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Making the Leap from Renting to Buying During COVID-19

By Tanya Svoboda
April 2020

Just a few weeks ago home buying season was ready to kick into full swing. February’s low-interest rates along with alluring financing options from government backed lenders like Freddie Mac, had many renters considering taking the leap into homeownership. However, the typical spring buying season has changed due to the spread of COVID-19 and the social distancing and shelter-in-place mandates that came along with it.

There’s always a lot to consider when making the leap from apartment dweller to first-time homebuyer. Even during the best of times, the process can seem overwhelming. While typical home shopping methods aren’t possible right now due to COVID-19 safety concerns, there are still responsible ways to pursue your dream of homeownership.

We’ve outlined the standard home buying process and included alternative approaches that will help to ensure home shoppers stay safe and healthy.

Figure out what you can afford.

An important step when deciding if you’re ready to move from renting to buying, whether you’re doing it during a pandemic or not, is to get a solid understanding of what you can afford. The cost of buying a home goes beyond the list price. To accurately measure this, you would traditionally meet with one or more REALTORS®, as well as with a lender to help understand what you can get for your money.

  • Safe alternative: Interview REALTORS® and lenders over the phone and use a video conferencing platform like Zoom along with electronic forms whenever possible to limit in-person contact.
Create a list of must haves

It’s always a good idea to be clear about what you want in a home. During the normal homebuying process your list may change as you visit homes and see your must haves in real life. After walking

through a variety of homes, you might realize having a full bathroom on the first floor isn’t as important to you as having a laundry room near the master bedroom.

  • Safe alternative: Create a comprehensive list of features. According to the article Your Guide to Buying a House Sight Unseen, you should have a list that contains everything “from the number of bedrooms and bathrooms to finite details like large windows or a big open concept floor plan”.

You’ll also need to consider how close you want to be to good schools, the transit system and other amenities.” Decide which of these items are non-negotiable and share that information with your REALTOR®. Look at different floor plans online and research popular home features. Checking out different home styles online will give you a better idea of what you like, love, and what you dislike or want to avoid.

Get a sense of the neighborhood

Location is often considered to be the most important factor when buying a house. In 2019, Census Bureau Data showed Americans are moving at the lowest rate since the government started keeping track. This means that buying a home in an area you love is more important than ever. Getting a feel for a neighborhood when businesses, restaurants and schools are closed presents a unique challenge.

  • Safe alternative: You can use Google maps street view to check out city centers, schools and parks. You can even find the closest ATM and gas station. The New Home Source article suggests home buyers also, “check city websites for crime rates, public school rankings and real estate sales to get a rough idea of what you’re getting into.”
Look at a large selection of different homes

One of the most exciting parts of a traditional home search is walking through different homes in different areas. But, hopping from home to home during COVID-19 is not safe. Luckily, home buyers and REALTORS® have been using the internet to find and list homes for years. In fact a report issued by the National Association of REALTORS® in 2018 showed that 50% of home buyers found their homes online.

  • Safe alternative: For any house you’re seriously interested in, measure out room dimensions within your current apartment or living space. This will give you a better sense of what a 12’ x 10’ living room feels like, how your current furniture might work in a space, and if that walk-in closet is really as amazing as it seems. Mabél Guzmán, NAR’s 2020 VP of Association Affairs, says virtual tours are a great way for buyers to stay safe but get a better feel for the homes they are interested in while coronavirus restrictions are in effect.
Find a great home inspector

Home inspections, a standard part of most home buying experiences, are even more important when you can’t physically access the home you’re looking to purchase. Traditionally, potential homebuyers could walk through a home with the inspector. However, according to The Home Inspector, “the new COVID-19 standard of care is to have the home inspector perform the home inspection alone.”

  • Safe alternative: Find a home inspector you can trust. Your REALTOR® may be able to provide suggestions. Ask your home inspector to take photos of any problem areas and be sure to have experts follow up on any areas of concern before proceeding with your purchase.

At first thought, the idea of buying a home sight unseen may seem like a crazy idea. However, in a 2018 poll commissioned by Redfin, 20 percent of homebuyers surveyed said they made an offer on a home sight unseen,” and armed with the right information you can feel confident doing so  too. By substituting these safe alternatives within the traditional home buying process, you don’t have to let COVID-19 stop you from transitioning from apartment dweller to homeowner.

Visit our COVID-19 Page for the latest news and information from Home Ownership Matters on COVID-19 and its impact on homeowners, housing and communities across the country.

Guidelines and protocol surrounding COVID-19 are changing quickly. For the most up-to-date information we recommend visiting the CDCWHO, and your local health department websites.


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