How CoronaVirus Is Affecting Seattle and the Housing Market
Seattle was the first major US city affected by the novel Coronavirus. On January 20, 2020, the first case was discovered in Washington State and the first death was announced more than a month later, on February 29th. Subsequently, it was spread to a nursing home in Kirkland, WA where 29 elderly residents have died so far. Of the approximately 250 deaths in the US, 80+ of those have been in Washington State (updated daily here.)
As nations ramp up testing and report daily increasing cases and deaths, here’s a look at how daily life around Seattle has adjusted.
UW and Others Step In to Ramp-Up Testing and Response
While president Trump downplayed the seriousness of Coronavirus in the first weeks of March, it became clear that the federal government and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had fallen behind on testing. The University of Washington quickly stepped up to help increase testing capacity. To date, they are conducting about 3,000 tests per day and have opened several drive-thru testing centers.
Microsoft, Amazon and other Seattle startups have come together to form a $2.5 million relief fund for Coronavirus as well.
Traffic Slows Down
Seattle’s population has grown by 150,000 people over the last decade, which has caused our freeways and side streets to become notoriously clogged during the morning and evening rush hours. Many Seattleites who did not have the ability to work remotely rejoiced at their reduced commute times. A rare silver lining in the Seattle pandemic timeline.
Most workplaces with 250+ workers had sent workers to work from home in the first weeks of March, especially after an Amazon employee tested positive for Coronavirus. Amazon headquarters is located in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, which was rendered a ghost-town after Amazon sent its 50,000+ strong Seattle workforce to work remotely.
S E A T T L E— Jackson Steele (@askboomer1949) March 14, 2020
I took these pictures midday yesterday, Thursday March 12, 2020 in #DowntownSeattle
Very little pedestrian traffic and far less than normal vehicular traffic.
Stunning, actually, if you know #Seattle #Coronavirus #COVID19 #pandemic #MSNBC #SeattleWashington pic.twitter.com/XYHfZNsUhr
Schools, Shop & Restaurants Shut Down
In the first few days of March, Washington governor Jay Inslee did declare a state of emergency and banned gatherings larger than 250 people, but little else was done until March 12th, when Inslee ordered the closure of all K-12 schools in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties. The next day, the order was expanded to all schools in the state and will be in effect until at least April 24th. However, the schools quickly joined forces to continue providing grab-n-go lunches at school entrances.
To read more about school resources and lunch locations, go here.
Mandatory restaurant and bar closures happened on March 15th, after the weekend showed large crowds still patronizing bars and restaurants. Restaurants and cafes can now have walk-up windows or serve takeaway food, but people are no longer allowed to dine-in at tables. The chart below shows the “social distancing” measures put into place in Washington state.
Gatherings of 50+ attendees have been banned, and most sports events, conferences, concerts and conventions. Museums have shut down, as well as movie theaters, gyms and community centers. Nail and hair salons are also prohibited from operating.
Restaurant owners have announced closures, some temporarily but others permanently. Seattle chefs Tom Douglas and Ethan Stowell announced closures of their restaurants and laid off hundreds of workers. Bars can’t serve takeaway drinks, so most of the bars and night clubs have shut down. Others are getting creative in order to keep business running throughout the shutdown. Seattle restaurant Canlis diverted its normal dine-in operations to a pop-up drive-thru bagel and sandwich shop and started delivering meals to local residents.
A “shelter in place” order has not been issued for Washington state at this time.
The Housing Market
So how is Coronavirus affecting the housing market in Seattle? With most non-essential activity banned, viewings and real estate activity are slowing. On Monday, March 16, the Northwest MLS (NWMLS) put a temporary ban on public open houses and broker opens to slow the spread of disease. Up until last weekend, open houses had still shown a lot of activity, despite the warnings to practice social distancing. The ban on open houses will last until at least March 31st, but (as of publication time) you can still go see a house with a real estate agent.
Agents are still listing homes. In King County, almost 500 homes listed in the last five days. Before this month, we were heading into a hot Spring selling market with many single-family homes getting multiple offers. How the market is affected after this week still remains to be seen, but for now it looks like it hasn’t scared too many home sellers away from listing.
While there is uncertainty in the market, it may still be a good time to think about buying a house or refinancing a mortgage loan. Mortgage interest rates sunk to incredible lows at the beginning of March – around 3.29%. But, in the weeks since, they have gone back up due to the demand from borrowers and refinancers. As the demand levels off, lenders should be able to lower the rates again. Watch the rates in the coming weeks or speak to a mortgage lender to decide what options are best for you.
How We Will Get Through This
With a report showing that up to 40% of Seattle area jobs could be affected by the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s clear that state and federal governments need to act. Incredible acts of charity and community are already happening. People are reaching out to check on friends and neighbors. Grocery stores are allotting special “morning hours” for the elderly and immune-compromised to shop their restocked stores.
Here’s a list of things that have already been done for Washingtonians and Americans:
- Tax filing deadline delayed until July 15th, 2020
- Inslee announced a ban on evictions for the next 30 days
- Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced $5M grocery assistance fund
- Seattle City Light will not turn off anyone’s lights or water
- Trump ordered HUD to suspend evictions and foreclosures
- Congress weighs direct cash payments to Americans
For a full list of financial resources for Washington residents affected by Coronavirus, go here.