2 min read February 2021 — After the first months of the pandemic, home sales rebounded in the Philadelphia MSA at an amazing pace, said Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach President Joan Docktor in an interview with Invest: Philadelphia. And while there’s some migration to the suburbs, Docktor believes it could be a temporary trend.
How is Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices positioned in the Philadelphia market?
We are part of an international network. We are not only part of the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices network; we’re owned by HomeServices of America, which is the No. 1 real estate company in the United States. We were purchased by them in 2013. Before that, we were an independent franchise and we’ve been in business for 135 years in the greater Philadelphia market area. We operate in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, with 75 offices and 5,500 sales associates. We are No. 1 in the area by market share by a three-to-one margin. We’re really proud of that. We feel that we attract the best sales associates to the company and give them the tools, services and staff that they need to excel and provide their clients the ability to buy and sell their homes. We are a home services company, not a real estate company.
Charity is a really big part of our company. We give back to the local community and we service over 300 nonprofits. Our goal is to work with families in need, especially children. We serve them not only by donating but also by giving our time.
How has COVID-19 impacted the real estate business in the city?
In March, there was a stay at home order and so we went totally virtual and sent everybody home. We have about 700 employees, besides our agents. We gave everybody computers and we didn’t miss a beat. We focused on making sure that our sales associates learned everything they needed to do to be virtual, including holding virtual open houses – and we held more of those than any other broker in the marketplace. We did a lot of education to make sure our agents didn’t miss a beat.
We found that some people did buy homes sight unseen. It was quite a scary time. We didn’t really know how long it would last but we did everything in our power to keep everyone engaged. Our sales managers held meetings with their sales offices twice a week, we kept in close touch to keep everybody energized. People were really scared, so we wanted to keep them engaged and give them the tools to stay in touch.
At the end of May and the beginning of June, we were able to open up and sales took off. Sales just went through the roof. We weren’t expecting it. The mortgage and refinancing business took off as well. It’s been an amazing year. Even in November and December when we usually see a slowdown, business has been brisk. In December, our company was 66% up against the previous year, which is really amazing. More expensive homes are selling, which was not happening as much before COVID. People are looking for more space, for homes with two offices. Sales prices have also gone up. The Achilles’ heel is, of course, listings. They come up to the market and sell immediately. We have little inventory and if you don’t have inventory it’s really hard to continue doing strong sales. In a normal month, supply of inventory is six months and we are at 1.4 months’ supply, and have been for a while.
What does the surge of interest in the suburbs mean for Center City?
I think that it’s not like New York at all, where people are flocking to the suburbs and leaving the city. We have seen condo sales slow in the city but at the same time, there are high rises going up in the city with $2 million to $4 million condos. There are some young families wanting to get out of the city, looking for more space for kids to run around outside, but you’re still seeing the sale of homes in the city at a steady pace. It’s not like in the suburbs but things are selling in the city.
I think the situation is temporary. Restaurants and museums are closed. People live in the city in part because of those amenities, so you don’t have people moving into the city currently, and you have some people moving out of the city. We’ve seen our suburbs explode. Philadelphia has rebounded before and it will do so again.
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