How I Bought a House During the Pandemic

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Right around the time we finished binge-watching “Tiger King” and scheduling our umpteenth Zoom chat, my husband and I turned our sights to Zillow home listings.

For about two years, we had been thinking about buying our first house. It seemed more doable this spring.

We had recently paid off a major student loan, interest rates were enticingly low, and we weren’t spending money on dining out and travel. Plus, we had a down payment.

It was a perfect mix of opportunity, but we thought the coronavirus pandemic would make it impossible to take the next steps.

That didn’t turn out to be the case. In fact, we closed on our new home in June, just two months after we started looking at listings. But shopping for and buying a home amid the pandemic wasn’t exactly normal, either.

Here’s what our experience looked like.

Mortgage rates were lower than we expected

Although mortgage interest rates fell to all-time lows this spring, ours was still below-average this summer. With a little negotiation, we got a 2.75% interest rate, nearly 1% lower than our original estimate. That amounts to a savings of $156 a month or $56,000 over the life of the loan.

If you’re curious about what kind of rate you could qualify for right now, check out the mortgage rate search tool in Money Talks News’ Solutions Center.

We also caught a break on the home price itself. Home prices are typically high in June, and they’re even higher this year compared with last year. However, our purchase offer was accepted at $5,000 under the asking price, a discount of 1.4%.

Real estate pros were busier than we expected

We figured widespread financial insecurity, high unemployment and a pandemic would put a damper on homebuying. But our real estate agent said the market is hot across the country despite a limited inventory.

We couldn’t even get on a waiting list to view several houses because they were so popular. And at closing, our attorney told us she had appointments every hour on the hour till 7 p.m.

Protective measures were in place

At this point in the pandemic, most people are pros at following coronavirus precautions. So, it didn’t really phase us when we had to do these things for each viewing, during the inspection and at closing:

  • Wear gloves and a face mask.
  • Maintain a 6-foot distance from others.
  • Limit the number of attendees.
  • Fill out a “visitor health screening questionnaire.”

The mortgage lender even did a curbside appraisal to limit contact with the home’s tenants.

We signed a ‘coronavirus clause’

Our purchase offer included an extension clause, which allowed both parties to extend certain deadlines due to coronavirus-related delays.

The wording varies with each contract, but in some cases, you can even terminate the agreement.

We didn’t use these extensions, but it’s a good option to know about.

We made sure our mortgage would be federally backed

Signing up for a 30-year loan is nerve-wracking enough, but it’s even more so during a pandemic and recession. So, before closing, I asked the lender whether our mortgage would be federally backed.

It is — Fannie Mae now owns our loan — which means we may qualify for federal mortgage relief if our finances go sour.

We did extra sanitizing

When we moved into the house, we gave it a good scrub-down just in case the virus had crept inside. We cleaned every wall, floor and surface of the home and then disinfected everything.

However, we didn’t have total control over germs. Our movers did a great job, but they kept taking their masks off. That meant they were breathing on our boxes and furniture and potentially spreading the virus. So we opened the boxes using gloves, threw them out and disinfected the surfaces of the furniture.

All in all, I think we headed off health risks and saved money by buying a home during the coronavirus pandemic.

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