In February, my husband and I purchased a plot of land to build a dream home. All that was left to do before we could get started on construction was to sell our existing house. We listed it in early March. Then the world changed a few weeks later when the coronavirus hit the U.S. full force.
During the past few months, I've learned some essential lessons that could help homeowners trying to sell right now or in the not-so-distant future. Here are 12 of the most important lessons I’ve learned.
Virtual tours are going to be a lot more common
With many would-be home buyers concerned about visiting houses in person, virtual showings have become widespread.
Our realtor advised us to add a 3D walkthrough to our listing so would-be buyers could “see” the home in person. The goal was to reach people who didn't want to come out in person due to the virus. We've also had some agents come through with a smartphone or laptop and FaceTime or Zoom with clients who wanted to see the home but weren't comfortable with a live visit.
With a virtual tour, it's essential to highlight the key features of the house because buyers can't come out and explore themselves. That meant massive decluttering and removing some furniture pieces so architectural details would more easily show up on video.
In-person visits are still critical
Although buyers are more interested in virtual tours than ever, most people simply will not purchase a house without walking through it in person.
We've had several potential buyers who were interested in our property based on their video tour but ultimately decided not to buy after visiting in person due to factors such as a smaller fenced-in yard than expected.
It can be disappointing to feel as though you've closed a deal based on a video visit and then lose the buyer in person. Prepare for the fact that seeing a home on a screen often isn't a perfect substitute for a real-life home tour.
Open houses are a thing of the past
Unfortunately, marketing a home to a wide pool of potential buyers is more difficult because in-person open houses are off the table during the time of COVID.
Our realtor is compensating by marketing our home on social media to help generate the interest that an open house normally provides. Make sure you ask whatever agent you hire about their plans for grabbing the attention you'll miss out on because you can't schedule an open house.
Buyers may have questions about the disinfection process
When it comes time for buyers to visit your home in person, chances are good they’ll want to know what you've done to make it safe for them during COVID-19. At least that's been our experience, with some agents questioning our disinfection procedures before scheduling home showings for their clients.
Be prepared to invest in cleaning supplies and have hand sanitizer available for those coming into your home. They'll appreciate the effort and feel more comfortable about staying to look around.
Disinfecting after showings can take time
We also wanted to make sure people coming to our home for showings weren't putting us at risk of getting sick. That meant taking steps to disinfect after they left.
Because we generally aren't present during showings and don't know exactly what prospective buyers or their real estate agent might have touched, cleaning up appropriately means sanitizing most surfaces after they leave. This can take time, especially when you also account for the pre-showing cleaning that needs to be done.
Social distancing makes showings more complicated
Although it's usually a best practice to clear out during a showing, it's even more important than ever due to COVID-19. Otherwise, it can be hard to socially distance inside the house.
When we’ve sold homes in the past, real estate agents have often arrived with clients in the same car. However, this is far less common now because buyers often drive separately to social distance from their agent. Although traveling in separate cars might not seem like a big deal, sometimes there are scheduling snafus or people get lost and buyers and agents don't arrive at exactly the same time. In these cases, we’ve had to clear out of our home for longer than expected.
Not every home shopper wants to wear a mask during showings
To protect the health and safety of your family, you'll probably want to insist that buyers wear masks when they visit your home for an in-person showing.
Some would-be buyers haven't always been receptive to this, especially in our state where there's no statewide mask mandate. If you have a buyer who wants to visit without a mask, you'll have a choice to make between potentially losing the sale or possibly getting sick.
COVID-19 may slow down many aspects of the process
With many more people working from home and some businesses closed entirely, finding professionals to help with the sales process has been more challenging.
For instance, we needed to make some minor repairs before listing our house, and it took several calls to different contractors before we could find someone to come in quickly to do the work.
And when we had a potential buyer, it took several days before he could find an inspector and appraiser to come to the home. It also took extra time for the title company the buyer wanted to work with to give us an idea about the closing costs associated with selling.
There isn’t necessarily a big pool of buyers
In most parts of the country, it's a seller's market right now. But that doesn't mean there are lots of buyers clamoring for every property. In fact, data from a recent FinanceBuzz survey indicates that 60% of buyers and renters are putting their moves on hold until 2021.
We expected our house to sell quickly based on what we read about high demand for homes. Sadly, we haven't had nearly as many showings as expected — despite our agent and all the feedback from buyers indicating our home is priced correctly and shows well.
The bottom line is, the real estate market is location-specific. Although there are lots of buyers for certain types of homes in many locations, that's not necessarily the case everywhere. So if you’re planning to list your home shortly, it’s essential to be patient with the process.
Only a small number of houses are on the market
In our area, and in most parts of the country, there aren't a lot of homes on the market right now — largely due to the fact that many sellers don't want the hassle of selling a house during COVID-19.
This is a good thing in the sense that it helps drive up demand for the limited number of houses that are available. But it's also meant many buyers have to come to look at our house even though it wasn't a perfect fit, just because it was one of a small number of homes on the market.
Ultimately, those buyers decided they didn't want our home because it really didn't meet their parameters. Unfortunately, this has meant a lot of wasted time. On the bright side, we’ve learned that when a buyer does make an offer, it’ll likely mean our home is truly the right fit for them.
Buyers may have a hard time getting a mortgage loan right now
Mortgage rates are at record lows right now, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's easy to get a home loan, even from the best mortgage lenders. Unfortunately, we found that out when we had a buyer make an offer and go through the inspection and appraisal process but ultimately not be able to qualify for financing.
Lenders are being more selective right now in terms of whom they approve because of the economic uncertainty of COVID. This makes it harder for many potential buyers to figure out how to get a loan that will work for their financial situation. The takeaway? Be sure to ask for a preapproval letter upfront before accepting an offer, but also be aware that's not necessarily a guarantee of final approval.
It may take longer than you expect
Because of the challenges associated with getting repairs made, with finding an interested buyer, and with making sure your buyer can be approved for financing, it can take time to complete the process of selling your house during COVID-19. Don't count on a quick sale just because of what you read in the news about how it's a seller's market. Although you may end up with a quick sale, it’s a good idea to prepare yourself for a longer process just in case.
The bottom line
We're still working on finding the right buyer for our home, but the good news is we've had a lot of interest and had some offers — even if they haven’t ended up going our way just yet. The fact is, selling a property can always be a challenging process that's full of ups-and-downs — and the coronavirus has made things even more complicated. Take the time to find the right agent, be patient, and put safety first when it comes to selling your home during COVID-19.