We’re now well into the coronavirus pandemic, although some would say that this is just the beginning.
Either way, at the time of writing this, we’ve been quarantined for nearly a month and a half. Something none of us expected to happen this year.
Many of you had plans of buying a home this year too. Some of my own clients have put off their home search in lieu of the virus, and I respect and appreciate their decisions to do so.
But I want to make it known that it is, in fact, possible to buy a home during the coronavirus pandemic. Albeit, more difficult and confusing, it’s still possible.
You may also find a better deal. Odds are if someone is selling their home during a major pandemic, then they probably desperately need to sell their home.
In this article, I’m going to go over six steps you need to take in order to buy a home during the age of COVID-19.
The steps are:
- Understand Your Local Laws
- Figure Out If Your Lender Raised Their Requirements
- Contact a Real Estate Agent
- Use Virtual Tours
- Coordinating Inspections and Appraisals
- Closing During COVID-19
Let’s get started.
1. Understand Your Local Laws
If you’ve paid attention to the news lately (I don’t blame you if you haven’t), then you’ve probably seen protests taking shape across the nation. Some citizens are calling out their Governors for taking “stay-at-home” orders too far.
Whether you agree with the protestors or not, there are states that have imposed stricter rules than others.
For instance, my state of North Carolina was not strict, as real estate agents were considered an essential service almost immediately. However, my county, Buncombe, deemed real estate agents “nonessential” until April 9th, an extremely strict order.
Therefore, before you begin your home search, it’s necessary for you to start looking at your local laws.
Here are some things to check for:
- Are real estate agents essential in your state?
- Are real estate agents essential in your county/municipality?
- What are the rules regarding showings?
- Are real estate attorneys in your area open? (most are)
- What is going on with the title office?
Most of these questions can be answered by your real estate agent. So, if you can’t find all the information on your own, then they’re the ones to talk to.
2. Figure Out If Your Lender Raised Their Requirements
The Fed cut interest rates down to 0-0.25%. If this were any other time, it would be open season for buying homes. But since there is a global pandemic unlike anything seen since 1918, buyers like yourself are incredibly reluctant to go out in the open world and shop for homes.
Thus, the Fed’s plan to keep the mortgage market moving by slashing rates and encouraging home shoppers to keep buying has fallen short. Especially since sellers are reluctant to sell, as the new listings rate fell 15% by the end of March.
There have been reports across the United States stating lenders are raising their lending requirements to protect investments from those who may not be able to pay mortgage payments. This means you’ll want to keep in touch with your lender to make sure they are giving you the go-ahead when entering a contract to buy a home.
The last thing you want is to assume you’re preapproved because you received a prequalification letter from your lender prior to the outbreak, only to be shocked when the underwriters come back to report you’re no longer qualified, right before you close on a new home.
3. Contact a Real Estate Agent
I’ve said in other articles that you should have a Realtor lined up before you start searching for homes. Now, it’s even more essential that you do this.
For one, real estate transactions can be complicated on a normal day. Now, they’ve gotten even worse.
Depending on the brokerage the agent belongs to, they’ll have to include new documentation in all contracts and agreements going forward. Obviously, the new material can be confusing, especially when you’re trying to figure out what attaches to what.
Two, you’re most likely buzzing with questions about buying a home during the pandemic, on top of normal home buying questions.
You need to get these questions answered ahead of time. It’s going to be difficult navigating the shopping process while limiting contact with other people, including your Realtor.
And three, you need to be up to date. Real estate agents like me are getting hundreds of new emails every day, giving us new information from what seems like a billion different sources.
I’m getting new market data so that I can adjust my business position, new laws that affect closings, new addenda that I need to comprehend so that I know when to use it, best safety practice guidelines, etc.
To be perfectly honest with you. It’s a mess. An absolute mess.
But that’s also why you need to line up your agent before you shop. We’re the ones handling the mess for you.
4. Use Virtual Tours
The new age of real estate is upon us.
I’ve been talking about the digital transformation of real estate for a long time, but it seems like the COVID-19 pandemic will push it faster.
Instead of getting an idea of a home based on its pictures, we can now go farther with a virtual tour. I wrote an article about virtual tours and staging that you can read here if you’re interested.
Virtual tours do a few things well:
- Allow you to view homes as if you’re there, from your computer screen.
- Avoids contact entirely.
- It can help sell homes quicker.
While the third one does not permit to you as a buyer, it does imply that it works well in attracting buyers.
The first two reasons are lifesavers (literally) in times like now. You get the opportunity to view an unlimited number of homes from your computer screen and completely cut out the need for physical contact.
While sure, not every home has these capabilities quite yet, which does damper your selection on top of an already limited market. It’s still better than nothing.
If you would like to see all of the current active listings in Asheville, North Carolina that feature a virtual tour, then you click here for access to our free search tool.
5. Coordinating Inspections and Appraisals
There’s a wide range of items you can inspect on a property.
Coordinating these inspections usually has no problems. Nowadays, it might be a little more challenging.
You usually need the cooperate with the sellers when getting inspections, but now you’re going to need further cooperation.
It’s best if the sellers disinfect the home before allowing the inspectors inside. This will reduce the chance that COVID-19 spreads if it happened to find its way on the property.
There are also some home inspectors offering “remote inspections”. A process where the inspector comes to the home alone and reports findings and results with both parties via video conference.
Because different states have different inspection guidelines and processes, I can’t comment too much on them. It’s important that you seek guidance from your real estate agent.
As for appraisals, they’re generally required by your lender. However, due to the coronavirus, the Federal Housing Finance Authority has instructed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to temporarily allow exterior-only appraisals or desktop appraisals during the COVID-19 crisis.
This could increase the amount of time it takes for appraisers to place a value on homes, since they’ll have to rely more on the research they gather from public records and other datapoints.
6. Closing During COVID-19
At the end of March, closing times averaged 60 days from the time an offer is accepted, an increase from 43 days in February and 26 days in January.
In the last three months, the time to close on a home has more than doubled. A staggering statistic.
The holdups have been attributed to a higher volume of refinancing applications, which goes back to the historically low interest rates we talked about earlier.
Furthermore, some title offices are closed, and attorney offices are having to abide by a 10-person per space rule in most areas.
This makes it extremely challenging to actually close on a house.
The saving grace could be the option of using virtual closings, where the whole process is done online via video call. However, it’s not permissible in all states just yet.
What most are doing is simply having each party take turns at the attorney’s office. One goes in as the other comes out. This works because most closings are private sessions for each party anyway.
Another good practice is to leave out anyone who isn’t needed to be present at closing. This means real estate agents should stay away because they’re usually not required to be at the closing session.
It isn’t great, but its necessary to limit contact.
Once again, the art of your closing will be based on state and local laws. Ask your real estate agent for guidance and make sure everyone in the transaction is communicating routinely.
If you’ve found a home via virtual tour, entered a contract with the sellers, moved past the due diligence period safely, and closed. Congratulations.
You’ve made it through one of the hardest times to buy a home in history.
My main message is that it’s still possible to buy a home right now. In fact, it might be one of the best times to buy homes economically-speaking, as sellers are going to be more willing to give a discount and mortgage rates are at all-time lows.
But regardless of the monetary value of a home right now. What’s most important is that you stay safe.
If at any point you feel unsafe while buying a home, it’s okay to wait. You’ll have another opportunity to buy later down the road.
The economy can recover, lost lives cannot.