Less than a month ago, real estate showings, purchases, and closings in the U.S. were mostly unaffected by the corona-virus pandemic. Now, home buyers and sellers face a completely different landscape.
In most markets, real estate is considered an essential service. Homes are still being listed for sale, and buyers are still able to purchase them. The process, however, is dramatically different and will continue transforming throughout 2020.
These changes stem from multiple sources. Federal, state, and local public health guidelines are routinely issued and modified. Brokerages are instituting new policies to protect their agents and clients.
Also, every buyer and seller is making their own decisions about what feels risky and what feels safe. With all these factors in mind, here are five ways that home buying has changed:
In some markets, virtual showings may be offered instead of in-person showings. Where in-person tours are allowed, understand that sellers may be hesitant about letting strangers into their home.
You might be asked to leave non-essential items outside and wear a face mask, gloves, and booties over your shoes. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to stay off the furniture, keep drawers and cabinets closed, or spend as little time as possible in the home.
You may need to fill out a health screening questionnaire, asking about any current symptoms and exposure to individuals with COVID-19.
While these measures may seem “unfriendly” to buyers, they are only intended to keep everyone safe, as much as possible, until the risk of infection subsides or better solutions are found.
2. Social distancing.
The practice of social distancing may become the new normal for many buyers, sellers, and real estate professionals, even after “flattening the curve.”
Fortunately, there are several easy ways to practice social distancing with your buyer’s rep. Instead of piling into your agent’s car, for example, meet your agent at the property in your own vehicle. While touring a home, maintain at least six feet of distance with your agent.
After seeing a home, instead of discussing your reactions at a nearby coffee shop (if they’re open) or your agent’s office, consider regrouping over a conference call, using Face-time, Zoom, or similar platform.
All offers and counteroffers may be presented over the phone or in virtual meetings, using electronic signatures.
Resist any temptation to take advantage of sellers by tossing out low ball offers or making unrealistic demands. Fair offers usually yield better results, regardless of market conditions.
Yes, some sellers will opt to reduce their listing prices to attract buyers. It’s also possible that pent-up buying pressure will drive prices up, once economic conditions begin moving in a positive direction.
4. Closing and moving.
Once you and a seller have agreed to contract terms, numerous steps must occur before your transaction closes. It’s never a simple process, but the corona-virus pandemic has added complexities. Real estate transactions are still closing but may take a little longer.
Everyone involved in the process, including inspectors, lenders, appraisers, and title companies are creating workarounds, but also encountering unavoidable setbacks.
For buyers, the best way to manage the situation is to give yourself a little more time to move into your new home. If you’re terminating a lease, consider extending it for a month or two to accommodate potential delays.
It may also be challenging to schedule moving crews during this time, even though moving services are considered an essential service in most locations.
Also, moving companies may prefer to provide estimates by doing a virtual walk through of your current home.
On the bright side, mortgage interest rates are at historic lows, making this an extremely favorable time to lock in long-term financing for your home, even if it does take a bit longer to process your application.
Unfortunately, the corona-virus pandemic has also made it difficult for many people to meet their monthly mortgage obligations. If you or someone you know is facing financial setbacks, learn more about the mortgage forbearance provisions in the CARES Act, and contact your mortgage service provider.
Undoubtedly, the home buying process will continue to change in the months ahead. Regardless of how it evolves, one thing is certain: Now, more than ever, it’s essential to have a trusted real estate professional by your side, watching out for your interests.