Did you make it your resolution to buy a house this year? The on-going Coronavirus pandemic may have you rethinking that resolution as everything from open houses to eating at your favorite restaurants has become a thing of the not-so-distant past. There’s a lot of talk right now about an impending recession as growing unemployment and a resilient virus work together to shut down almost every non-essential business and activity.
The housing market has seen the effects of the pandemic. Spring is normally the beginning of the busy season for buyers and sellers and it’s true that the number of open houses is dropping as sellers enact safety precautions to try and protect themselves and their families. But the housing market is not slowing down and buyers and sellers are still active. The way the real estate market works has just shifted to take on a more virtual form.
If you made it your goal to buy a house in 2020, it can still happen. In fact, this might be a prime time for you to make your dream of homeownership a reality. Here are four ways you can make it happen this year:
1. Keep saving for a downpayment.
This may seem a little obvious but we’re all stuck at home during quarantine and it’s tempting to give into online shopping as a new hobby. Resist the urge to give Amazon your money and keep saving it for your downpayment!
The more you save, the better your loan terms and interest rate might be. In fact, building up your savings will be your best insurance against any kind of future unusual activity in the housing market. But you may be wondering if you should even use those savings for a house with everything going on in the economy right now.
Amanda Abella, a business coach and author, spoke to House Beautiful addressing this concern: “Assuming you can afford a mortgage and the other costs involved and your job is not in danger of being cut, then yes…Smart investors and people who are financially savvy know these times are ridden with opportunity because the general public is going to contract,” she said. “But every individual situation is different. Unless you’re sitting on pretty hefty savings and know your industry won’t be impacted by what’s going on, then you should err on the side of caution.”
There are some key takeaways here: if you know your job is unlikely to be impacted or eliminated and you can afford a mortgage anyway, now is a good time to keep saving so you can take advantage of an active market and low interest rates.
2. Connect with your lender now to get pre-approval.
We recommend everyone starting off on the home buying journey talk to a lender before they do anything else- even in the best of times. Why? It’s easier to house hunt when you know exactly where you stand financially, what you can afford and what kind of home loan you’ll be using.
Lenders are working hard to process and approve home loans, especially with interest rates at a historic low. The Fed announced last month that it would buy back mortgage-backed bonds (MBS) to lower interest rates for buyers. If you know your job and income are secure and you have enough for a downpayment, your lender will most likely tell you to take advantage of low rates and the market’s activity right now and secure financing for a home.
Your lender can also help you find the right downpayment assistance programs if you qualify for help. Some organizations, like the Neighborhood Finance Corporation and the Iowa Finance Authority, offer grants and loan programs to assist homebuyers who might not qualify for a conventional loan with their downpayment or who are house hunting in areas that are in need of development.
Keep in mind though with all that’s going on and government services backed up right now, it may be more difficult or more time-consuming to qualify for and receive aid from government-backed assistance programs. That’s why you should see a lender as soon as possible in order to start the process.
3. Talk to your real estate agent and stay informed.
If you haven’t found a real estate agent you’d like to work with, now is the time. Although you may not be able to meet in-person and talk about your house-buying goals over coffee, you can still meet virtually (and drink coffee). Agents are still active and working so you shouldn’t have a problem finding one. They’ll want to know if you’ve talked to a lender yet and if so, what kind of financing and budget you’ll have for the house hunt.
Your agent will also be your best resource when it comes to changes in the real estate market. They have access to data and market knowledge that you don’t so they can keep you informed about what’s going on in your area, what changes to expect down the road and how to navigate the home buying process in the middle of a pandemic.
Keep in constant contact with your agent throughout this. Keep them informed of any changes in your financial status, ask them questions about the market (no matter how silly or anxious you may feel) and listen to what they have to say.
Your agent will also be able to connect you with a suite of virtual tools for finding a home. Almost everything about the house buying process can be done virtually or online so you may find your house hunt goes just as smoothly as if it was done in person.
4. Take virtual tours and attend virtual open houses.
Do not miss out on the information your agent can share with you! So many agents are adapting to the “new normal” and taking their practices online. While Zillow is a good start for researching houses in the areas you want to be, it’s not always accurate or up-to-date.
Your agent will show you where to find the virtual tours many real estate agents are creating for homes available for sale. You can do all the same house hunting- just from your couch! Take advantage of these and watch virtual tours. You can even do it via FaceTime or Zoom with your agent so you can ask questions in real-time and provide feedback.
You can also “attend” virtual open houses. Many agents are hosting these via Facebook Live or some other video sharing platform. Don’t feel awkward about attending these, even if they’re hosted by other agents or agents that belong to a different brokerage than your agent’s. They’re not much different than regular open houses. You can still attend, ask questions and let the hosting agent know you already have an agent.
Real estate agents are fast on their feet when it comes to adapting and they’ve done everything they can to make digital house hunting as easy as possible for you. Engage with these tools and talk to your agent about what you like and don’t like about the homes- just like you would normally.
The world may feel a little upside down right now and you’re not alone in wondering if you can still pursue your financial goals this year, such as buying a house. Connect to your local experts, like your lender and real estate agent, to get as much up-to-date and local information as possible. They’ll be happy to walk you through what the new processes and safety precautions are. Your dream of buying a house this year can still happen- the road there might just look a little different than before.