Stuck day and night in their homes, a surprising number of Americans are deciding the pandemic is a great time to upgrade.

That’s how it looks to Lee Whitaker, vice president of Pacesetter Homes. After the coronavirus shutdown, the small Texas homebuilder braced for the worst. And it came: Business plunged in April. Then in May, something unexpected happened. Sales were 30% above the company’s own pre-crisis forecast for the month.

Many owners of existing homes aren’t selling, which often makes builders like Pacesetter the best source of inventory. Mortgage rates are at record lows. And some house shoppers are saying if they have to be home more, it might as well be a bigger space.

“We’re all doing pretty well right now and we’re all, quite frankly, very surprised,” Whitaker said.

Pacesetter executives are adapting to the new realities: Instead of an open floor plan, maybe some buyers will want Zoom rooms or home classrooms, Whitaker said. Across the industry, companies are using virtual showings and no-contact closings to keep deals flowing.

New-home sales, a relatively small piece of the market, posted a surprise gain last month, and stocks of homebuilders have surged in recent weeks. That’s fueling optimism that the housing market, which was set for a hot spring season before freezing up when the virus hit, is bouncing back faster than expected.

“Housing has followed V shaped recovery, no questions asked -- as quickly as it fell, it’s coming back,” said Ali Wolf, chief economist at Meyers Research. “But there are still major risks.”

It’s hard to say how long the apparent recovery will last. Signs are mixed. Contracts to buy existing homes plunged 22% in April to a record low. But applications for purchase loans, which have gained for six straight weeks, are now back to early-March levels, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree, is skeptical about the recovery. The housing market can’t boom with an economy that’s already lost 40 million jobs, he said.

“I think there’s trouble ahead,” Kapfidze said. “I wouldn’t say housing is back. We’ve had some interesting months, but let’s see how it sustains itself.”

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