Joanie Lopez and her husband had always dreamed of owning a home. But the lifelong residents of California felt priced out of their home state market. 

In June, when her dog-walking business began to dry up due to the pandemic, Lopez decided it was time to make a move. “This year is already chaotic, let’s throw something in there that’s even more spontaneous,” she said.  

She wanted her two daughters to grow up in a racially diverse community and her research pointed to Texas. When she learned there were homes in San Antonio within their budget, she contacted a realtor – even though she had never before visited the state. 

In early August, the Lopez family moved halfway across the country where they have no relatives or friends, and into their new home in the Great Northwest neighborhood on the city’s Far West Side. 

But finding a home in San Antonio wasn’t easy, Lopez said. “If you’re not on it at 6 in the morning, refreshing, you’re already late. So it got very stressful and competitive,” she said. 

That’s because, despite pandemic pressures on the economy, the San Antonio housing market resembles the wild, wild west, said her realtor, Danny Charbel of Keller Williams Realty

“We’re seeing activity during times that normally we see a little lull in the market – end of summer, back to school, people going out of town for Labor Day, a stutter before a national election,” Charbel said by email. “None of that is happening this year.”

In fact, home sales in August increased by 7 percent over the same month in 2019, according to San Antonio Board of Realtors (SABOR) data, and pending sales for September so far were at 3,431, just 200 fewer than the total for all of August. 

While home sales dropped below 2019 levels in April and May, they picked up again in June and July, exceeding those months the year before, according to the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University

SABOR data shows this year’s total home sales in San Antonio, at 24,745, are already 5 percent higher than at this time in 2019. 

The average home price, $309,970, also is up by 12 percent over August 2019. 

And homes are going fast. In August, for-sale homes spent fewer days on the market than a year ago – 53 days versus 55. 

This summer has been markedly busier than last summer, said Charbel, who has been working as a realtor for 13 years. “There’s a level of urgency I haven’t seen since the Great Recession when the Fed dropped interest rates to (then) record lows.”

Mortgage interest rates are currently below 3 percent for many buyers, making home buying especially attractive even as the public health crisis keeps more people homebound and complicates the house-hunting process. 

Charbel said homeowners are understandably delaying moves while they work from home. But another reason inventory is low is due to pandemic-driven delays in permanent change of station (PCS) orders and deployments for local military service members and their families.

“You really see how much San Antonio relies on our military in times like these,” said Charbel. “The annual PCS season literally exercises our real estate market (among other things) in a beautiful way, and this year we didn’t get to harness all of that because of the pandemic.”

Likewise, there’s a surge of investment home buying happening in San Antonio, he added, and the low inventory is contributing to bidding wars among investors. That not only drives up prices but also forces buyers to act fast. 

“Houses in good condition and priced correctly are having non-stop showings, multiple offers, and selling at or above list price at a rate I’ve never before seen,” Charbel said. 

But new home sales also are up nationwide, according to Jim Gaines, chief economist for the Real Estate Center. 

“Market demand is now focused on the middle- to higher-income groups who have remained employed during the pandemic,” he stated. “This means higher-priced homes have been more active than lower-priced homes sought by workers more impacted by COVID-19.”

Before Lopez began house hunting long-distance from California, Charbel reassured her they could find a home in this tight market.

“Danny actually told me, you know, some people find their soulmate online so I’m sure you can find a house online,” she said. “I liked that attitude.”

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.