Life as we know it has changed profoundly amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Anyone who typically commutes to an office job is probably working from home, while everything from trips to the supermarket to social gatherings, in general, have been drastically altered for the foreseeable future.
Not only that, but there’s also only a vague sense of when—or even if—things will go back to normal. People are predominantly focused on the immediate implications of the pandemic, including the ever-mounting human toll, the response of the healthcare community, and the financial consequences that seem to shift on a moment-by-moment basis. But beyond instant ramifications, the pandemic will likely leave its mark on society for years to come.
One area that could bear the brunt of the long-term effects of the pandemic and the subsequent quarantine is the real estate market. It could be surmised that as unemployment increases and job security in general falters, the number of people who can even afford to purchase a home might decrease. Couple those factors with a fluctuating stock market and the possibility of another recession, and shopping for a home might be the farthest thing from your mind.
But, hold on just a second. It might seem counterintuitive, but what if this very moment was the exact time when you should consider buying a home? Think about it: If you are blessed with job security and a salary that hasn’t been negatively impacted by the pandemic, then you might be in the perfect position to take advantage of historically low interest rates—especially after the Federal Reserve twice slashed interest rates in March, an action that lowered rates to near-zero percent in an attempt to remedy the financial markets.
What Does Home Buying Look Like During A Pandemic?
Social distancing orders are in place throughout the country. This adds complications to the home-buying process. Mortgage professionals, real estate agents, and the home-browsing public have all been forced to alter the typical machinations involved in buying a home, as sellers are, of course, hesitant to allow agents and buyers into their homes. This all makes for a transaction that would have been unheard of mere weeks prior to the outbreak.
For real estate agents, virtual tours are becoming more and more routine in lieu of open houses. Utilizing video applications like FaceTime or Zoom, real estate agents are shooting live videos in “virtual walk-throughs” for-sale homes, interacting with potential buyers without making any actual, physical contact.
Meanwhile, in areas where home showings are still allowed, real estate agents are wearing masks and gloves, carrying bottles of hand sanitizer, and using disinfectant wipes on door handles. They’ll even leave doors ajar and lights flipped on so that visitors can minimize the amount of contact they make with surfaces.
According to the leading real estate website Zillow, virtual home tours are up 408% from February, underscoring the importance of technology and alternative real estate practices in fostering transactions. And recently, Realtor.com has added a feature that allows users to livestream open houses.
Closing, Appraisals, Notaries, and Beyond During A Pandemic
The effects of social distancing are felt beyond open houses. Almost every aspect of the transaction will likely be altered in some way. This includes closing on your mortgage loan, getting all manner of paperwork signed and notarized, meeting with title agents and notaries, getting a home appraisal, and sitting down at the closing table.
It’s all subject to change in the current climate of uncertainty.
For starters, home inspections will be impossible in states with strict stay-at-home orders, as virtual inspections are not allowed. However, a licensed inspector could go it alone, with the agent and buyers watching from their respective homes via a service like Zoom. Of course, in this instance, the inspector would be clad in full protective gear in order to keep the homeowners, and themselves, safe.
When it comes to appraisals, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) is allowing certain flexibilities to satisfy appraisal requirements through May 17. These include desk appraisals, where the appraiser looks at comparable sales without visiting the house; and hybrid appraisals, where the appraiser will drive by the house or “visit” it via a video chat.
As for actually closing, home buyers might have a few options. Certain states do allow online notarizations, but others require this to be handled in-person. Though many lenders and title companies have offered digital underwriting in the past, the majority still require that buyers be physically present for the public notary on closing day. However, times have changed. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, more states than ever are permitting the notarization process to take place online. Visit the National Notary Association for a full list of states that are allowing for emergency online notary services amid the pandemic.
Securing A Mortgage Loan During A Pandemic
Mortgage lenders are tapping into their online capabilities even more to support a safe, healthy interaction with their customers. Digital meetings are the new norm, as lenders are working to meet the demand of customers looking to take advantage of historically low interest rates.
However, mortgage lenders must also work to offset any potential risks. This means that you might be subject to multiple employment verifications, while a more robust and higher credit score may be required. With changes almost by the hour, it is recommended to get the latest information with your lender directly and not just the internet.
It is critical that you don’t make any assumptions about how the coronavirus-altered world will impact your efforts to get a mortgage loan and to ultimately buy a home. Do plenty of research into your city or state’s response to the pandemic and how the home-buying process might be affected. Whether deals are made in separate rooms, via webcam or with all parties wearing face masks and gloves, the reality of homeownership is still very much a possibility—even with the ever-changing landscape of a country finding its way through an unprecedented public health crisis.