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How to buy a home during the Covid-19 pandemic

Expert advice for home buying during an unprecedented time.

I’m about to become a first-time homebuyer — and yes, I’m purchasing my first home in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. My biggest concern, of course, was how to maintain safe social distancing while touring various listings; my biggest shock was how quickly some of these listed homes went off the market. Although I didn’t get the first home I made an offer on, I did get the second one — and we close at the end of the month.

My homebuying experience is not unique. I reached out to several real estate industry professionals to ask them how the coronavirus was affecting home ownership; they spoke to the importance of wearing masks, the emergence of the virtual home tour and our current red-hot housing market. If you want to buy a house while COVID-19 is still active, you need to be prepared to view properties over Zoom, get your mortgage pre-approval letter as quickly as possible and make buying decisions within days, if not hours.

Here’s what you need to know before you start your own coronavirus homebuying process — and what I wish I’d known before starting mine.

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Home tours are going virtual

“The biggest change has been the use of virtual tours and showings,” says Kimberly Ann Zeidner, a realtor at Real Living Real Estate Solutions in Orlando, Florida. “For listings, I have my photographer do 3-D tours so that the buyers can ‘walk’ through the home without ever setting foot inside. For buyers, I do Zoom or Facebook Messenger video showings where I walk them through the home and they can ask questions in real time.”

James Judge, a Phoenix, Arizona realtor who showcases home renovations on Instagram at @thehousejudge, recently sold two houses via FaceTime. “Sellers prefer it,” he explained. “Less people going through their house.”

Judge still offers traditional, socially-distanced home tours, though he tries to limit them to vacant homes and listings. If the home is occupied, especially by a family with young children, he urges buyers to tour via FaceTime instead. His two recent FaceTime buyers did everything virtually until the home inspection phase — which meant they both made offers on houses that they had only seen through a screen.

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Preapproval is more important than ever

If you’re thinking about buying a home — or even thinking about touring one over Zoom — it’s a good idea to get your mortgage preapproval letter in place as soon as possible. “Most agents typically try to get their buyers pre-approved prior to making offers in an attempt to avoid any disappointment or obstacles during a transaction,” says Adrienne Allen, a broker with Homie in Las Vegas, Nevada. “This procedure isn’t new. What has changed is the amount of sellers requiring it before their home is even shown.”

Andrina Valdes, COO of Cornerstone Home Lending, Inc. in San Antonio, agrees. “Getting an early loan approval — taking it further than initial prequalification — is a big deal right now for many buyers who want to get noticed in a competitive market.”

Requiring a pre-approval letter before showing houses helps weed out buyers who aren’t serious about purchasing a new home, and lets agents and sellers minimize in-person contact with people who aren’t likely to make an offer. Securing the pre-approval letter in advance also ensures that any buyer who begins the homebuying process has the ability to go all the way to closing. “Having an early loan approval can help your offer look more serious and stand out amongst multiple bids,” Valdes advises.

If you’re planning on buying a home in 2020, try to get your pre-approval before you start booking tours — even virtual ones.

“Having an early loan approval can help your offer look more serious and stand out amongst multiple bids.”

—Andrina Valdes, COO of Cornerstone Home Lending, Inc.

Buyers need to make decisions quickly

The real estate market is very hot right now — and buyers need to be prepared to make decisions in a very short time span. “Here in Orlando, homes are going under contract in as short as a few hours or a few days,” Zeidner told us.

Lukasz Kukwa, a Real Estate Advisor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Westfield, New Jersey, noted that a combination of factors including tighter lending guidelines, limited home inventory and historically low mortgage interest rates have created a seller’s market: “The increased competition for homes and quality of buyers in the market has created a smaller pool of buyers who are now competing with each other in multiple bid scenarios. This is causing homes to sell quicker, at higher prices with multiple offers and favorable terms to the sellers.”

Some of these factors, such as the economic fluctuations that led to lower interest rates and tighter lending requirements, are directly related to the coronavirus. On the other hand, the relatively low number of homes on the market was an issue before the COVID-19 pandemic began (in fact, low inventory was one of Realtor.com’s housing market predictions for 2020). More people are looking to buy than are looking to sell these days — which means that if you want to buy a home this year, you need to be ready to make a competitive offer as soon as possible.

Be prepared to wear a mask

Here’s one final coronavirus homebuying tip, though it almost goes without saying: If you want to buy a home right now, be prepared to wear a mask during any in-person interaction. “Masks are an absolute must,” Allen told us. She also explained that buyers should be prepared to drive their own vehicles or find their own transportation to any in-person home tours. “Before the virus, it was common to have agents touring buyers around in their own vehicle. However, due to the virus and the need for social distancing, agents are asking their buyers to meet them at the properties instead of driving them around.”

Kukwa also requests that masks be worn at all in-person showings, and takes coronavirus prevention one step further: “Before even showing the home, buyers and their agent need to sign a COVID-19 Hold Harmless Form and disclose if they have been exposed or in contact with someone who has been exposed to the virus in any way.”

What happens if you don’t want to wear a mask? Heather Wilson, a real estate agent with Property Managemently, notes that you might not get very far in the homebuying process. “We had a very interesting situation where a homebuyer was really interested in a home and wanted a physical tour of it but was dead set on not wanting to wear a mask. The homeowner had said that wearing a mask was a requirement for a tour. Needless to say, that tour never happened.”

I plan on wearing a mask to my home closing, and to any big-box retailers or furniture stores I need to visit in the process of setting up my new home — though I also plan on doing as much online shopping as possible to minimize face-to-face contact. (My current shopping list includes applying for a term life insurance policy, which is very easy to do online, so that my loved ones will be financially protected from the burden of my mortgage if something happens to me.) I’ll continue wearing masks in public and practicing good social distancing as I pack, move and put the new home in order — and someday, when the coronavirus pandemic is no longer a threat to public gatherings, I hope to throw an incredible housewarming party.

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About Nicole Dieker

Nicole Dieker has been a full-time freelance writer since 2012, with a focus on personal finance and habit formation. In addition to Haven Life, her work regularly appears at Lifehacker, Bankrate, CreditCards.com, and Vox. Dieker spent five years as a writer and editor for The Billfold, a personal finance blog where people had honest conversations about money, and is the author of Frugal and the Beast: And Other Financial Fairy Tales.

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Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

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