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Buying a house during a pandemic

By Julie Tramonte

June 2020

Buying a new home and moving is always a bit stressful – even under the best circumstances. But what is it like to buy a home during a global pandemic?

For Jocelyn, a mortgage professional, the answer was: “Different but not difficult.” She sold her first home and bought her current home in Simi Valley, CA, in May. She added, “But I’m not going to lie, I was really nervous.”

Fear of spreading COVID-19 has modified some steps in the process, but it certainly hasn’t stopped people from buying and selling homes. We talked to a few recent homebuyers to see how the pandemic affected the homebuying process for them.

Home search

How, when and who can view a property has changed. When Jocelyn toured her new house late March, the sellers were understandably anxious about letting people into their home. As a condition of entering, Jocelyn had to agree not to touch anything or bring anyone other than her real estate agent along. They also left hand sanitizer, masks and gloves on the counter. And after Jocelyn had completed her tour, they decided they’d only allow virtual tours going forward.

Adrienne, a marketing technology manager in Denver, CO, had a similar experience – and found it unexpectedly worked to her advantage. Adrienne had just moved from Wisconsin in February. Two weeks into her new job, employees were sent home to work remotely due to coronavirus. She was temporarily renting a 500-square-foot apartment with her 2 dogs and cats. This turn of events accelerated her home search. She was able to tour and bid on a home 2 weeks before the stay-at-home orders were put in place. Adrienne says the timing was lucky – her sellers admitted they didn’t want additional people in their house so they accepted her offer. 

Appraisals, inspections and documentation

Another noticeable change is how long it can take to get a house appraised – but the pandemic is only partly to blame for delays, thanks to the refi boom and low interest rates.

“Things are moving, but slowly,” reports Jocelyn. “You have to be extra patient.”

Adrienne, however, had no delays in getting an appraisal, inspection or moving company. What did pose a stumbling block was that her loan company stopped offering local HFA loans, after she’d already been approved. On top of that, her new employer cut salaries due to the pandemic. Surprisingly, even this worked to Adrienne’s benefit. Her reduced salary met the income threshold for a Home Possible loan from Freddie Mac. She used private mortgage insurance (PMI) and only had to make a 3% down payment.  

Closings

And how has the loan closing process been affected by the pandemic? It’s a mixed bag, with different degrees of social distancing.

Meg, a graphic artist, closed on her Milwaukee home in May. She had been looking for a house for a year and had met with her loan officer in 2019 to get pre-approved so she’d be ready once she found her dream home. Because of this, the rest of her paperwork was completed electronically. She was very happy to take advantage of the low interest rates, qualifying for conventional loan at 3.375%, and putting down only 5% using PMI. Her closing took place in an office with everyone wearing masks, practicing social distancing and avoiding shaking hands.

When Jocelyn met with her notary public to sign her loan documents in late April, she was told beforehand to “bring your own pen, wear a mask, and sit 6 feet apart.”

For Adrienne, there was even less contact when she closed on her home in April. She describes sitting in her car to sign her paperwork, dropping it off on a designated stoop outside and then calling her notary public to pick it up. 

Moving

Both Meg and Adrienne used professional movers and were assured their movers would wear masks. However, Meg’s movers arrived without them, which stressed her out.

When Jocelyn moved into her new home on May 1, she asked her family for help with the move. One uncle declined because of a compromised immune system. The other family members wore masks and refrained from hugging each other, which she found sad but necessary.

The pandemic presented another unexpected stressor for Meg during her move. Because she works remotely now, as many people are doing, she found it hard to live and work with boxes everywhere. “Not being able to physically go to work meant I could never escape the mess,” she confides. “There was chaos everywhere, all the time! But it was so worth it.” 

Celebrating

The pandemic has definitely changed the way new homeowners are celebrating their milestone, turning it from a gathering of friends and family to a more private celebration. But it hasn’t changed the sense of pride and satisfaction felt by these homeowners.

“I love owning a home,” says Adrienne. “It’s such a good feeling! I don’t have to worry about moving again; I can do whatever I want to the house. There’s room for all my pets! This has worked out better than I could have hoped.”

As we celebrate National Homeownership Month, it’s encouraging to see that even during these times of uncertainty and turmoil, the American dream of homeownership remains strong.

If you’re thinking of buying a home and are wondering what you need to know about home shopping during the pandemic in your area, talk to your real estate agent or lender. They help people buy houses every day and can help you understand what to expect.

Samuel Ezell

We have have experienced similar emotions, however we’re gaining better understanding of the process along with the overwhelming reality of the pandemic.

Debbie Foster

I've read all the stories they seem very interesting and we're very helpful to me being a first time buyer

Royal cook

I have read the story and I am proud to be a first time home buyer.

Justin Taylor

This helps me understand how buying a home during these crazy times can still happen and makes me feel better about purchasing a home at this time.

Kalota

This is a great way of showing vision! now we can Buy a new home and be ready to move in!

Ethan

good perspective

Colleen

I found that in my search for a new home during the pandemic, most had turn to virtual showings, and with the few in person showings that I had, I was still too late for, as homes were still selling very quickly during the pandemic. I finally ended up buying one of the first townhouses that I saw (I toured the model home) and had to wait 4 months for it to be built (still waiting, closing is in September 2020). But is is well worth it, seeing all the stages of building it. I'm so excited!

Stephen

It has given me a different outlook on things.

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Julie Tramonte is a writer who joined MGIC in 2018. Prior to flying the coop, she wrote for a mattress company, a manufacturer and advertising agencies. She’s obsessed with reading, traveling, tennis and rearranging furniture. Mother of 2 beautiful, adult daughters. Empty nester toying with downsizing. Her guilty pleasures are doughnuts and the Kardashians (don’t tell anyone).
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