Despite the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, life goes on. Babies are born, accidents happen, meals are shared and houses are bought and sold.
Conrad Pickett, president of the Greater El Paso Association of Realtors, said El Paso’s housing market remains resilient as nearly every industry is impacted by the pandemic and related closures.
Education goes a long way, Pickett said, and it’s the task of Realtors to help buyers and sellers be fully informed about their decisions during these weird times.
“It’s kind of the cliché American dream, to own a home. But we advise clients as much as we possibly can,” Pickett said. “Our advice impacts their decision-making, so it’s important we’re knowledgeable in what we’re talking about.”
Pickett, 29, is the son of former Texas state Rep. Joe Pickett, who retired at the end of 2018. He’s a graduate of Eastwood High School, El Paso Community College and Austin Community College, and spent a few years living in Austin before returning to El Paso.
He’s also the youngest GEPAR president in the group’s 104-year history.
Pickett has taken after his dad and is an avid vintage car collector, with a special eye for Volkswagen buses and bugs. Outside his dad’s compound on the Eastside is a reconstructed Texaco gas station and inside a collection of vintage vehicles.
“The apple definitely did not fall far from the tree with that one,” Pickett said. “I walk like my dad, I sound like him when I clear my throat. He always made sure I was the one working out at the yard and turning the wrenches.”
Pickett spent an hour talking to El Paso Inc. last week about El Paso’s housing trends, the new normal for Realtors and the bonds he’s built with his dad and daughter.
Q: Talk to us about your job as a Realtor and as GEPAR president. What are your roles?
As a Realtor, my No. 1 priority is the fiduciary duty to the client. We try to help them make decisions as far as investing in real estate.
It’s something I do miss with all this quarantine stuff. Realtors give good handshakes; we get hugs from families. I do miss that personal touch. They aren’t even going to the closings right now.
As GEPAR president, it’s more to represent our members. We have about 2,400 members and a board of directors. Any concern that a Realtor might have, they can bring it up with the board. My job is to speak for the members. We have a president-elect, treasurer, and you work your way up.
It took me five years to get there. I knew that was what I wanted to do. I’m here to represent you as a Realtor. Whatever decisions are made at GEPAR affects me as well. It helps a lot when you know the business.
Q: What was El Paso’s real estate market looking like right before all this hit, and what’s it look like now?
In 2008 and 2009, there was the (housing market) crash. Everybody was affected across the country. Some people got out of the business. But during that time, Juárez and Mexico were having their troubles, so people were coming across the border and purchasing homes in El Paso. The housing market was never really affected, maybe just a dent.
That’s what I see happening now. People are still buying houses. Real estate is considered an essential business. We also have a huge military population here in El Paso, and people need to get in and out of homes.
Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing mandates affected the way you show houses?
I think it’s going to be the future of our business. We’re doing a lot of virtual tours; a lot of cleaning before and after showing. We’re practicing social distancing.
I use WhatsApp for clients that are out of town. You can take a video, show them around the house. We’ve used Zoom for a long time now.
If a client doesn’t want their house to be shown during this pandemic, we won’t show it. If they say yes, then there are things we can do to keep going.
Title companies, I saw one do an outside closing the other day. Before COVID-19, you go into the office, sign the paperwork and you’re done.
Now it’s getting a little more interesting. They have the plastic tent set up, you get your own pen and nothing is touched twice. We’re still rocking and rolling with real estate.
Q: How does this crisis differ from the housing crisis in 2008?
A buyer should be educated, and that’s why we encourage them to call a Realtor. If they’re educated, they’re going to know they’re going to need some savings. There are forbearance programs and things like that, but you will have to pay it back eventually.
If you’re working with a buyer and they end up getting furloughed, you’d probably advise them to stop looking at homes. It’s very unfortunate, but it’s the hard truth. The education part is super important on the Realtor’s end.
Q: Are you seeing any dips related to COVID-19?
Data talks a lot, but I’ll tell you my gut feeling is no, there won’t be a dip yet. I think we need to analyze what’s going on with the governor’s statements and orders. I think it’s going to be about another six months if there were to be a dip.
