Inside the coronavirus epidemic’s impact on US real estate

When real estate broker Sunanne Zhu brought a group of Chinese clients to visit a Manhattan luxury apartment tower last week, the building’s staff had some concerns.

In the wake of the Chinese government’s decision to put the central city of Wuhan on lockdown, and following reports of coronavirus cases in Seattle and Chicago, many of the prospective renters — mostly international students — had taken the precaution of wearing medical face masks while in public.

“There was a bit of a misunderstanding, but we cleared it up quickly,” Zhu said. “In America, when you see someone with a face mask, you think it’s because they’re sick. But in our understanding, you wear a face mask to avoid getting infected by others.”

Such minor inconveniences aside, business has been booming as ever for Zhu and her brokerage, Quanti Corp, as students continue to flock to New York City and fill many of the city’s newest residential developments. But the future remains uncertain.

“Some students’ parents have really let their imaginations run wild,” Zhu said, as rumors have flown around on social media about potential travel restrictions and quarantines in recent weeks. “Like, ‘What if my child gets put in quarantine, and catches the virus there, and dies while I am unable to contact them?’”

On Sunday afternoon, the U.S. government imposed temporary travel restrictions on foreign nationals who have visited China within the past two weeks. U.S. citizens who have traveled to Hubei province, the center of the outbreak, are subject to quarantine while those who have travelled elsewhere in China are subject to monitored self-quarantine.

“Timing-wise, it was good for us that the outbreak happened during the winter,” Zhu’s business partner Lei Pan said, noting that the vast majority of students had managed to return from winter break — and Lunar New Year travels — prior to the introduction of travel restrictions.

Zhu added that while there had been some cases of Chinese students putting off plans to come to New York in the spring, concerns about coronavirus have occasionally had the opposite effect, as students and even their parents have decided to wait things out stateside instead of returning to the epicenter of the outbreak.

“But if the situation somehow persists until September, I think we could see business drop off by as much as 30 percent,” Lei said.

Health experts remain divided on the outbreak’s projected timeline, though less optimistic predictions estimate that it may peak in April or May.

They’re already gone

Meanwhile, for New York’s condo market, recent developments in China may simply confirm what has been common knowledge for some time — the once-booming market for mainland Chinese buyers has long died down, amid tight capital controls and trade tensions.

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Source: The Real Deal