Lauren Nowacki10-Minute Read
PUBLISHED: April 04, 2020
Read more on our COVID-19 Resource Guide.
It’s safe to say that the coronavirus has upended our lives in more ways than one. And with businesses temporarily shutting down, people asked to stay at home and a virus that is easily passed from person to person, it has certainly changed the real estate industry and the business of buying and selling homes.
You’ll notice that we said “changed,” not “stopped.”
With social distancing measures put in place and shelter-in-place orders created in many states, many are wondering “Can you buy a house during COVID-19?” In short, the answer is yes. However, this situation is unique and requires new resources, more patience and greater ingenuity to pull off. Read on to learn how social distancing is affecting the home buying process for buyers and sellers and how to successfully buy and sell a home during COVID-19.
Social distancing is purposefully creating space between yourself and others to stop the spread of illness. In the case of COVID-19, the recommended space is at least 6 feet. Social distancing may include staying home, keeping 6 feet of space from another person while in public, canceling events with more than a few people, closing schools or working from home.
Since much of selling and buying a house involves face-to-face interactions and multiple people visiting the home, social distancing has challenged the process in many ways. In the real estate world, social distancing may include canceling open houses and walkthroughs, relying on virtual meetings with real estate agents and finding new ways to perform appraisals and closings or, at the very least, performing them with more caution.
Along with required social distancing measures, the concern about the spread of the disease has made it harder for buyers to see the home in person. Sellers who still live in the home may not want strangers in the home. On the same line, homebuyers may not want to enter an unfamiliar space. Both sides may have concerns about someone coming in or leaving with the virus.
The way COVID-19 is affecting the real estate industry right now brings about both pros and cons to making a move.
“If someone is looking to buy, there’s less competition as a lot of people are on pause,” says Ressie Krabacher, a REALTOR® in Chicago. “With property showings restricted, the likelihood of getting into a multiple bid situation is lower. There could be an opportunity for buyers to negotiate better terms i.e., price and closing date.”
Buyers may also get better terms on their mortgage because of the federal rate cut.
“Rates are currently at record lows,” says Andrew Helling, real estate agent and owner of REthority. “Low rates mean lower payments.” And because no one’s sure how long this situation will last, he believes rates will stay this way for some time. “We're on the front end of what would be a historic financial slowdown. Because companies are effectively shut down for an unforeseeable time frame, it's likely that rates will continue to remain low indefinitely.”
While the uncertainty that surrounds our current situation creates unique advantages for buying a home at this time, it also creates several disadvantages.
“Some buyers are losing jobs or being laid off, which can affect if they qualify for their loan,” says Al Wisnefske, owner and broker at Land & Legacy Group. “Some deals that are pending could fall through. [And with] businesses closing and people working from home, title companies and banks may not be as efficient.”
Along with the potential for deals falling through or taking longer than they may normally, Krabacher brings up another point – not being able to make a deal at all. Or, even worse, they could regret the purchase completely if they have to purchase the property sight unseen.
“For a lot of my buyers, their concern is the ability to write an offer from virtual showings alone,” she says. “Some buyers are not comfortable with property sight unseen unless the contract is subject to a second physical showing of the home. And they could have buyer’s remorse after seeing it in person.”
Many real estate professionals agree that the biggest advantage sellers have right now is that there is less competition as many sellers are hitting pause. And with people forced to spend more time at home and find ways to pass the time, more eyes may fall on your listing.
“If someone is looking to sell, inventory remains low,” says Krabacher, “and most buyers are out there scouting the internet for the property that fits their needs. They get maximum digital exposure and visibility, thus giving them the best chance of selling their home within their ideal timeline.”
However, keep in mind that while you may have less competition during this time, you may also have fewer buyers.
With people turning their focus to their health and safety, there may be less interest in house hunting at the moment. They may not want to – or are not allowed to – walk through a stranger’s home and put their health at risk. There is also the uncertainty of whether they will be able to make a house payment in the future, with so much uncertainty over the economy and people getting laid off in droves. They may decide to wait it out to see where their finances are once the fallout from COVID-19 has revealed itself and passed.
For sellers who still have a pool of potential buyers, most, if not all, will be viewing your home virtually. Because of this, technology troubles or any lack of preparation can also hinder your sale. Chances are sellers could be responsible for taking photos and virtual tours of their homes during social distancing. This could pose a problem for those who lack professional equipment or basic photography skills, including knowledge of lighting techniques and proper angles. Sellers may also have problems uploading and sending photos and videos, too. All of this can have a negative impact on how house hunters view your home – and the virtual view is all some sellers will have to be able to provide. Krabacher warns that not “getting that great first impression online will hurt a seller’s prospect for selling at top dollar.”
Now that you know you can still purchase or sell a home during the COVID-19 situation, here’s how to do it safely.
First and foremost, “buyers and sellers should follow all the CDC guidelines recommended,” says Krabacher. They should also follow the guidelines and executive orders laid out by their state and local governments. You’ll also need to rely on technology. And if you have to go into a seller’s home, taking the right precautions will keep you and the seller safe.
