-4-foot clear acrylic panes on desks, like vertical versions of “sneeze guards” placed over food at buffets.

“They have a slot underneath. People sit on each side and we slide papers underneath, kind of like banks used to do,” said Neuman. “Some folks are not comfortable coming in the office, they prefer to stay in their car. We have the closer stand outside the car, pass the paperwork to them.”

Neuman says he was inspired by restaurant workers who wore transparent pods, sometimes called “backpack tents,” when carrying food out to cars. He bought some for the company’s three offices so paperwork, and employees, will stay safe and dry during such car-side signings in the rain.

The trickiest part is notarizing signatures without being face to face. One of Gov. Sununu’s earliest emergency orders – No. 11 – covered this topic by allowing “secure remote online notarization.”

“They have a video phone call with the closer, prove their identify … then we watch them sign the document – ‘wet sign’ them. They return those to us. Sometimes the Realtor drives and picks them up, or we do. Then my notary, the closer, who witnessed it, has to wet-sign notarize those documents,” said Neuman.

Not all of New Hampshire real estate is booming, however. Residential may be shrugging off the uncertainty but business and commercial sales are not keeping at the same clip.

“Investors are gun shy. They don’t want to buy a property with 10 units and then people are not paying rent,” said Greg Levitt, the buyers’ agent at the Fisherville sale, discussing the current market. “And commercial – who wants to buy a big building when they don’t know when business is going to pick up?”

Neuman said he thinks the current residential market is a function partly of incredibly low interest rates plus the usual increase in sales and refinancing that comes each spring, goosed somewhat by concern about future job losses.

“If you were on the fence before and now you’ve got a little bit of job insecurity, I think it has pushed people to make the decision,” he said.

Does that mean he expects this surge to continue? Good question.

“The way our business has gone here, I keep telling people, don’t worry it’s going to slow down a little, we’re going to be able to breath. But I don’t see that on the horizon. All the lenders and Realtors are busy,” Neuman said. “I see a strong spring market and a strong summer market … After that, it depends on what happens.”

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)




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