The Pandemic Effect
Traditionally, buying and selling real estate is a hands-on affair that involves touring homes and meeting with inspectors, lenders, and agents, but all that changes when a pandemic is afoot. As the real estate industry adapts to the new normal of social distancing, new and safer policies have started to replace the old standards.
Be prepared to move quickly if need be. Madeline Herrera and her husband, Jonathan Herrera-Thomas, of Lawrence, Kansas, had been planning all along to list their home in May 2020, but when the pandemic struck they decided to list sooner in case housing prices started to drop. Their real estate agent agreed, so they pushed up the timeline and listed their house a full two months earlier than they’d originally planned.
Vacate the Home
With social distancing in full swing, Herrera said their real estate agent encouraged them to move out while their house was on the market so buyers would feel comfortable walking through. They scrambled to get everything packed (a real chore since they couldn’t recruit friends to help) and moved for the duration—and it worked! Their vacant house sold within 12 hours of being listed.
A Trustworthy Agent Is Essential
During a pandemic, buyers and sellers have to depend on their agents more than ever. It's not surprising, then, that when a friend asked Jonathan Herrera-Thomas what advice he had for successfully selling a home during a pandemic, Herrera-Thomas was quick to respond, “Don’t pick the Realtor you want to go have drinks with. Instead, get someone whose opinion you really trust—someone with a good reputation.”
Vacant Homes Can Close Quickly
Not living in your house when an offer comes in is likely to speed up the closing, even during a pandemic. Because Herrera and her husband were completely moved out and living in a rental when their house sold, the closing was shorter than the usual 30 days. “Everything we needed to do was done,” she said, “so there was no reason to wait to close.”
House-Hunting Moves Fast Online
Once their home closed, Herrera and her husband were anxious to find a new home, but it had to be the right one. They took to the internet and perused online listings, carefully checking out each home’s details. On a Sunday afternoon, Herrera-Thomas found a brand-new listing that looked promising, and their Realtor was able to arrange a showing the same day. They made an offer within hours, and it was accepted.
Children Attend Showings
Arranging for childcare “is tricky” during a pandemic, Herrera discovered, so when they went to a showing they ended up having to bring along their two small boys, a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old. “We instructed our older son not to touch anything,” she said, “and he walked through the entire home with his little hands clasped behind his back.” Aside from the stress of having to worry about the kids, Herrera noted that it felt odd to be so careful not to touch anything while also trying to imagine living in the home.
You May Not Meet the Buyers
The home Herrera and her husband were selling was more than 100 years old, and the couple had come to love it. Herrera wanted the new owners to love it as much as they had, and she hoped to pass that affection on to them, but she never got the chance. Buyers and sellers don’t always meet one another during a pandemic—even closings are done by phone and online. “That sense of closure was missing,” Herrera said. With more and more transactions taking place remotely, the days of buyers and sellers meeting is (at least temporarily) over.
Although they closed quickly on the sale of their old house, the family is still waiting to move out of their rental and into their new home. Herrera attributes some of this delay to the buyers' needing more time to arrange for help in moving out their belongings, and she's probably right. According to the National Association of Realtors, agents are adding provisions to their contracts that will extend a closing if someone has to quarantine or becomes ill, or if stay-at-home orders interfere with meetings with lenders or inspectors.
Become a Landlord
Amber and Tyler Jones of Baytown, Texas, never planned to be landlords, but the contract on their old house fell through after they made an offer on a new home, leaving them with two properties. “The buyer lost his job due to the pandemic, and we couldn’t afford to keep paying all the upkeep on two homes,” Amber Jones said. “Instead, we pulled our house off the market and we rented it out, so at least now we have the rent money to pay the bills.”
Open Houses Are History
Even though they’re living in their new home now, the Joneses miss spending Sunday afternoons touring open houses. It was a great way to see how other homeowners chose to decorate. “I really wanted to get decorating ideas for our new home,” Amber Jones said, “but when the pandemic hit, the open houses stopped abruptly.” Jones said she’s resigned herself to looking at home decor images on Pinterest for now.
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