Guest Writer March 31, 2021
C. Barkley-Romero is a member of the California.com Recommended Business Program, which highlights only the best businesses in the Golden State. To be featured, each business must be highly regarded, have a unique California story, and make a positive impact in their community.
With all the changes that 2020 brought us, the real estate industry had to shift to keep buyers and sellers safe. To prepare you for your upcoming purchase, here are the steps to buying a house virtually.
10 Things to Know About the virtual home buying Process
1. Start Saving for a Downpayment
Right now, despite low interest rates, lending standards have tightened. Lenders are going through your employment, credit, and assets with a fine toothed comb.
However, there are loans in California buyers can qualify for with as little as one-percent down. Though with the slew of all-cash buyers out there, it’s important to be as competitive as possible!
2. Meet with a Lender
Whether or not you’re buying a home during the pandemic, this is always the first step. Until your realtor knows what you are approved for, there really isn’t a way to know what their budget is when looking for your future home. If you put the horse before the cart and find “the one” without getting pre-approved, you may find out that you are approved for less. As you can see, not knowing your limits before entering the virtual home buying process can lead to major heartbreak.
That being said, it’s even more important during COVID-19. Since we are in such a hot seller’s market, listing agents are allowed to allow only those who are pre-qualified to enter the property. In order to see homes, most sellers are asking to see proof of funds, a pre-approval, and a signed release of liability for coronavirus. Alas, the days of looking at houses for the fun of it, are gone—at least for now.
If you don’t have the name of a lender, reach out to your REALTOR®; they’d be happy to connect you with a few of their top choices.
3. Call Your Realtor
Did you know that it is usually free to work with a real estate agent?
With so very few homes on the market, and with all the extra paperwork due to COVID, it really is in your best interest to work with an agent that solely has your interest in mind. They will be able to guide you through the rest of these steps and negotiations to ensure you are involved in a fair deal.
Also, if you have your heart set on a specific neighborhood, get creative. Some realtors love to host fundraisers for the community to show they have the neighbors’ best interest in mind. This can help you find off-market listings, which is ideal when buying a house during a pandemic—especially in a market like we are experiencing right now.
4. Start Looking at Virtual Listings
The silver lining of this situation is that it has forced sellers to step their marketing game up. In order to keep in-person traffic down and make sure all the buyers are legitimately interested, we are seeing extremely accurate listings online, some of which even include a virtual walkthrough or 3D tour. Most sellers require potential buyers to look at these before setting an appointment for the in-person showing.
Another plus is that you can view these detailed listings from anywhere in the world if you haven’t moved to our beautiful state yet!
5. Go In Person if You Can
Some houses are still not allowing in-person showings, but it’s much more rare than it was when COVID-19 first hit. Buying a house during the pandemic does come with its own challenges, but if you’re looking for a more traditional homebuying experience, schedule an appointment to visit the property in-person if the option is available.
6. Make an Offer That Gets Accepted Without a Sweetheart Letter
We know it’s super fun to share every detail of why you should be the one to win the house—but it can open you up to lawsuits. California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing is really keeping an eye open for discrimination due to sweetheart letters right now. Even if it wins you the house, the letter could lead to a messy situation in your future.
We know how to pitch you and package your offer to get accepted, without opening you up to a major liability, so it’s important to work with a realtor you trust to get the job done.
7. Get Your Home Inspection
This is where the home inspector comes to determine if there are any problems with the home that may have you rethinking your offer. It’s also where the major negotiations start.
Our goal is to ensure that—even with this wild seller’s market—you are getting a fair price and not walking into any issues.
8. Get a Home Appraisal
This is where we are seeing the most common issue arise when buying a house during the pandemic. Due to demand, market values have shot up more than home values have, so we are seeing a disconnect with the appraisal and the offer price.
This becomes an issue when there is an appraisal contingency on the loan—which is almost always the case with a mortgage. If the appraisal comes out significantly lower than the sales price, you may be left having to make up the difference in cash. This is where that savings comes into play!
Remember, you are investing in the home, but your lender is investing in you and they want to make sure it is a smart investment.
9. Close Escrow
Until the paperwork is signed, sealed, and delivered, it’s important to sit tight and not make any big purchases. Yes, that means no $5,000 charge for furniture no matter how cute that living room set is.
I know it can be tempting to start nesting beforehand, but with lenders being extra careful, it’s important to avoid doing anything that will raise a red flag for them and cause you to not clear the loan!
It’s better to hold off on purchasing all of your new items until you’re in—that way we make sure you get the house to put them in.
10. Move in, Close with Gratitude, and Start Enjoying the Benefits of Being a New Homeowner
From movers to handymen, your realtor likely has people to connect you with to make your move as smooth as possible. Once you’re in, it’s time to meet your new neighbors and find creative ways to give back to your new neighborhood.
There are so many benefits to being a homeowner. These include tax benefits, equity, and more stability than renting. Plus, children who grow up in homes usually see a positive impact in achievements such as reading and math. Not to mention, there are major mental health benefits to having a space that is all your own!
We are excited for you to take on this role as a California homeowner and here to help you every step of the way.
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