Finding or selling a home has never been more challenging. The global coronavirus pandemic has stuck most parties involved — buyers, sellers, renters, Realtors, inspectors — at home under state-by-state lockdown mandates of varying restrictiveness.
On top of that, many worry about job security and whether it’s smart to take on a mortgage now, with staggering numbers of people having lost their jobs within a few weeks.
But, if this is the right time for you to act, property transactions can be done, with creativity, precaution and high-tech assistance. The tips below — for buyers, sellers, landlords, tenants and all parties — can help in these difficult times.
Buyers: Seek opportunity
Don’t assume the coronavirus pandemic means you must put your homebuying dreams or plans on hold. Now is a good time for buyers to look for lower prices and good deals, says Glenn Kelman, CEO of real estate brokerage site Redfin. He tells Cheddar:
“My advice for buyers would be to keep on the prowl, and my advice for sellers is to wait.”
Find the best mortgage rate
Despite a slowdown in homebuying, this is a good time to buy a home in that mortgage rates had been relatively low before the pandemic started and have only creeped down since then.
Freddie Mac’s mortgage market survey shows interest rates falling to 3.23% for the week ending April 30, a record low for a 30-year fixed-rate home loan.
If you are interested in a mortgage:
- “9 Tips for Getting the Best Deal on a Mortgage” tells how to get the best mortgage deal possible
- Money Talks News’ Solutions Center lets you compare mortgage rates.
Learn safe closing protocols
Providing hand sanitizer and disinfectants, minding your social distance during signings and telling employees who feel ill to stay home are all part of the industry’s new safe protocols for loan closings, says the American Land Title Association.
Homebuyers and sellers can read these to become aware of how the pandemic will affect the final stages of their housing transactions.
Tour homes safely
As states loosen up lockdown restrictions, you might be able to get an in-person tour of an available apartment, condo or house.
But don’t get complacent about the risk of the coronavirus. Wear a mask, maintain 6 feet of social distance, avoid shaking hands, bring your hand sanitizer and use it often. Wash your hands with soap after each visit.
The federal Centers for Disease Control has more tips and precautions for staying safe.
Inspect the inspection
Because so many people move through a house during real estate transactions, the possibility of coronavirus infection is increased. As a result, the American Society of Home Inspectors advises buyers to avoid being present for inspections.
When you can’t attend, carefully scrutinize all the photos, videos and reports you get from the inspector. Make sure no stone is unturned and, if anything isn’t clear, ask questions, advises a report on Nasdaq.com. Since you aren’t going to get the in-person feel and vibe of the inspection, it’s vital to get a thorough understanding of the home you are buying and any possible issues it may have.
Sellers: Spruce up your space
If you’re planning on taking buyers or agents on a video-chat virtual tour of your home, plan it for the middle of the day to take advantage of the most natural light, Redfin suggests.
Also, clear the clutter out of the home and apply some fresh paint in neutral colors so rooms look bigger.
Consider virtual staging
Maybe you’re stuck at home, working online with your children doing schoolwork and running around creating a mess. Obviously, creating a clutter-free and spotless home in these situations is impossible, much less showing off your space to buyers.
As a solution, Seattle-based brokerage company Redfin suggests virtual staging, in which furniture and decor can be added digitally to create the look of a clean, cool abode. Tools for this include Padstyler, Boxbrownie, Hasten and VRX Staging.
Use quality photos
It’s amazing how digital imagery can make rooms and homes look bigger and brighter and more beautiful than they might actually be. Amid the COVID-19 crisis, when prospective buyers can’t actually see the reality, this might be a good thing.
Zillow offers several tips for your home listing’s photos, including these:
- Clean and stage the home.
- Shoot when it’s sunny outside.
- Use 22 to 27 pictures in your listing.
- Include exterior shots.
If you are pixel-challenged, hire a professional. The difference between amateurs and pros can be stunning — just look at wedding photos.
All parties: Try video tours
While searching for a home, renters and buyers may be able to get a better look at a property without going inside by keeping an eye out for video tours offered on a property’s listing. These are good tools for sellers to ask their real estate agents about.
For example, at Zillow and Trulia property listings may have a “3D Home Tour” that lets you move (virtually) from room to room with a click of a mouse. Look for the “3D Home” label on listings.
Real estate open houses are going online, too. When browsing Realtor.com’s listings, look for open house live streams.
Even in extraordinary times, the fundamentals of real estate shopping still apply. Don’t overlook these “20 Tips for Buying a Home in the Best Location, Location, Location.”
Use coronavirus clauses
Buyers and sellers should ask their broker or agent about adding an addendum to a purchase agreement that makes allowances for pandemic-related issues causing delays and missed deadlines.
The National Association of Realtors discusses doing this (see Transaction Guidance: Properties in Escrow) to allow for, for example:
- Unavailability of inspectors or appraisers
- Someone’s inability to travel to sign documents
- A party being subject to a mandatory quarantine
- Unavailability of services such as lenders or title/escrow companies
Follow moving precautions
Once the home of your dreams is finally yours, the American Moving & Storage Association (AMSA) has a coronavirus checklist for hiring movers. Tips include:
- Ask the movers how they are managing risks.
- Deep clean your new home.
- Give movers access to a sink, soap and paper towels.
- Use new (not recycled) boxes for your packing.
Landlords and tenants: Virtual handshake
Property owners might not be able to show rental properties in person because of shelter-in-place orders and social distancing guidelines. But you don’t necessarily need to, says legal publisher Nolo.
You can interview prospective tenants via Zoom, Google Hangouts and Skype. Show your properties virtually with software and apps. Use e-signing companies for leases and other documents. You’ll be able to collect rent payments, deposits and fees using payments apps such as PayPal, Zelle or Venmo.
Renting may just make more sense than buying during such a chaotic time. Here are “10 Reasons It’s Better to Rent Instead of Buy a Home.”
Rental website Doorsteps suggests renters ask landlords for a month-to-month rental agreement when their current contract expires. That gives tenants time and breathing space to think things over and shop around if they want to find a new home. Your landlord might be amenable, considering that everyone is in this together during the coronavirus crisis.
In fact, a monthly lease can appeal to the landlord, too: It offers a property owner flexibility to sell quickly, find a different tenant or raise the rent.
Stay safe and healthy — physically and economically — during the COVID-19 pandemic with MoneyTalksNews’ comprehensive coverage.
Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.