5 Surprises You Might Encounter While House-Hunting During a Pandemic

Even in the best of times, house hunting comes with built-in stressors ranging from mortgage approvals to bidding wars and beyond. But house-hunting during the coronavirus pandemic can change the game entirely. Toward that end, here are five surprising lessons one homebuyer learned while house-hunting during these ongoing difficult times.

1. Don’t expect bargains

Early on during the pandemic, some people shopping for a home thought they’d wind up getting the deal of the century. Although the logic seemed sound—since interest rates had dropped to record lows, and many people likely wouldn’t be uprooting their lives and moving during this crisis—that has proved wrong.

With fewer people interested in moving, inventory has decreased in most markets across the country, and first -time homebuyers seem to be out in full force. The result: Nearly every house that hits the market sells quickly, some within 24 hours of being listed, and most go for well above asking due to bidding wars.

2. Prepare for virtual house-hunting

Anyone actively shopping for a home right now needs to become an expert in digitally touring spaces, as many markets are limiting home showings to comply with social distancing. In many cases, you might need to make do with photos or videos posted by the sellers or their agents. Alternatively, you might be able to have a real estate agent view the home on your behalf, and give you a FaceTime tour. If your real estate agent can tour homes for you, don’t be shy about asking for a closer look at anything and everything you’re curious about.

If you’re home shopping online, make sure to zoom in on photos to get a good look at all of the nooks and crannies. Also, remember that listing pictures may not tell the entire story. Special camera lenses and creative angles often make rooms appear larger than they actually are, so be on the lookout for potentially distorted pictures that often have angles that curve somewhat.

3. You must work with a real estate agent you trust

A trusted real estate agent always is a key ingredient when it comes to a successful home-buying experience, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, this asset is absolutely nonnegotiable. Professional agents are invaluable. They are your eyes and ears on the ground at showings, and you can lean on their judgment and trust them to point out things that pictures and videos aren’t able to capture. They also can point out flaws or potential red flags, such as crooked walls, that you might not notice on your own.

4. Don’t start house-hunting without mortgage pre-approval

Many banks and mortgage lenders have tightened their lending requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have even raised minimum credit-score requirements, now require larger down payments, and are triple-checking borrowers’ employment status, among other measures. That means people shopping for homes during the pandemic can struggle to get pre-approval for mortgages they would have easily qualified for before the crisis hit. In some cases, it may be difficult for buyers to get approval at all. All of which means it’s more important than ever to work with a lender before you shop.

5. Don’t expect to negotiate for extras

When you’re in a buyer’s market, home shoppers can submit offers that are below the asking price and even ask for extra perks to sweeten the deal. Common examples of these perks include asking the seller to leave behind specific appliances or furniture. Shopping during the pandemic, however, is the opposite: a seller’s market. That means you might have to make sacrifices to be competitive when it comes to writing offers. In other words, you’ll likely have to come in above asking and forgo certain asks.

For example, it might not be standard in the market you’re in to ask the sellers to leave major kitchen appliances. And you might think twice about submitting offers with any contingencies. In a super-competitive buying market, most houses receive multiple offers—sometimes more than a dozen in a single day. Asking for anything considered “extra” could land your offer in the rejection pile right away. That being said, a good real estate agent will never advise you to put in an offer that doesn’t ultimately serve your best interests.

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