“We use Zoom and 3-D walk-throughs,” said J. Scott Laughlin of Berkshire Hathaway, Fox & Roach, seen here with his buddy, Ally. (Photo by Deidre Watters)

by Stacia Friedman

Realtors are not allowed to show homes, and potential buyers aren’t allowed to visit them, so, how did properties go under contract in our region in April? Realtors got creative.

“We are selling a product the consumer cannot see in person. Instead, we use Zoom and 3-D walk-throughs,” said J. Scott Laughlin of Berkshire Hathaway, Fox & Roach. Thanks to Zoom, an online video connection between two or more parties, a prospective buyer in Miami can “walk” though a house in Chestnut Hill and ask the seller questions and see the answers. How high is the ceiling? Is the backyard level?

“This past weekend, Fox & Roach had 150 virtual open houses in Montgomery County,” said Laughlin. “One listing had several offers and got a cash sale with no contingencies.” 

Here’s how it works. The Governor’s order states that realtors cannot show houses in person, and buyers cannot visit or move into them until 48 hours after the shelter-in-place order is lifted. The same restrictions apply to appraisals, inspections and mortgages. But a house may be sold under a pending contract with a “blind date,” which estimates when the Governor’s orders will be lifted. A blind date of May 15 could easily be revised to June 15.

Formerly based at Fox & Roach in Chestnut Hill for 14 years, Laughlin now continues to serve our area from the company’s Devon office.

“The average sale price in Chestnut Hill has dropped 26 percent, but that doesn’t mean home values are down. It just means there are 20 luxury properties on the market, valued from 1 to $6 million,” he said.

However, Laughlin says it is still a seller’s market, especially for homes under $1 million and in surrounding areas.

“Inventory has gone down faster than sales,” he said. “There’s less availability, and we are not seeing price reductions.”

He says Mt. Airy is faring better than Chestnut Hill.

“The real estate market is not deemed an essential industry, but it is essential to life … food, clothing, shelter. We are here to provide that essential service to people whenever they need it.”

This house at 8323 Ardleigh St. was sold in two days by Elfant Wissahickon. (Photo courtesy of Elfant Wissahickon)

Paul Walsh, president of Elfant Wissahickon Realtors, is optimistic about our area maintaining its popularity.

“The Northwest is a hotbed of activity. Not just Chestnut Hill but also Mt. Airy, East Falls, Manayunk and Germantown,” Walsh said. “Forty-one properties closed in the first quarter with a median price of $510,000. Just last weekend, a house on Ardleigh went under contract without being seen in person by the buyer.”

If there’s a sweet spot for Chestnut Hill real estate, Walsh says it falls between $550k and $650K.

“The low inventory speaks to a sellers’ market, but financing rates at 3.25% for 30 years are very buyer friendly,” he insisted.

Having grown up in Germantown, Walsh is keen on the neighborhood.

“There is some great housing stock in Germantown,” said Walsh, who has developed several properties there while maintaining architectural integrity.

Walsh has been in real estate for 36 years and at Elfant Wissahickon since 1994. “We moved our headquarters to Chestnut Hill 10 years ago and now have offices throughout the city, including Flourtown, Rittenhouse Square, Fishtown and Spring Garden Street.”

We also spoke with Bowman Properties to find out how commercial real estate is fairing on the Hill.

“Our retailers, restaurateurs and service providers are resilient and resourceful, having demonstrated their commitment to getting through this crisis,” explained Dave Hoylman, leasing director.

Some retailers needed help, and Bowman responded. “We have been working with individual tenants on a case-by-case basis, according to need,” said Hoylman. “Many tenants just required additional time, which we were happy to provide, and have since resumed making their normal rent payments. Others simply needed flexibility and have been making rent payments in installments. In multiple cases, we have aided tenants in receiving grants.”

Even during the pandemic, the Avenue has not lost its allure.

 “We are having discussions with multiple businesses, including a well-known bookstore as well as a second-hand bookstore and a candle retailer, that are eager to open in Chestnut Hill,” Hoylman said. “Additionally, a restaurant and a specialty food store are also showing renewed interest through the efforts of the CHBA Director of Business Development, Kathie Meadows.

“Our commercial tenants have found new and creative ways of reaching their customers and are staying in touch with them through social media. At Bowman Properties we have been posting regularly on social media, as well, in support of all Chestnut Hill businesses by sharing posts and promoting the #keepitonthehill campaign.”

“Bowman Properties’ 35-year commitment to bringing small businesses to the Avenue has been a blessing to us and the community during this crisis,” said Matthew B. Spector, VP of Operations. “You look around and see larger regional and national chains struggling and failing to stay afloat, while small businesses are finding ways to make it work … We are able to work together to help everyone survive this crisis.”

Berkshire Hathaway can be reached at chestnuthill.foxroach.com, Elfant Wissahickon at elfantwissahickon.com and Bowman Properties at bowmanch.com

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