Housting report

Houston rent prices rise as COVID-19 impacts local housing market

Houston rents actually rose in May. Sky Noir Photography by Bill Dickinson/Getty Images

The impact of COVID-19 has not been lost on the Houston housing market, with home sales dipping and rents rising. Here's a look at the current landscape.

Rising rents

In May, single-family home leases were up a solid 12 percent, notes the Houston Board of Realtors. This coincided with rising Houston rents.

According to Abodo's report, the median rent for a one-bedroom unit rose 0.51 percent month-over-month to $1,179, while two-bedroom rents gained 1.24 percent to a median $1,466. While one month's numbers don't necessarily mean a rental price spike, instead of Houston experiencing a COVID-19 price recession, we are currently seeing the opposite.

There are a number of reasons that trend could change, however. First, like potential homebuyers, would-be renters may want to stay safe and out of unfamiliar buildings. There is also anecdotal evidence that some apartment shoppers are worried about COVID-19 spreading in big complexes, and therefore the sprawling apartment complex market may be more negatively impacted than duplexes or other small housing uniques.

Dipping sales

"Houston home sales fell for a second straight month in May as the impact of COVID-19 and related stay-at-home orders continued to play out throughout the market," said the Houston Association of Realtors in its May report. "Homes in every pricing category suffered losses, with the steepest declines at the low and high ends of the market. Homes priced below $100,000 dropped more than 37 percent while those priced above $750,000 plunged more than 56 percent. Year-to-date sales are now running 4.3 percent behind 2019's record pace."

That's grim news, and even though mortgage rates are at record lows — good credit can get you a 15-year loan at 2.94 percent — many potential buyers are staying put. Conversely, some sellers are taking their homes off the market because of COVID-19 concerns.

Going virtual

While virtual tours and property management scheduling and showing tools are helping stay-at-home buyers make some purchasing decisions, very few will make a major home purchase without a careful in-person viewing. In addition, many sellers might struggle with the concept of selling their homes online.

However, renters are open to finding a new place virtually. Research from Abodo shows that "more than 60 percent of renters said that coronavirus has negatively impacted their apartment search. Additionally, 30 percent of renters surveyed stated they'd prefer photos and floorplans in a virtual manner, while pre-recorded videos of units (27 percent), and live personalized unit tours (21 percent) rounded out the pressing desires of renters."

Advances made now in virtual apartment shopping will have a market effect long past the current pandemic, and landlords would be well advised to adding virtual tour capabilities now.

Looking ahead

Some buyers and renters are staying on the sidelines waiting for a market crash, while others are gearing up for a steady recovery. As the pandemic continues, however, Abodo expects the Houston real estate and apartment rental economic activity to be stagnate at best.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

UH has found a way to instantly zap COVID-10. Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images

While the world rushes to find a COVID-19 vaccine, scientists from the University of Houston have found a way to trap and kill the virus — instantly.

The team has designed a "catch and kill" air filter that can nullify the virus responsible for COVID-19. Researchers reported that tests at the Galveston National Laboratory found 99.8 percent of the novel SARS-CoV-2 — which causes COVID-19 — was killed in a single pass through the filter.

Zhifeng Ren, director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH, collaborated with Monzer Hourani, CEO of Medistar, a Houston-based medical real estate development firm, plus other researchers to design the filter, which is described in a paper published in Materials Today Physics.

Researchers were aware the virus can remain in the air for about three hours, which required a filter that could quickly remove it. The added pressure of businesses reopening created an urgency in controlling the spread of the virus in air conditioned spaces, according to UH.

Meanwhile, to scorch the virus — which can't survive above around 158 degrees Fahrenheit — researchers instilled a heated filter. By blasting the temperature to around 392 F, they were able to kill the virus almost instantly.

The filter also killed 99.9 percent of the anthrax spores, according to researchers.

A prototype was built by a local workshop and first tested at Ren's lab for the relationship between voltage/current and temperature; it then went to the Galveston lab to be tested for its ability to kill the virus. Ren says it satisfies the requirements for conventional heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

"This filter could be useful in airports and in airplanes, in office buildings, schools and cruise ships to stop the spread of COVID-19," said Ren, MD Anderson Chair Professor of Physics at UH and co-corresponding author for the paper, in a statement. "Its ability to help control the spread of the virus could be very useful for society."

Medistar executives are also proposing a desk-top model, capable of purifying the air in an office worker's immediate surroundings, Ren added.

Developers have called for a phased roll-out of the device, with a priority on "high-priority venues, where essential workers are at elevated risk of exposure — particularly schools, hospitals and health care facilities, as well as public transit environs such as airplanes."

The hope, developers add, is that the filter will protect frontline workers in essential industries and allow nonessential workers to return to public work spaces.

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