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West Michigan home buying soared in May, expected to withstand COVID-19

"We’re starting to see June and July back on trend to last year's numbers, and even pacing ahead."

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — After a slow April due to the COVID-19 crisis and corresponding shut down, May home buying is on its way up. 

Nationally, pending home sales grew 44% in May, according to data by the National Association of Realtors. That's compared to falling 22% in April. 

West Michigan might be in even better shape than that. 

"Comparing this year to last year, we saw that decline in April, but May has bounced back," said Adam Paarlberg, President of Greenridge Realty. "And now, we’re starting to see June and July back on trend to last year's numbers, and even pacing ahead."

Paarlberg said it is encouraging to see May pending sales "way up." That's primarily for two reasons: interest rates are historically low and people are appreciating their homes in a whole new way. 

"West Michigan is uniquely positioned in the real estate market to withstand some of the effects of COVID-19," said Paarlberg, "As we anticipate more people being flexible in the workplace, a mid-size market like ours might become more attractive."

He said since Governor Gretchen Whitmer lifted bans on real estate service on May 7, his team saw inventory come back to the market, as well as pent-up buyer demand. 

RELATED: Realtors ready to get back to work after weeks off

However, there's also a catch with a strong market in West Michigan. Inventory is also very low. 

"People are definitely still looking, and still buying, and still having a hard time finding something  completed and on the market right now," said Karin Kay, sales manager for Sable Homes

Kay said many buyers are turning toward building a home due to that low inventory. In fact, Sable Homes only has seven properties available between lots and completed homes. That's compared to the 20 available this time last year. 

"If something were to happen economy-wise, I don’t think West Michigan would be affected as much as other places," said Kay. "We have a backlog of probably six months of people looking for houses and still can’t find them. Houses are just flying off the market, and people have been looking for a long time."

The pandemic has, however, changed some of the things people are looking for in their home. Many buyers are opting to move out of the city and into surrounding Grand Rapids suburbs. 

"They're looking for around a 25 minute drive to work," said Kay. "So, Cedar Springs, Sparta, Caledonia, Lowell. We’ve been getting a lot of calls for Coopersville. Anywhere where someone can take a highway and get to work in 25 minutes."

RELATED: 'Safety' work continues for home building business, as interpretation over Governor's order continues

She said many buyers are looking for larger lots that have space for a pool, as more recreation time is spent at home. Inside the home, additional Ethernet hookups are trending. Plus, they want a place to work. 

"The things people are looking for now is certainly a home office," said Paarlberg, "People are finding to have that dedicated space is as valuable as ever." 

Paarlberg points to the trend of working from home also having an impact of West Michigan, making it a more attractive place to live than other parts of the country. 

"We may see more people reporting to big cities, but able to work from home," said Paarlberg. "And the relative affordability of a place like West Michigan, we think will be a real strength of the market going forward."

RELATED VIDEO: Love it? or List It? Navigating real estate during the pandemic

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