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Homesellers appear to pull back from the Boston-area market amid coronavirus

A new report shows a sharp decline in the number of new listings for the metro area—what might it mean for prices?

A row of three-story houses close together. Shutterstock

The number of new home listings in the Boston area was down 26.2 percent from March 1 to April 5 compared with the same period last year, suggesting that the novel coronavirus pandemic has dented sellers’ desire to put their condos and houses on the sales market and further reduced the already famously tight inventory available to buyers.

Listings and research site Zillow compiled data for metros across the country using its own database. The compilation found that new listings in Greater Boston were down not only since March 1—about two weeks before the pandemic began to disrupt the region in so many ways—but 46.6 percent for the year to April 5 compared with the same span in 2019.

To put the 26.2 percent March decline in perspective, there are typically 105.6 percent more new listings from the start of March to early April in the Boston area. That’s because the spring market is traditionally its busiest time of year for homebuying. Sellers dive in.

Perhaps not this year, though. While closings sailed along even after the pandemic was declared in mid-March, the newest listings data suggests that that sales might just drop off a cliff for the early spring at least. So does a recent report from the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, which showed a more than 17 percent decline in the number of pending condo sales statewide for March.

Whether this rockiness continues past April is anyone’s guess.

“It is possible that this year’s busy home-shopping season is pushed into winter as some opt to hang back, but activity continues from those who need to buy or sell for a job move or another major life event,” Skylar Olsen, Zillow’s senior principal economist, said in an email. “What’s not likely is that the bulk of potential homesellers and buyers simply throw up their hands and pull back from the market entirely.”

There is one sign in the newest data that suggests some semblance of a normal sales pace through the early spring. The number of total listings—new and otherwise—in the Boston area was up 7 percent from March 1 to April 5 compared with the same time in 2019.

Plus, the inventory of available homes in the Boston area has long been tight, leaving buyers to compete that much harder and driving prices that much higher. And those prices have stayed high, at least into the early part of 2020. Will the pandemic and its vast economic fallout dent those? That’s the big question. Stay tuned.