BY KEITH ROBINSON | APRIL 24, 2020
How in the heck am I supposed to buy a house while I am sheltering in place?? I hardly know what day it is without checking right now. Is it actually possible for me to find a house, evaluate it, write an offer, get it accepted, and close on it? Not to mention moving… is that even legal right now?
Trust me, we hear you. It is always complicated, stressful, and a little emotional buying a house. Maybe even a little more so in this “new normal” (nothing normal about this) of COVID-19. To start with, the answer to all of the above questions is “it depends.” Super helpful, right? The thing is, every state (heck, every county) is approaching this differently. In some states it’s kind of business as nearly normal – just add in vats of hand sanitizer, masks, and 6-feet-away hellos. Others are in lockdown but real estate is deemed essential so you can still transact. And in a few, it’s been deemed non-essential and it’s literally not even possible to close on a home, not to mention see one. So… it depends.
If you are in one of the states (counties) with the first two options, there are some real opportunities out there for buyers right now. We’ve had an inventory shortage in this country for a while now and that is only going to continue with builders slowing down building and more and more millennials entering “household formation” years (a fancy way of saying they can now afford to buy a house). For the buyer with a little creativity and willingness to take action – and the right real estate professional – this could be the time. That being said, it is stressful and a person deciding to hold off to let the dust settle could make sense. The rest of this is for the creative and willing buyer.
Step 1: virtual buyer consultation. It could be over Facetime, a Zoom meeting, or some other virtual conference room software. We’ve been doing things remote at NextHome since we started our company over five years ago. It’s not quite as good as meeting face-to-face but it’s really close to the same thing. I mean, if virtual happy hours are popping up around the U.S., then we can set up a virtual buyer consultation to have all your questions answered.
Step 2: virtual property search. Now you’ve already been digging through Zillow like a detective looking for the one clue to make your case. Now you’ve got someone to send them to so you can get more information. And you’ve got a partner in detective work who will be doing some digging with you and sending you properties that fit your criteria. Think of it as your virtual property concierge who is there to assist, and sometimes lead, the property finding process. Thank the technology gods that more and more have been developed to help you know a lot about a house before you see it. I know, I know, you’re already wondering what happens when you find your dream house online for that, it’s step 3.
Step 3: video home tours. We’ve all got a camera in our pocket (along with a calculator, take that my 6th-grade math teacher who said I wouldn’t always have one handy)and it’s as easy as ever to “see” a property at a distance. Your agent can get access to the property, fire up that Facetime, Facebook video chat, Google Duo, etc. and walk you through every inch of your future home.
Step 4: electronically sign things. Ok, we like it, no, we love it. Now what? It’s offer writing time. The ability to sign documents at distance has been around for years on the real estate side (come on mortgage side, step your game up, because not everything can be signed digitally there). We have all the real estate contracts, addendums, forms, and such available digitally and can email them to you. Then you would need to lean forward towards the computer screen to read the small print and smush a few mouse clicks – you’re now in offer, counteroffer, negations, and starting the closing process. You will probably have to go somewhere to sign loan documents (see above about mortgage) but in most areas, they have changed their process to allow for safe signing. Some even have a mobile notary and closing specialist who can come to you to sign everything. Easy peasy lemon squeezy (it’s actually hard hard lemon hard but our trained real estate professionals are there to help you every step of the way).
Step 5: inspections. Buying a house is one of the biggest financial decisions you’ll ever make. There are lots and lots of inspections you can have done. And each of them can be completed, then the reports sent to you via email. We can even set up a virtual conference room to review the report with the inspector and the agent so you can get all your questions answered.
Step 6: transfer funds by wire. Yup, that’s right. You can move money around like a high-powered hedge fund manager. You feel pretty dang cool when you tell the closing facilitator, “I’ll have my people wire the money over.” Trust me. You do.
Step 7: keys, please! As an agent, this was always my favorite part of closing with a buyer. Giving them their keys. As a real estate agent, there isn’t much more rewarding than seeing the people you’ve helped get the keys to “their home.” It’s amazing. Now we just do it over a screen instead of in person. There are key delivery services that can have the keys brought right to you. You’ll just have to Facetime when you do it because I know your agent is going to want to see your smiling face when you get them.
Do I write this with the thoughts that someone will buy a house without ever seeing it. No, of course not. What’s important right now is we all stay safe and we can limit the contact as much as we need to for everyone to feel safe. And we’re fully set up to take care of as much of the process virtually as we can. For some buyers, this is the right time to get bold, take action, and go find their house. And for others, they might want to hold off a few months. For both sets of buyers, we’re here to help you whenever you’re ready.