Though leasing on vacant apartments was down in early 2020, realtors are beginning to see the number of signed leases rise.
“People started having difficulty probably in March,” said Julie Knight, a local realtor for Howard Hanna. “The leasing market in the real estate division stopped 100%.”
On March 10, West Virginia University announced that classes would be temporarily suspended following spring break. This left thousands of students residing outside West Virginia in the dark about whether classes would be returning to campus in the fall.
“In the last three to five years, all of my properties have been full by December of the previous year,” Knight said. “This year I did not fill up my properties until May. In January of this year, I had seven apartments left available and 22 left available at another.”
“It absolutely went down right when COVID happened, but we’re actually getting way more traffic than we have in the previous months,” a leasing agent at Morgantown's Copper Beech Townhomes said. “Things are kind of firing back up again. With the school announcing that they are opening classes back up, people are looking for housing again.”
In Knight’s case, though student leasing is back on the rise, non-student Morgantown residents are still having trouble. “Student housing has actually picked up, but family leasing has not," Knight said. “The people who are calling who are not students, I have not heard from.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, from January to March of this year, West Virginia saw its unemployment rate shoot up from 5% to 15.9%. The last time unemployment got that high was 1984 — 36 years ago.
“When you are a family and you have to rent,” Knight said, “[you have to] put down a security deposit, first month’s rent, and do credit and background checks all during this time. I don’t think that people have the liquid money right now to get into a lease.”