The COVID-19 crisis has real estate transactions more complicated, especially in hard-hit cities and communities. The resulting economic downturn, stay-at-home mandates, and social distancing have created pros and cons for buying and selling real estate.
Here’s advice for buyers and sellers to make wise real estate decisions during this uncertain time.
- Know if the time is right.
If the pandemic caused you to lose some or all of your job or business income, and you’re unsure when your finances will return to normal, buying a home isn’t a good idea. But if your income is stable, you have cash in the bank, and you’re confident that you can stay in a home for at least five years, buying a home might be a smart move.
The trick to successfully buying real estate is understanding what you can truly afford. If you’re at all worried about getting laid off or the future of your business, buying a home that’s under your budget is wise.
In addition to your mortgage payment, homeowners must cover many other expenses, including property taxes, home insurance, applicable association fees, and ongoing maintenance. Take a hard look at your income, expenses, and savings to make sure you have enough cash to close and maintain a healthy emergency fund.
- Shop for a mortgage early.
Due to the economic crisis, lenders have tightened underwriting requirements making it more challenging to qualify for a mortgage. You may need better credit and more down payment money than was typical before the COVID-19 crisis.
Before spending too much time or mental energy searching for a home, make sure you qualify for a desirable mortgage. The amount you can borrow, the interest rate, and your down payment depend on various factors, including your credit and income stability.
- Take advantage of historically low mortgage rates.
Since mortgage rates are at historic lows, owning a home costs less per month than renting a similar property in many parts of the country. Also, if a seller is uncertain about their financial future, they may feel pressure to sell their home, giving buyers a price advantage.
If you’re a serious home buyer, don’t wait to get a mortgage preapproval. Lenders are handling various transactions and customer service issues, including forbearance requests, defaults, and processing applications for refinances and new loans.
If you find a suitable property and qualify for a low-rate mortgage, it can save you a lot of money over the long run. Lower monthly payments may also allow you to afford a higher-priced home if your finances are in good shape.
- Use technology to keep safe distances.
Many digital tools allow buyers to research homes for sale and stay safe. Buyers and sellers might use:
- Video calls: Set up Zoom or Facetime calls with potential real estate professionals, buyers, or sellers. Get virtual tours of homes, neighborhoods, and chat about other points of interest, such as schools, shopping, and public transportation.
- Google Maps: Check out Google’s street view to see a neighborhood’s features and walk it virtually.
- Neighborhood review sites: Find data such as walkability scores, crime statistics, and school rankings using sites such as Walk Score, SpotCrime, Family Watchdog, AreaVibes, and GreatSchools.org.
You can do closings by mail, video, or curbside in many states during the pandemic. That's a wise way to limit your physical contact with all the people who make it possible to buy and sell real estate.
- Be prepared for transactions to take longer.
Overwhelmed lenders and distancing restrictions mean that buying and selling real estate during the pandemic may take longer than usual. Being as patient and flexible as possible will increase the likelihood of making a deal.
- Negotiate deals wisely.
Take advice from a real estate professional who understands your market when setting a listing price or making a purchase offer. Buyers should complete their due diligence by making offers contingent on a professional home inspection, a C.L.U.E. home insurance claim report, and additional evaluations customary in your area, such as a termite report.
Consider adding a COVID-19 addendum that permits you to cancel a contract or extend deadlines if your circumstances change. That could protect you from an unexpected loss of income before you close on a home.
Laura Adams is an analyst at AceableAgent.com, a leading online real estate school.
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