Stay-at-home and Grand Rapids' Spring Real Estate Market

With real estate restrictions set to ease up tomorrow, May 7, I thought it might be interesting to take a look back and see how the stay-at-home restrictions announced March 23 have affected our local market.

The big picture

Overall, market activity has been significantly reduced compared to the same period in the previous year.

While there are fewer listing on the market than there would normally be at this time, those listings are selling slightly faster than in previous months, indicating there is still interest from homebuyers.

What has been restricted

Real Estate showings have been disallowed under the order and so have the activities of professional photographers.

Professional home inspections have been allowed to continue, and inspectors can allow buyers to attend the home inspections.

Practically, this means that sellers have been taking their own photos for their listings, and buyers have been writing offers site unseen, and using the home inspection as their chance to walk through the home for the first time.

How was our April market? — what the data show

April is the first full month in which real estate restrictions have been in place. We’ve seen flat-to-lower total active and sold listings compared to previous months.

Total Active and Sold listings each month. Greater Grand Rapids area. Source: MichRIC

However, because real estate is seasonal and typically ramps up in springtime, it’s important to compare this to the previous year’s data. To wit, active listings were reduced by 35% compared to April 2019, and sold listings were down 32%.

While the number of homes sold was lower, the median sale price was about 3% higher than April 2019.

Additionally, average market times were shorter, meaning the average home sold faster than previous months. Average market time for April 2020 was 32 days, compared to 40 days in April 2019.

Average days on market. Greater Grand Rapids area. Source: MichRIC

In other words, while the “inventory,” or how many homes we have for sale, has contracted, the interest in purchasing remains relatively high. Even with the restrictions in place that prevent touring a house before making an offer, the homes that are for sale right now are selling.

What does the future have in store?

Economic forecasters from the National Association of Realtors have been optimistic, more or less predicting a return to business as usual. Take that as you will.

I think it’s safe to assume some potential sellers have held off listing their home during the stay-at-home period, knowing buyers would be unable to tour the home.

The calculation being made on the seller’s part would be that some buyers are just not going to be willing to write them an offer based on photos only. Additionally, they have a higher likelihood of a buyer walking away after a home inspection since that’s the first time the buyer has seen the house. They could attract more interest and potentially a better, more serious offer by waiting for a bit.

Therefore, it seems likely to me that we will see an increase in new listings after May 7 — at which point showings will be allowed again — sort of a “catching up” period similar to the increase in listing activity that usually follows winter. Mortgage interest rates remain low, which encourages homebuying and, indirectly, selling.

What remains to be seen, I think, is how uncertainty around income and job prospects will affect buyers’ purchasing power. Shelter is essential, though, as everyone needs a good place for their family to live.

Whatever the outcome, I hope people’s homebuying and selling decisions will be in the interest of what’s best for them. And that is what I am here to promote.

So if you’d like some professional advice or even just a sounding board for your specific situation, call me on my cell. I’m happy to hear from you.

All of the data shown in this post pertains to the greater Grand Rapids area market, but it’s very easy for me to run local stats. If you are curious about your specific neighborhood, I’m happy to run those numbers for you.

Spring Outdoor Activities

The weather is starting to warm up and with that come many seasonal activities. Now is a better time than any to add some of these to your calendar.


When to plant depends on what you want to plant. The Old Farmer’s Almanac estimates May 4th is Grand Rapids’ last frost date and they have some great planting guides on their website as well.

I’ve heard conflicting information on restrictions on the sale of seeds at hardware stores, so I called up my local hardware store (not big box; less than 50,000 sqft) and they said they are open and selling everything.

If you’re having trouble finding a place, call or text me and I’ll be glad to tell you which one. But generally I can say that some hardware stores are selling seeds and the best way to know is to call ahead. I’m not sure what the situation will be with starts, but if you’re able to start some seeds indoors, this would be a great year to give it a shot.

Morel Hunting

Image credit: Wikipedia

If you’re already going for a walk in the woods, why not scan the ground for some morels on your way?

