When you’ve made the decision to buy a house in the middle of a global pandemic, you may be wondering what to expect. COVID-19 has impacted all aspects of life, and the housing market is no exception. Record-low interest rates, new demands of working or schooling from home, and a variety of other factors can provide a strong impetus to move, but although demand is high, inventory just isn’t keeping up. Home buying during Covid can seem overwhelming but we are here to walk you through it.
Home Buying During Covid
If purchasing a home in an ordinary seller’s market is complicated, doing it in the midst of a pandemic can add a whole new layer of challenge. Thankfully, at this point you’re no stranger to adapting to the many curveballs COVID-19 has thrown at us this year. You’ve got this. You’ve mastered the challenge of finding your preferred brand of toilet paper the day after the latest lockdown has been ordered.
You’ve endured the frustration of trying to find flour for your holiday cookies when it seems like the entire world has decided sourdough baking is the only thing that’s going to get them through this winter. You’ve rearranged your entire lifestyle within the strange new landscape of pandemic life. Home buying during Covid doesn’t have to be difficult.
Buying a home during the COVID pandemic is a unique experience, but the right amount of preparation and determination will be major factors in your success. Luckily, you can benefit from the wisdom of those who have walked this path before you, and you can enlist the support of an experienced realtor to guide you through the details. Here is your ultimate guide to buying a house in this crazy COVID market.
The first key to success in the COVID market is being prepared. There are a number of financial considerations to be made before starting the process. While this isn’t the most exciting part of house hunting, it is one of the most important. When calculating your budget for a new house, it’s important to be aware that the cost of the house goes beyond the purchase price. Beyond the initial down payment, you will need to consider closing costs, potential repairs or updates, moving expenses, taxes, and insurance rates.
The good news is you do not need a 20% down payment or a perfect credit score to purchase a home, but typically lenders will want to make sure your mortgage payment doesn’t exceed 30% of your income. Getting preapproved for a mortgage is a relatively straightforward process, which can be started with an easy application online. It’s a good idea to get preapprovals from at least 3 different lenders to ensure you’re getting the most competitive rates. It’s much easier to shop for a good rate at the beginning of this process than when you’re under pressure to close on a house. Be prepared to provide documents such as bank statements, or pay stubs, and to authorize a credit check as well. The good news is that when you get multiple preapprovals within 14 days they will collectively only count as one hard pull on your credit report. Once completed, a preapproval typically lasts for 60-90 days.
Once you’ve completed the preapproval process, you’re ready to begin looking at houses. This is a good time to reach out to a realtor if you haven’t already. Having a trusted realtor on your side can be one of the most important decisions you make when buying a home, and the great thing is usually the seller is the one who pays the buyer’s agent’s commission. Your realtor will help you search for listings that meet your needs, arrange showings, and communicate or negotiate with the seller’s agent as-needed. An experienced realtor will also give you an edge in the COVID market because they know what it takes to make an offer stand out. For the best results, choose a realtor who has experience in the geographic area you’re looking in, and who you think you will enjoy working with. Then you’re ready to begin.
Here are some tips for effective house-hunting. When deciding which houses you want to go see, make a list of your top criteria, and be sure to include long-term considerations such as needs that may change over time, or resale value. Google street view can be a great resource to look at a house in the context of the surrounding area, or to get a better idea of the layout of the property. Taking a walk around the neighborhood can also be a great way to get a feel for the vibe of the area. When you come into a showing well-prepared, then once you do get into the house you’ll be able to use your time to focus on the aspects that weren’t visible in the pictures. Open houses are less common these days, and in the COVID market some showings are only allotted 15 minutes, so coming in prepared will allow you to use that time wisely.
Once you’ve found a house you like, the final component of success in the COVID market is making a competitive offer. In many cases you can expect to be competing with multiple other offers, so it’s important to make the strongest offer possible, and to do so relatively quickly. Making your highest and best offer provides your best shot at having your offer accepted, and it’s also your greatest protection against regret if it doesn’t work out. Rather than relying solely on the asking price, one good way to determine how much to offer on a house is to look at the final prices for comparable homes that have sold within the past few months. Since appraisers use this process when determining the value of a home, this can also avoid surprises at that stage of the process. The basics of your offer – the price, the financing terms, and the percentage down payment you’re able to commit to – are important, but there are plenty of other factors to consider when making an offer in the COVID housing market.
One of the most impactful ways to make an offer stand out from the rest is to make a personal connection with the seller by including a letter. The letter should be brief but should convey a sense of who you are, what you appreciate about the home, and why you think it would be a good fit for you. You may also include a picture, if you’d like. Keep it concise and heartfelt. Remember, home is where you make memories with loved ones, and a house also exists in the context of a greater community. Those factors mattered to sellers when they initially purchased the house, and they often appreciate knowing that it matters to you too. One couple experienced the power of this phenomenon after the disheartening experience of being outbid on multiple homes. At their next showing, there was a complication with the house alarm and the seller had to come help them turn it off. After meeting them, the seller told them that even though he had higher offers he appreciated that they were a young couple who was committed to building a life together, and he accepted theirs. This wasn’t just an instance of good luck. It’s also a testament to just how much those personal connections matter. For most of us, especially under the circumstances of a pandemic, where meeting a seller in-person is less likely, a letter is the best chance to make that connection. For an edge in the COVID housing market write a letter to the seller, and make it count.
An appropriate offering price and well-written letter are some of the best things you can offer to stand out in the COVID housing market, but they aren’t the only things. There are also smaller things that can convey your seriousness as a buyer. A higher earnest money deposit can show good faith to follow through with the offer. Allowing for a shorter inspection period, such as 4 or 5 days instead of the typical 7, can show that you intend to move quickly. Additionally, a seller who is in the process of buying their next home may appreciate being given more time to move out. Finally, in some cases, it can be helpful to give a modest appraisal guarantee. This lets the seller know that if the appraisal comes in slightly lower than your offering price, you will make up a certain portion of the difference in cash. The effectiveness of each of these strategies will vary depending on your individual situation.
In conclusion, home buying during Covid will take preparation, dedication, and patience but the moment you get the keys will make it all worthwhile. Your realtor is invested in your success and can help you craft a strategy that works best for you. While you wait for the right house to come along, you can always turn to the classic pandemic pastime of watching a good movie, like the 1980’s comedy The Money Pit. On second thought, that one may be more enjoyable from the comfort of your new house, or at least after your future home passes the inspection process. Happy house hunting!