Because of the coronavirus outbreak, real estate agents, brokerages, and mortgage companies are going virtual, and states and cities are implementing different revisions and rules on real estate if these transactions are allowed in that area. Technology is enabling many people to still buy homes despite stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines.
This guide takes you through the process of buying a home during the pandemic in case you want to continue with buying a home and take advantage of the reduced interest rates.
Find a real estate agent who is experienced with virtual technologies and outreach.
You’ll need a real estate agent who can help you understand the current market and keep up, so having an agent who is familiar with different virtual tools, such as tools for virtual home tours and online meetings, is critical during this pandemic when virtual interactions are your only option to stay safe.
To find the perfect agent able to navigate you through this chaotic market, scope your agent out on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and their posts. Agents who are keeping updated and relevant with current events and calling, texting, and posting are going to still be in business because they have the technology experience to continue real estate transactions virtually. The best agents will continue their commitment to educate buyers by offering virtual consultations and home tours.
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Book virtual appointments.
You should set up a meeting with your realtor to talk over any worries, goals, and needs when it comes to the housing market. Platforms like Zoom, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts let you have a professional consultation without even leaving the house, and you can talk to them about your goals, learn more about the process, and draft a plan together to help you accomplish those goals you set.
Get your mortgage pre-approved virtually if you haven’t been pre-approved yet.
Set up an appointment with a lender who can work remotely and virtually, and make sure to interview different loan officers (by video chat or phone call) to shop around and compare different offerings before making your decision. Your realtor can also recommend some lenders for you. You’ll want a lender who can do the entire loan process virtually and who can keep you updated on the status of your application. If your lender is experienced with technology, they can help you get the necessary paperwork for pre-approval like pay stubs, bank statement, and tax returns online, in addition to other requirements like credit history, income, and debt-to-income (DTI) ratio.
Tour homes and do walkthroughs virtually.
With everything going virtual (at least while we flatten the curve), open houses and crowded showings are no more. When you’re ready to start looking at homes, you can instead request virtual tours for ones you might be interested in and browse room by room, all from the comfort of your couch. You can ask your agent on how they can give you a more in-depth look of the house if you prefer, such as having the agent do a FaceTime call and walk through the home as they describe the features and dimensions. and share their footage. You can even tell your agent to emphasize certain parts of the house you want to see, something you would normally do with an in-person tour anyway.
Don’t forget to scope out the neighborhood, which matters just as much as the building itself. Make sure to check with your agent to see if your area allows for drive-by tours of the area so you can still check everything out without touching anything yourself.
Make your offer and schedule an in-home tour if your area allows it or if it is necessary.
Talk with your agent about whether you can visit a property in your city or state, since despite the Department of Homeland Security added residential real estate as an essential service, shelter-in-place orders still vary across the country and can change over time.
If you can or need to visit the home, talk with your realtor to make sure they can take all the necessary safety measures to accommodate you. Make sure to check that no one in the house has been sick (even though carriers can be asymptomatic), don’t touch anything (Your agent can help with this by having all closet doors, kitchen cabinets, and drawers open for inspection.), follow the CDC recommendations like physical distancing, wear protective booties when you enter the home, use alcohol-based wipes and sanitizers, and wash your hands thoroughly after you leave.
Talk with your agent about COVID-19 disclosures to protect your transaction.
Many states and cities have already started coronavirus addendums in real estate contracts. In California, the addendum discusses what would happen if either party cannot close the transaction because of the pandemic and allows for a penalty-free contract cancellation if the buyer cannot get financing at any time because of pandemic-related job or income loss. Florida’s addendum allows for extensions in the financing period, inspection period, closing date, and title cure period. Your realtor is knowledgeable about these disclosures and can explain them to you in a way you can understand.
Make sure to lock in your rate as soon as possible.
Since things are constantly changing (so no guarantee that your rate tomorrow will be lower) and mortgage rates are already low, lock in your rate as soon as the offer gets submitted so you’ll be protected against any unanticipated rate increase.
Virtual appraisals and remote home inspections.
Inspectors will check your house themselves during a remote inspection and take pictures so you can fully understand what issues are there, and they can also discuss findings with you over screen sharing and video chat. Also, the inspector will send over an inspection report with descriptions and photos, and you’ll be able to know every square inch of the property.
However, home appraisals (required for getting a mortgage from a lender) require a site visit, so it is not possible in areas where real estate is considered nonessential. In areas where real estate transactions are essential, virtual appraisals or even desktop appraisals (where an appraiser can price a home based on similar properties) can be done for lenders to continue with the mortgage approval process.
Electronic signing and wiring money.
While state rulings can differ, most or all escrow or home-buying transactions can be conducted online. Your agent or lender can upload the needed documents for the transaction, and you can sign them electronically with your device. Remote or electronic notarization are an option in many states.
You can still pay for appraisals, escrow funds, earnest money, or closing costs by credit card or bank wire; some states even allow you to send a check in the mail or let an escrow agent pick it up from you.
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Remote closings and alternatives.
The usual ritual signing a mountain of paperwork, shaking hands, and handing the keys over is no more during this pandemic. Instead, a mobile notary will bring the documents and the keys to you. In some states, the closing attorney can send links for a video closing over a secure video conference.
If in-person interaction is still mandatory, there are still other ways to handle this, such as drive-thru closings, having people involved sit in different rooms while the deal is being finalized, or having buyers pre-sign documents and let the lawyer have the power of attorney so they can complete the deal with the closer on closing day.
Buyers, especially military personnel and their families, have been able to buy homes “sight unseen” even before the pandemic, but your realtor can help you as a normal buyer navigate the whole process and help you adjust to the new circumstances.