From This Michigan Life:

The season begins as early as mid-April in the southern Lower Peninsula and can run as late at mid-June in the Upper Peninsula. Weather is a big factor in determining when the mushrooms sprout. Ideally, they need daytime temperatures above 50 degrees and night time temperatures above 40. They like moisture, so a few days after a warm spring rain is a good time to look for them.

Though many people keep their favorite spots a secret, it’s fairly well known that the DNR keeps track of large burn sites on public lands, which tends to create good conditions for these mushrooms.

Keeps in mind morels must be cooked prior to eating. They can be dried for storage, which some argue improves the flavor on reconstitution as well.

As always with wild mushrooms, make sure you’re absolutely positive about your identification. It’s also a good practice to eat a small amount if it’s your first time trying a new mushroom and keep a little on hand for identification if you don’t feel well after eating.

Spring Turkey and Fishing Seasons

Spring Turkey season officially began April 18, and extra licenses are still available for the May 1 — May 31 hunt on private land. (The DNR’s HAP program makes it easy to access private lands for hunting.) And the DNR is letting folks print licenses at home so you don’t have to wait for it to come in the mail.

Many of the catch-and-keep fishing seasons will start soon as well. Check out the DNR’s 2020 Fishing season guidelines. Though if you would normally take motorized watercraft out, be mindful of the local restrictions in place.

. . .

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

(Excerpt from) Song of Myself — Walt Whitman

How well can YOU estimate sale prices on the spot? Pretty well, actually!

Sometimes I’m asked to ballpark a home’s value on the spot — and I usually decline because this is pretty hard to do accurately without looking at the data.

Nonetheless, some folks are perplexed by this refusal. “Isn’t that what you do for a living, Ian?” they ask. How unfair!

So last year I devised a game to turn the tables on you and make YOU guess some home prices on the spot. Only it turns out many of you are actually pretty good at it.

Next year I’m bringing sunglasses!

The rules are as follows:

  • Look at three flyers of homes that sold within the last year. The prices and addresses have been removed, but you’ll get a sense for general area of the home, size and style, and some other pertinent info that would factor into the value.
  • The person who guesses closest to the combined value of all three homes wins.
  • As added visual help, a jar of gumballs represents the value of the winning answer. Each gumball represents $1000, and the combined value of the gumballs is the same as the combined value of the properties.

Here are snippets of the three flyers I brought with me:

I unveiled this game at my table at Kielbasa Idol — a great West Side event which I recommend everyone attend who can make it. It’s put on by the Knights of Columbus every June and features great kielbasa tastings from the local meat markets and live polka music.


Of the 43 guessers who stepped up to the table, 10 entrants (23%) were within $50,000. Three of you were within $12,000.

The closest guess was only $1,400 off. The second closest was $1,600 away.

Keep in mind this is evaluating three very different properties — so the potential margin of error is a triple threat. And this is being done without any comparable sale data, without being able to see the interior and without a drive around the neighborhood.

I’m very impressed.

Not bad, Grand Rapidians!

P.S. While we’re on the subject: I’m always happy to prepare an estimate of your home’s value any time you’d like, even if you’re not planning to move right now and just want to satisfy your curiosity. It helps me keep my skills sharp.

The best way to request this is to call, text or email me. Contact info here.

Dear reader: I hope you will enjoy this blog.

Launching a blog like this is something I’ve wanted to do since I began my career in real estate, and the unusual times we’re in have created an opportunity to get started.

If you know me personally, you might know I used to be a newspaper reporter. Half a decade ago I spent my days at a desk writing hundreds of articles about life in Southwest Florida.

Though I don’t miss every aspect of newspaper, certain aspects of writing — the creative challenge, storytelling — I have missed a lot.

The primary topics I intend to cover are:

  • Personal updates and stories
  • Real estate and Grand Rapids news
  • My hobbies

My goal is to create some light, enjoyable and informative reading you’ll look forward to.

I hope to soon offer a way for you to subscribe to updates via email. And I will publish links to my Facebook page so you can hit the like button there to see updates.

Thanks for chicken it out!
Ian Ross

Ian Ross



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