In 2004, Alicia C. Ralston decided to leave behind a management career in the environmental and construction industry and pursue her passion for real estate. Since then, she has built Ralston Group Properties into a sustainable, high-integrity Idaho real estate brokerage. Her exclusively referral-based business is indicative of the trust and confidence of Ralston Group clients.
Ralston is known for her skill at crunching data on real estate trends and forecasts. Her regular email blasts on market conditions offer an intriguing deep dive into industry conditions.
As we all know, those conditions have been upended like never before by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Idaho Business Review recently connected with Ralston to discuss how the coronavirus has impacted her work and get her thoughts on the future of Idaho real estate.
How have the residential real estate and new home construction industries grappled with COVID-19?
Not unlike most/all industries, the real estate and new home construction industries have been faced with how to ensure the safety of its clients and the community while continuing operations and providing essential services. However, it’s not business as usual. Most/all firms have implemented COVID-19 policies, and industry officials have encouraged all to strictly follow CDC guidelines.
What are workers doing to protect themselves?
For the most part, the local real estate industry is doing a good job of protecting clients, contractor partners, and each other. Thoughtful, conscientious listing agents are confirming adequate time to ensure a buffer between showings and are providing masks, shoes covers, gloves and sanitizer at homes. Selling agents are certifying his/her buyer is pre-approved and serious before entering someone’s home and are being responsible for his/her buyer by making clear to them what is expected to ensure their walk-through in the prospective home protects their safety and that of the homeowner. Most agents are primarily working from their personal home offices, and going into his/her brokerage office only when needed, following CDC guidelines and ensuring a sanitized environment before and after each client.
How is the industry using technology to help?
The vast majority of the real estate industry is increasingly leveraging technology to present maximum information while protecting against COVID — videography, drone photography to capture the greater area, interactive 2D/3D floor plans, Marco Polo and Facetime walk-throughs just to name a few. It’s allowed buyers to really assess whether a home is a potential fit before physically previewing the home. Technology has also allowed buyers to quickly and effectively evaluate a home when they are unable get on an airplane or drive from across the U.S. to see a home that may have a lot of potentially interested buyers. This is especially valuable given our hot market where listings often go pending in a matter of hours.
How do the different parts of the state differ in terms of residential real estate and construction? What’s behind those differences?
Like any state, all towns across Idaho are not consistent when it comes to the sale and procurement of residential real estate. Under more normal conditions, the local economic factors, supply & demand, and other considerations typically dictate local conditions. However, the short -term and long-term effects of the pandemic are yet to be clearly understood. Ralston Group Properties and other brokerages here in the Treasure Valley are seeing a huge uptick in folks moving from the West Coast, Texas, and many states back East and the Mid-West. Our Ketchum office has seen a market change in the last couple of months from what was relatively higher inventory and lower demand, to a sharp increase in activity. Whether or not this is a short-term anomaly, or indicative of a longer-term change linked to COVID, the overall economic health of the area, or something else is presently hard to predict — so stay tuned.
What are the most desirable types of properties for both residential real estate and in residential construction right now?
It’s been interesting to see a transition and/or refinement of client preferences over the past several months — most of which have been directly related to the pandemic.
We are routinely seeing kids or parents moving closer to each other — families coming together again. With this, we’ve had more specific requests for larger, multi-generational homes than in the past, as well as smaller, low-maintenance, single-level homes for older parents who still prefer some distance and independence. A surprise has been the number of clients looking for acreage properties, expressing a longing for space, privacy and security.
Priorities are definitely changing a bit — home offices, two home offices, pet-friendly, more outdoor space, RV garage. Even pools are becoming more popular in Boise. Buyers often are less concerned about their commute time as many businesses have decided to allow employees to work from home permanently or several days a week. Young professionals seem to be less tied to specific metro areas and are coming here from bigger cities. Second homes seem to be in greater demand as our Sun Valley market is showing.
What, if anything, could ever slow down the Idaho residential real estate and construction market?
“Ever” is a long time, but the Idaho real estate market has been formidable for many years. The recent delayed spring market due to COVID is occurring now in the summer months, with appreciation ramping up substantially. Buyers are working with urgency to capture current low interest rates and making moves quicker than previously planned. However, most of us have learned that what goes up must come down, and many, including myself question the sustainability of the recent explosive growth in the market. While there are many positive market conditions, there are an equal number of events that could slow or even have a dramatic negative impact on it. The pandemic was largely unforeseen, and the short and long-term implications on the global and regional economy are yet to be fully understood. Coupled with an election year, there are many potential variables that will impact the health of our industry. Higher unemployment, loss of or downsizing of Idaho employers, mortgage defaults, health of the banking industry and stock market, and other factors too numerous to list all could have a bearing on this. During this time, perhaps more so than any other in my lifetime, I hope Idahoans remain safe and optimistic about the future, but are mindful that as the pandemic has reminded us, things can and do change.