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The housing market is booming even though the pandemic has caused the steepest plunge into a recession on record. Millions of people are out of work. The economic outlook is not at all clear. And yet it's a seller's market. Home prices have hit a record high. NPR's Chris Arnold explains.
CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Caroline Wells and her husband had been working remotely from home in San Antonio, Texas, while trying to ride herd on their two young kids. The house has basically no yard, and it's on a busy street, so she says there's no sending the kids outside to play.
CAROLINE WELLS: Probably the worst moment was when I was actually on a focus group that my company put on to hear the needs of parents.
ARNOLD: The Zoom call kept freezing because everybody in the house was on the Wi-Fi at the same time, including her 6-year-old son, who was hiding out in a fort made of blankets and chairs in the living room.
WELLS: I had to crawl into the fort to get him off the Internet, had to end up finishing the Zoom call on my cellphone in the closet with the door locked on the floor. And I was like, I can't even get through a focus group about how hard it is to work from home because it's so hard to work from home. So that's when I was just like, I can't do this.
ARNOLD: That right there is a big part of what's driving home sales right now. A lot of people want more space. Wells and her family started looking at houses in the suburbs. They offered over asking and still got outbid on the first one that they liked. But they found another, and they're buying it. It's on a quiet cul de sac with a big yard for the kids.
WELLS: So hopefully a lot easier for them to just run out their energy because they're just - we're just putting on movie after movie to keep them entertained so we could work.
ARNOLD: Lawrence Yun is the chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.
LAWRENCE YUN: The home sales are quite remarkable given that we are still in the midst of the global pandemic.
ARNOLD: It's another sign of what a strange recession this is. Millions of Americans are out of work and in really desperate financial shape. But many others are working remotely and saving a lot of money because they're not spending it on restaurants or plane tickets for vacation. Home sales have come roaring back after falling sharply when the pandemic first hit. And Yun says there are now more homes being sold than at this time last year.
YUN: Definitely the record-low mortgage rate is helping.
ARNOLD: Home ownership rates for African Americans and Latinos fell sharply after the housing crash back a decade ago, but Yun says they've now been rising again. Cesar Escobar is a housing counselor in Chicago at the Northwest Side Housing Center. It's a nonprofit that offers home buying classes.
CESAR ESCOBAR: We have a lot of minorities in our neighborhood. It's a lot of bungalows, homes, a lot of apartments. And, like, once you have a family, this is a good neighborhood to live in.
ARNOLD: And Escobar says the Zoom call home buying classes are full, and the desire to stop paying rent to a landlord and become a homeowner is alive and well.
ESCOBAR: If I'm paying this much in rent, might as well just buy a house. So they want to build their equity. They want to have something in their name or for their kids.
ARNOLD: Because so many people are trying to refinance or buy a house, the mortgage system can actually get overloaded right now. That's caused a snag for Caroline Wells and her family in San Antonio. She and her husband don't want to close on the new house until they sell the old one. And the people buying the old one, their loan's been stuck in a backlog for weeks. Wells and her family have moved out. They've put stuff in storage, and now they're stranded living at a hotel.
WELLS: Every day is like another sad text or call from our realtor - no news, guys, like, so sorry; lots of sleepless nights, lots of wondering if it's all worth it but trying to be hopeful.
ARNOLD: And the hope paid off. Wells tells us the sale just went through, and they can move into their new house. So the kids can build a new fort, this time in the backyard. Chris Arnold, NPR News.
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