Q: What’s your advice for someone looking to buy or sell a home now?
First, they need to get prequalified. Some buyers will look at a house, love it but can’t afford it. It’s also going to be a little bit different, because we have to stay away from each other. I actually have a little kit in my car to clean everything after we show a house.
Be prepared for it to be shown a lot more. When you’re buying and selling, you sometimes run into other people looking at one house. We’ve been scheduling everybody separately. If I have three people that want to see a house on Saturday, we have to schedule them one on one.
The seller has to prepare to not be home for a while, and for cleanliness. Our goal is not to spread COVID-19; it’s everybody’s goal. If we can help with that, then we’ve done our job.
We don’t want to worry, but we also don’t want to be too laid back. With the pandemic going on, make sure you have the masks, the gloves, the Lysol, travel in different vehicles.
When we list a house, we try to prepare it for the buyer to come in and be amazed. We want that same feeling. If we can provide that to the buyer at this time, it’s going to help a lot.
Right before this started, I showed a house and they had cookies out for us. My client got a cookie, and it was very sweet. Can you imagine doing that now? Absolutely not. Things like that have changed.
Q: Do you think this will reshape El Paso’s growth patterns?
Definitely not. El Paso is one of the largest border towns in the world. We have people from China, Russia, people coming here for business. We have our military here, so we will keep growing.
Realtors are pushing the Census hard right now, because we need to get a correct count. If that happens, then we get money. We get money for roads and all sorts of stuff. If we could get a complete count of everyone in El Paso, I think it would help us grow even more. I know there’s well over a million people in the El Paso area.
Fort Bliss is helping us. We have subdivisions going up left and right still. Horizon is getting a new movie theater. Westside by Transmountain is still building, with the brand new hospital right there. I don’t see it affecting us.
Q: What does El Paso’s housing market look like right now in terms of data?
The active median list price is $185,000, more or less. The sold median price, as of April 20, was $164,000.
The number of active listings as of April 20 is just over 2,800. That’s absolutely ridiculous.
By April 20, we had 672 sold. That’s 22.4 closings in 30 days. It’s a little bit less than in March. From February to March, we had 741. March to April we had 672. We have a 97.7% sale to original list price ratio.
For average days on the market, January to February was 78. From February to March, it was 79. And from March to April, 77. So we’re losing days on market.
Our sold volume was $174.2 million.
Q: What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I’m super into vintage Volkswagens. I’m into the buses, bugs, all those vintage VWs. I have a two-year-old daughter and she has me completely wrapped around her finger.
It’s sad, because we can’t go to the park or a pool or whatever. But that’s all I know outside of work.
Q: What was it like growing up with a state rep as your dad and now that he’s retired?
My dad and I have become very good friends over the past two years. We’ve completed a commercial project, and we built three 37,050 square foot buildings ourselves over two years. That really brought us together.
After his retirement, it was kind of weird. I grew up with my dad working in Austin. He was never around; he had to go work. I will never, ever hold that against him because of what he did for this town and for the state of Texas. I admire him for the sacrifices he had to make for the state and for El Paso.
Once he retired it was weird, because he was home. We were prepared for him to be gone again. It was so weird having dad here, even at 27 years old. I felt like a kid, like, ‘Oh my God, my dad is home.’
He’s put me in charge of everything. I drive the fire trucks in the parades, I’m cleaning and turning wrenches on the cars.
I have a collection of my own VWs, and he’s started collecting VWs. The car thing brushed off on me, and then flipped around and my love for VW went on him. He’d see the cars I was buying and say that’s awesome. He’d turn around and buy a cooler one than mine.
My daughter completely admires him. She calls him Joe, not grandpa or papa. It’s just Joe.
I want to help my community; I want to help the people I serve. Without getting into politics, I figured this would be the best way to do it. I’ll get on other boards eventually, but for me being this young and having a passion for helping people, this was my route to go.
I admire what he did. He’ll probably have a comeback one day, but we will see.