In September of 1930, less than a year after a stock market crash triggered the Great Depression, Las Vegas’ sleepy real estate scene got a bit of a jolt.
The market made a “substantial” move, with “six actual deals” reported in a week as people went from shopping to buying in the small desert outpost, the Las Vegas Evening Review-Journal told readers.
Today, Southern Nevada and the rest of the country are mired in another economic disaster. Real estate sales haven’t completely dried up amid skyrocketing job losses sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, but the normally busy spring selling season has hit the brakes — and industry pros can only hope for a boost of their own.
A total of 1,971 previously owned single-family homes — the bulk of the market — traded hands in April, down 28.5 percent from March, and owners put 2,516 houses up for sale, down 30.2 percent, according to trade association Las Vegas Realtors.
The homebuilding market, which typically has more expensive offerings overall than the resale trade, as well as fewer sales, shrank even faster.
Southern Nevada builders signed 459 sales contracts last month, down 56 percent from March, according to Las Vegas-based Home Builders Research.
The housing market has been helped by sliding mortgage rates that have lowered homeowners’ borrowing costs. But buyers and sellers are pulling back, and it’s unclear when the market will regain its footing.
Nevada’s soaring job losses have greatly depleted the pool of potential buyers, and no one knows when the economy — especially the Strip — will fully reopen after it rapidly shut down in March to help contain the virus’s spread.
RCG Economics founder John Restrepo, a local consultant, estimated a week or so ago that Las Vegas’ unemployment rate had ballooned to about 25 percent to 30 percent.
Despite the chaos, there were some bright spots in the housing market recently.
Builders’ weekly sales pipeline ticked higher after a sharp nosedive, and cancellations on the resale market fell about 11 percent year-over-year in April, after nearly doubling in March.
Gov. Steve Sisolak is allowing some businesses to reopen, albeit in limited scope. But the longer Las Vegas’ main source of jobs, the Strip, stays a ghost town, don’t expect a big burst of real estate action anytime soon.
We may even celebrate six deals as a great week.