If you’re currently looking to buy a home, you’re not alone. The housing market remains hot despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“The buyers are coming in because of the low-interest rates – that’s the No. 1 reason,” Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, told HousingWire. “The secondary demand is coming from the work-at-home phenomenon that has people looking for bigger homes and caring less about commuting time.”
Although the pandemic has made it more challenging to buy a home, there are things you can do to stay safe and stand out from other prospective buyers in a crowded marketplace. GOBankingRates spoke to real estate experts to get their best tips for buying a home in the middle of a pandemic.
Last updated: Feb. 25, 2021
Before Starting the Process, Be Sure You're Financially Stable
Don’t rush into buying a home right now if you can’t actually afford it.
“With the pandemic, there can be uncertainty about future income stability and/or employment, along with minimal savings,” said Shelby McDaniels, channel director of corporate home lending at Chase. “Before purchasing a home, you want to ensure you have the stability to continue to make payments on it.”
Get Preapproved for a Mortgage
If you can afford a home, be sure to meet with a lender to get preapproval ASAP. Preapproval can help you stand out in the competitive marketplace.
“Get your financing squared away,” said Christopher Totaro, an agent with Warburg Realty. “Get pre-approved before you go home shopping.”
Shop Around: Best Places To Buy a Home for First-Time Homebuyers
Consider Looking in a Wider Area
You may be able to find better deals if you broaden your search horizons.
“You tend to get more for your money as you move away from population centers,” said David Parsons, broker/owner of RE/MAX North Professionals in Burlington, Vermont. “Consider expanding your search if you feel priced out of your current market.”
Consider Purchasing a Condo Instead of a House
“The best way to beat the competition is to avoid it,” said real estate agent John Castle. “The market for apartment condos is weak. There is ample selection and room to negotiate.”
Start Your Search Online
Instead of going on a bunch of in-person home tours, narrow down your search by looking at homes online first.
“Take advantage of virtual tours, and then decide which you will actually visit in person,” said Svetlana Choi, a broker with Warburg Realty.
You can also find a lot of information about the surrounding area online.
“A buyer would be wise to look at neighboring buildings, neighborhood websites, school websites, and any local politicians and their activities,” said Gerard Splendore, also a broker with Warburg Realty.
Take Extra Precautions During In-Person Home Tours
It goes without saying, but you should only visit homes in-person if you are feeling healthy and don’t have COVID-19 symptoms. Some realtors will require you to fill out a form stating that you are not experiencing any symptoms, so be prepared for that.
“Always wear a mask, and it might be a good idea to also have gloves,” Choi said. “It’s always better for the agent to open the closet and cabinet doors, but sometimes people forget.”
Prioritize What You Want in Your Future Home
“Once you have seen all of your different options, prioritize!” Choi said. “Do you need space, or is light more important? Are you OK without a doorman, but do you still want an elevator? How about laundry — if a washer/dryer can’t be in the apartment, is there laundry in the basement? Are you OK with a renovation, or do you prefer move-in condition?”
Once you know what your priorities are, act fast.
“If you are clear about what you want, and [a property] meets most of your needs, make a good and fair offer — especially if there is a lot of interest,” Choi said. “There are bidding wars, even now. Show that you are flexible if the seller wants to close early or might need to lease-back for a short period — but act!”
If You Can Afford To, Offer Above the Asking Price
Bidding wars are common, so it’s important to come in with a strong initial offer — and don’t be afraid to give a counteroffer.
“If it turns out that a little more will sweeten the deal with a lot of competitors, then go ahead,” Choi said. “Interest rates are so low now, a few thousand more dollars won’t cost as much over the long term.”
Consider Putting Down a Larger Deposit
“Average deposit amounts vary throughout the country, but larger deposits make your offer stronger in a seller’s eyes,” Parsons said.
Cash offers may also be more appealing to the seller, so consider that if it’s something you can afford.
Make Your Offer Personal
To stand out from other potential buyers, take the time to let the seller know why you want to buy their property.
“One should not forget that a home is a personal asset,” said real estate expert Alison Bernstein, founder and president of Suburban Jungle. “The seller has a plethora of memories in the home and they will want it to go to good hands who will care for it and enjoy it. Adding personal notes explaining why you have selected the home and how you see a beautiful life ahead under that roof always sweetens the deal.”
Don't Get Discouraged
In today’s competitive real estate landscape, it’s possible that it will take longer than usual to score your dream home.
“Buyers should keep focused,” Bernstein said. “Something else will come up, and ultimately, you’ll be pleased you stayed the course.”
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