Are they looky-loos stuck at home because of the coronavirus pandemic, or genuine buyers temporarily sidelined but still ready to make an offer on a house? Zillow (NASDAQ:Z) isn't sure, but it says page views for homes for sale surged in mid-April, rising above their levels a year ago.
Although those numbers took an understandable plunge in mid-March after the COVID-19 outbreak reached true pandemic proportions and stay-at-home orders were put in place by state and local governments across the country, they've rallied since. However, the housing market outlook remains deeply uncertain because unemployment is soaring, and mortgage applications for new home purchases have tumbled.
A virtual house tour
The online real estate data provider said that as of March 22, listing page views had tumbled by 19% country-wide, with some markets such as Philadelphia and Detroit plummeting 30% or more. While it wasn't surprising that views sank sharply in cities like New York -- the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak -- other big-city markets like Los Angeles saw more muted declines.
Almost one month later, however, and page views in most markets have more than recovered, with totals 18% higher. Las Vegas is up 45% from last year, San Antonio is up 45%, and L.A. is 32% higher.
Even the hardest-hit areas have mostly bounced back, though some of their page views remain lower year over year. New York is down just 2%, Boston is 4% lower, and Philadelphia is down 9%. Views in some areas remain significantly depressed, though, with Detroit and Pittsburgh still down 15%.
However, Zillow admits it can't be sure about what's causing the rebound: It could be either "optimistic buyers hoping to get an early jump on their plans as soon as restrictions are lifted, or simply from aspirational viewers stuck at home and seeking an escape through real estate."
In either case, with the U.S. unemployment rate above 15% this week, those higher page view counts do not indicate that people are taking a positive view of the economy.