You’ve been in your house for four months. The walls are closing in. The projects are piling up. Your wish list of things to change is endless. It could be time to buy a new house, regardless (or maybe because) of the pandemic. Here’s what it’s like buying a house during a pandemic!
We moved to Austin in the fall for a job opportunity and decided to rent while we waited for our house in Dallas to sell. That sale closed in late February, and we were ready to start checking out neighborhoods and houses for where we would settle down. Of course we all know what happened next. Schools closed, businesses shut down and we all started our time apart and mostly at home.
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So can you even buy a house during a pandemic? Will you have to put in an offer without setting foot inside the home? How can you make the experience as safe and comfortable as possible? Are houses still coming on the market and selling?
We went ahead with our plan to buy a house, figuring it might be a little different or slower than expected, and about three months later, we closed on a house in Northwest Austin! And besides a few small elements, it wasn’t that different from when we bought our last house. The differences: We wore masks to every showing, we sometimes were required to sign COVID-19 disclosures about symptoms and exposure before a showing, and the one open house we attended required a scheduled time slot rather than a come-and-go style. Our realtor also wore gloves and opened any doors or cabinets we wanted to see so we didn’t touch any surfaces (I’d recommend investing in your own gloves so you can poke around all you want).
We were still able to physically go inside every house we were interested in, unless it went under contract before we got the chance. With low interest rates, it’s a good time to buy a house, and with low inventory, it’s a good time to sell a house, even during a pandemic. If you’re in the market, here are a few tips for navigating home-buying in the time of COVID.
- Let your priorities shift — to a degree. Spending so much time at home is showing many of us what we really value in a house. More meals at home means more time in the kitchen. Fewer outings to public places means more time hanging out in our living rooms and backyards. We’re rediscovering what brings us true enjoyment and comfort, and if that’s different than before, make it a priority. On the other hand, don’t forget that you will someday be commuting again and that it has a big influence on quality of life. Be realistic about what traffic will look like when a real Austin rush hour is a normal part of the day again.
- Have a strategy for the kids. Right now when babysitters aren’t an easy option like they used to be, you’ll likely have to bring your kids to showings. And you know those kids are going to want to touch everything in sight. Parents can go into the house one at a time while the other stays in the car with kids. Older kids might be trusted to keep their hands in their pockets. We tried the car switch-off, but since we wanted to see the houses together and point out important things, we started going in as a family. My husband carried our preschooler and I wore the toddler so we could focus on the house, rather than worrying about our kids licking the doorknobs.
- Take advantage of all the conveniences realtors and title companies are offering. For all the disruption the coronavirus has caused, it has forced every industry to embrace technology as much as possible. Most homes now have 3-D virtual tours and floor plans included on the listing. Some sellers’ agents do video walk-throughs on social media. We never had to leave our house to meet with our realtor (besides for showings) or sign anything. Even closing can be done without going into an office: either in a drive-by style or by a mobile notary, like we used. She showed up at our house totally prepared, and we bought a house while the kids watched Frozen 2.
- Don’t let the weirdness of the situation rush you into a big commitment. With the uncertainty surrounding us, it’s appealing to get one big piece of the puzzle settled. But don’t let that desire for control push you into buying a house that you aren’t excited about. We were very close to being stuck with a house that was only good enough, that required a lot of changes that were going to be a hassle and big expense, and every new development filled us with unease. Once we saw another house that we loved, it became clear that the first house was all wrong for us and we were settling for it because we were ready for the next move.
Here’s to making your next home into the perfect shelter from life’s disasters — and here’s hoping we never need it like this again.