The spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) has created incredible new challenges for everyone. With restrictions in place that are sure to be there for months to come, we must now create a new normal that includes social distancing and extra health precautions. This does not mean that your dreams of buying a home must be put on hold. While we understand that financial uncertainty will cause a portion of buyers to delay purchasing, those who are still financially able to buy can proceed. Here’s how to buy a home during a pandemic.
1. Get Preapproved Online
Many top-notch lenders have a secure online process for submitting paperwork and getting preapproved. And they’re not just the national companies that you see advertised on television. If you’ve read our past posts, you know how much we recommend using a local lender (they know our real estate market and what to expect in a coastal location). We’ve worked with multiple reputable lenders based right here in the Wilmington area that have online websites and apps that home buyers can use to apply for a mortgage. There’s no need to meet in person. Everything can be done online and over the phone. If you need a referral for a few, let us know!
2. Start Your Home Search Online
Not much has changed with searching for a home for sale. The internet has been the #1 resource for home searches for the past 10 years. Your favorite REALTOR® likely has a website that you can start a search on. If you’re looking in the greater Wilmington area, you can use our property search. If you need a referral to another real estate market, we can help you find a great real estate agent. Just let us know where you’re buying.
3. Schedule Virtual Showings
Truth be told, it can be hard to choose a home to buy without walking through it. However, the goal should be to narrow down your search as much as possible so when it’s time to schedule an in-person viewing, you aren’t entering more than 3 homes. This is for your safety, your agent’s, and those of the sellers who are still living in the homes.
Many seller agents are upgrading their listings with 3D tours, video walkthroughs, and virtual open houses. Buyer agents can also schedule private virtual appointments to show their clients homes via Zoom, Facetime, Facebook Messenger Video, YouTube, etc. All these options mean buyers have a chance to gauge if a home has the desired layout and features.
Once you have your list of homes narrowed down, you can schedule in-person showings. To be as safe as possible, wear a mask, use hand sanitizer, stay 6ft apart, and try to limit the number of surfaces you touch. And never view homes if you are exhibiting any of the symptoms. While chances of catching the COVID-19 during a showing is very slim, following CDC and National Association of REALTORS® guidelines is the best way to protect yourself and others.
4. Make a Fair Market Offer
Some home buyers mistakenly think that the pandemic has made sellers desperate. The unemployment rate has skyrocketed and reduced the number of available buyers. This makes them think they can low-ball any offer they make. What they don’t realize is that home sales do not have a direct correlation to unemployment rates. Offer prices must be determined by activity in the local real estate market, because the demographics (including dominant industries) of each region are different. Not all local economies will respond as drastically as others. Talk to your REALTOR® and gauge a fair market offer, or you may destroy your chances of buying the perfect home.
5. Limit Attendance at Inspections, Appraisals, etc.
Once your offer is accepted, you enter the Due Diligence Period, the time frame in which you do all your investigating to verify this is the best home for your needs. This includes ordering all inspections (house, termite/pest, chimney, etc.) and surveys. Inspection companies will likely have their own restrictions in place due to the COVID-19. If given the option to be present, try to limit to one person from the household and follow all CDC guidelines for protection, including wearing a mask and keeping 6ft of distance between you and others present.
When your lender orders the appraisal (if you aren’t paying cash), understand that some appraisers are able to do desktop or exterior-only appraisals. This means they do not enter the home to complete the appraisal if there are adequate listing photos. This will likely not affect the resulting value of the home.
6. Schedule Utilities, Insurance, etc. Online or Via Phone
As it comes time to secure insurance and schedule utilities, you’ll be happy to know that much of it can be done online or over the phone. Cable hook-up may require some extra work on your part as the cable companies try to limit face-to-face interactions and in-home visits, but it mainly requires you plugging in the hardware and working with a customer service representative over the phone once you move in. You should have plenty of time to get all this squared away between the time you finalize the repair agreement and prepare to move in.
7. Have the Home Deep-Cleaned
With the basic Offer to Purchase document, the home must be left in the same condition as when the offer was signed. When the home is vacated, the seller must remove all personal items, garbage, and debris. It’s generally accepted that the home should be left broom clean. In other words, the seller is not required to give the home a good cleaning, unless it’s negotiated into the purchase. If the home has been occupied and you are planning to move in right away, we recommend having the home cleaned by professionals who know the appropriate precautions to take with a virus. Studies have shown that the virus can survive on some hard surfaces for up to 3 days.
8. Limit Who Attends the Final Walkthrough
The final walkthrough of the home is the buyer’s opportunity to make sure that the seller has upheld their side of the contract and left the home in the condition in which the seller has agreed to purchase it. Again, we recommend that only one person accompanies the REALTOR® to the walkthrough. The fewer people, the lower chance of passing on or contracting COVID-19.
9. Keep the Closing to Essential People
In order to protect their staff and clients, many of the attorneys in the Wilmington area have implemented their own restrictions and procedures for closings. These restrictions include limiting visitors to only those who are essential for closing, which means your REALTOR® and lender will have to congratulate you from afar. If it’s possible, the attorney will collect signatures via an online system, so the buyers don’t need to come into the office. The problem is that many lenders still require “wet” signatures or buyers to sign with a pen, which is why attorneys are also doing curbside closings that don’t require the buyer to leave their vehicle.
If you have any concerns with the procedure for closing, please discuss them with your real estate agent. That way they can do everything they can to hire an attorney who will try to accommodate your needs.
Protecting each other is the goal of all involved with the real estate transaction process. Luckily, technology makes it possible to do many of the steps online digitally. By limiting face-to-face interaction, we can reduce the chances of spreading the virus, and you can still purchase a home.
If you’re considering purchasing a home in the Wilmington area, give us a call at (910) 202-2546 or send us a message outlining what you’re looking for. We are still actively selling homes and are happy to talk to you about your options.
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