Tips for Buying a Home During the Coronavirus Crisis
There are a lot of reasons you may want to purchase a house or condominium, houseboat or whatever you’re considering -- even now, while a global pandemic is in full gear and personal financial readiness is being tested.
Maybe you want to buy because mortgage rates are low.
Or, maybe you figure buying during a pandemic is a pretty good move because many people aren’t going to be in the mood to buy and sellers will be eager to work with you. And you may be right.
On the other hand:
Many sellers are likely holding off on selling, knowing that they can’t command the best price and are not wanting to search for a house themselves in the coronavirus craziness.
Whatever your reasons for buying a home in the midst of a global pandemic, it can definitely be done.
It tends to be easier if you’re already in the midst of buying a house as the wheels of motion have already begun turning.
But, even if you’re just starting the home buying process while everybody is sheltering in place, there’s no reason you have to put things off.
You’ll want to keep several things in mind.
If you’re in New York City, Detroit or New Orleans, at least at the time of this writing, you’re going to have a much tougher time buying a home than if you’re in a rural town in Texas or Wyoming.
Some parts of the country, as you know, are faring better than others, and that makes a difference in the real estate market.
Not that you can’t get the coronavirus in a rural town – you can – but in parts of the country that have had fewer cases (that we know of), people are going to be moving about a little more freely and a little less fearfully.
Shelter-in-place orders that could hamper your movement will likely be stricter in some of the hotspots as well.
You might also find that court buildings that have registries and deeds needed to record the sale of a house are closed.
Many counties have electronic property records, of course – but it is estimated that as much as a third of the country’s jurisdictions don’t.
Expect Coronavirus Confusion
The playbook is changing, and so don’t assume the normal way of buying a house is still the normal way.
“Ask your lender what obstacles might be in place as a result of the novel coronavirus,” says Brett Warren, director of residential mortgage lending for Hyperion Bank, which is headquartered in Philadelphia.
Some of the questions you might want to ask, Warren says, include:
- How are appraisals conducted in your area?
- How is the mortgage lender handling closings?
- Are local government recording offices open?
“These are all variable factors depending on the lender, geography, and more,” Warren says.
It also might help your stress levels later to recognize out the outset that nobody is quite an expert on the coronavirus yet.
The real estate professionals are trying to figure this out on the fly.
But what’s good for you is that the real estate industry wants to sell homes.
They want to work with you, even if it will, for the time being, be at least six feet away.
Expect to Spend a Lot of Time Online
That was true before COVID-19.
Even 20 years ago, when the internet was young but embraced by the real estate industry, you would have looked at a lot of homes online, pouring through photos and descriptions of homes.
You will likely spend a lot of time looking at homes from wherever you are sheltering in place. Do not expect to actually visit many of them.
“Agents are providing virtual tours, or a FaceTime walkthrough,” says Bill Golden, an independent real estate agent with RE/Max Around Atlanta Realty. Golden has been a Realtor for over 30 years.
He has seen it all – but nothing, of course, like this.
“Vacant houses are selling more quickly right now,” Golden says. “Many buyers don't want to walk through a house where people are living, and quite frankly, many sellers don't want them to. There are no more open houses or ‘just looking’ viewings.”
So if you’re not very familiar with FaceTime, Skype or Zoom, all video conferencing tools, you’ll want to start getting accustomed to using them.
Plan for the worst, hope for the best.
You want to be especially careful if, for instance, you need to be out of one home and in a new one by a particular date.
“Set reasonable goals for your closing date,” Warren advises. “When you want to close will have to balance with many other factors, including the availability of many people and processes.”
You’ve probably heard of homeowners who wind up selling their house and not being able to move into the new one because something went wrong at the last minute.
Suddenly they’re putting furniture and belongings into a storage unit and camping out at a hotel or at parents or the in-law’s home.
That could easily happen before the pandemic.
The odds of it happening now are better than ever.
Maybe Just One House Visit
This is the one that you truly believe you will buy.
“Actually walking through the house is sort of the last step,” Golden says of buying a home during the COVID-19 pandemic. “When they do walk through, there is usually a protocol set up -- masks, gloves, shoe covers and so on.”
“Many sellers are requiring that people coming through the home answer a questionnaire first, basically asking if someone wanting to tour the home has been exposed to the virus.”
Don’t Expect to Ever Meet the Seller
Welcome to the socially distant housing experience.
In the past, you might have met the owner of a home a few times and certainly at the closing, which historically has been an anxious and exciting time. It still will be, but with far fewer people.
“Closings are a whole different ball game,” Golden says. “We used to sit in one room with the attorney, the buyers, the sellers, the agents, and often the mortgage officers. Now the only people allowed to come are the principals -- buyers and sellers -- and they are not in the same room.”
Golden says that many attorneys are having clients sign papers in their cars in the parking lots.
You may wind up doing a virtual closing, Golden adds.
That would mean you are sent the paperwork, and you sign them on a video conference with the attorney.
The upside of this could come with the next house you buy, according to Golden.
“A silver lining of the pandemic may be that it will speed up evolution of some processes, like clearing the way for virtual closings to become the norm,” he says.
Golden says that it has been a shame, lately, where buyers aren’t meeting the sellers at all.
Be organized with questions
“Typically, during a closing, the buyer will ask the seller all kinds of questions about how things work in the house, or when the trash is picked up,” he says.
Because of that, Golden suggests that if you’re buying a house – and you won’t be meeting the seller – write down everything you can think of, all the answers you’d want to know before closing, and your real estate agent can send the questions to the buyer’s agent.
“I personally miss a lot of the face-to-face interaction, plus I think my buyers and sellers benefit from that human capital, but we gotta do what we gotta do during these challenging times,” Golden says.
And on the bright side:
If you manage to buy a home that you love, and if sheltering in place becomes the norm for a while, you will at least have a wonderful place to hunker down in, in the meantime.
You’ll also have an epic tale about how you managed to beat the odds and buy a house during the COVID-19 crisis.
And one of these days, when you’re allowed to throw a housewarming party, you’ll be able to tell it.