It’s more likely that you will view the home virtually, not in person. During this time, sellers may prefer not to host showings or walkthroughs. In some states, especially those highly impacted by COVID-19, executive orders may require sheltering in place.
“For buyers and sellers, virtual showings are encouraged,” says Krabacher. “If you prefer physical showings and it’s allowed, use hand sanitizer before entering the home and don’t touch anything in the house. The best practice is to keep your hands in your pockets.”
“Respect the homeowner's property and make sure that if you are sick that you cancel the showing or have the agent do a virtual tour,” says Wisnefske. “Health is always more important. Understand today's circumstances.”
If you’re a seller who still plans to host showings in your home, you must still comply with CDC guidelines, which include:
It may be wise to take even more precautions, like asking visitors if they currently feel sick and if they’ve traveled out of state recently. Just make sure you ask these questions of all potential buyers to comply with fair housing.
“To limit [a buyer’s] physical contact with the home, turn on lights and open doors before showings,” suggests Krabacher. “It’s OK to restrict visitors touring certain areas.”
Once the showing is complete, always clean all surfaces of the home. “Sanitize the surfaces of the house, especially doorknobs, handles and kitchen surfaces after every showing for extra measure,” she says.
While it can be intimidating to purchase a home sight unseen, going into a person’s home or allowing people into yours is a big risk at this time. Please consider virtual showings only.
You can still get a mortgage at this time and it may be a good time to do it since rates are low. Luckily, most of the process for getting a mortgage can be done online and some types of loans are relaxing some loan standards in consideration of social distancing requirements and the contagious nature of COVID-19. For example, some loans may allow for exterior appraisals and have property inspection waivers. Some are allowing borrowers to verify employment through an email from an employer or a year-to-date paystub instead of most recent pay stubs. It is best to contact a home loan expert to see what is required of you based on the type of loan you’ll receive. You should also look at your current and future financial situation and job stability when considering if this is the right time to take on such a large financial responsibility. Just because you may be able to get a mortgage doesn’t mean it is the right time for you to get one.
Appraisals are a requirement for all loans and usually require an appraiser to enter and walk through your home. With social distancing measures in place and concerns for the health and safety of the homeowner and appraiser, that can’t happen. So, as mentioned before, many loans are allowing for exterior, or “drive-by,” appraisals–or even appraisal waivers.
An inspection is another important part of the home buying process. They are not required for all loans but are required for some. However, to perform an inspection, an inspector must enter the home and examine major parts of it. Again, social distancing and fear of safety make this more difficult. Therefore, many loans are waiving property inspections.
However, here’s something to consider: Whether required or recommended, if you can get an inspection, you should. This is an in-depth look at the inner workings of the home, focusing on the condition of the property, including the foundation, roof, electrical, plumbing and heating and cooling. An inspector can spot any red flags that may affect the safety and value of the home. While inspections can be waived, it could be a risky move not to get one.
Normally, the closing process, which includes singing and notarizing documents, must be done in person. However, more and more states are creating online signature and notarization policies. Some states are finding other alternative ways to get documents signed, like meeting through windows, exchanging documents by placing them at least 6 feet away from the notary before walking away and using hand sanitizer.
How you close will be determined by the rules of your local government and the technology available to you. If you must sign documents in person, expect some possible delays.
“There are many things that agents can do to social distance themselves from clients while still providing a high level of customer service,” says Helling, who says agents can conduct virtual meetings, use virtual document signatures and operate virtual lockboxes for clients.
Since much of the transaction will be reliant on technology, real estate agents can use their expertise to provide tips on how to take videos and how to use technology to upload photos and videos of the home. They can provide tips for staging the home and using the right lighting and angles that best show off the home.
Along with sharing their expertise, a great real estate agent will also provide support.
“There is a ton of emotion right now from everyone. Having someone who’s level-headed and able to look at a situation and work hard to make it work is highly valuable,” says Wisnefske.
“Real estate agents can be especially beneficial by being the voice of reason in these uncertain times and guide their clients in the right direction focused on everyone’s safety and health as the highest priority,” says Krabacher.
Whether it’s the right time to buy or sell a home right now will depend on your situation. While some people may be able to wait it out, others may be relocating for a new job or may be eager to sell to downsize and cut costs where they can. If you’re concerned about your finances, uncertain about the future or experiencing job loss or cut hours, you may want to consider holding off. If you’re in good financial standing or must buy or sell at this time, patience and compassion are key.
“Everyone's emotions are running high,” says Wisnefske. “Being patient and understanding of everyone's situation can increase the chances of your deal being completed and having a somewhat normal transaction.”
For more information and tips on buying and selling any time of the year, check out more articles on the Rocket Homes® Blog.
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The COVID-19 situation has pushed many things online – school, meetings and even concerts. Can it do the same for open houses and real estate tours? Can buyers still hope to find a home among ever-changing social distancing guidelines?