What to know about buying a house during the pandemic

The current COVID-19 pandemic has affected almost every aspect of American life. Many employees now work from home, vacations have been postponed or cancelled, and even the way we shop for groceries has been changed. But what does this mean for those looking to buy or sell a home? 

While it may be in the middle of a pandemic, real estate agents are still working, people are still moving, and homes around the country are still for sale. However, this does not mean the process hasn’t changed. From longer wait times, cancellation of many open houses, or changes to financing, the following guide can help buyers who are ready to buy a home during the pandemic.

1.       Keep an eye on volatile mortgage rates

Mortgage rates continue to change frequently in response to the coronavirus. Already in 2020, the Federal Reserve has lowered rates twice; this has caused rates on everything from credit cards to savings accounts to decrease.

While a decrease in federal fund rates has a major impact on short-term loans, it may have little to no effect on long-term loans like mortgages. Instead, mortgage rates are more closely impacted by demand. In early March, rates were low and lenders were flooded by refinance applications; rising mortgage rates since then have helped to slow demand.  

Mortgage rates generally fall when the economy is struggling; in these unprecedented times, however, rates can go up and down daily. Potential buyers should be prepared to finalize their financing and lock in a low rate at any time.

2.       Be prepared for the process to take longer

Shelter in place orders, mandatory quarantine periods, and restrictions on non-essential business can all impact how long the home buying process takes. Both buyers and sellers should be prepared to be flexible with timelines as every part of the process make take longer than average. Home appraisals and inspections, for example, may be delayed to prevent exposing appraisers – who are, on average, 55 years old – to the virus.

3.     Ask about virtual tours

With the majority of open houses cancelled, and most people staying at home, scheduling showings is more difficult than ever before. While few buyers are prepared to purchase a home based on pictures alone, there are a variety of digital options to make a home available for viewing.

Ask your agent about taking a video or virtual tour of a property. Although a digital tour doesn’t replace being there in person, it can help buyers get a better idea of the layout of the home and its features. Likewise, this gives buyers the opportunity to ask questions about details such as kitchen countertops, closet space, and more.

Another option is to ask your agent about viewing only unoccupied properties. If the previous owners have already vacated a property, there is a lower risk of transmitting the virus during a showing.

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