How to Safely Buy a Home During COVID
The Process of Buying a Home During the Pandemic
Written By: Mariko Baerg, REALTOR of Bridgewell Real Estate Group
If you’re looking for a realtor to help you purchase a property, call me today!
Wondering how to navigate the real estate market and safely buy a home during COVID? If you want information on how to safely buy a home during COVID then you’ve come to the right place.
This blog goes through what to expect as a buyer when looking for a home during the pandemic, and how the process has changed.
We also provide tips on what you need to know about how to purchase successfully during COVID, including financing information and how to choose the right realtor.
For more on how to safely buy a home during COVID and what your real estate journey will look like given the “new norm,” keep reading below!
How to safely buy a home during COVID
We’re starting to hear from quite a few Buyers these days that are eager to get back in to the market and begin their search for a home in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.
With social distancing and other protective measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve, many businesses have had to creatively adjust to a new normal of functioning under these circumstances.
Now more than ever, it’s important that you hire the right realtor (that also is tech-savvy), as despite being more virtual, they are even MORE involved in helping you get access to properties online and in person, providing vital information about the location, home, and details, and making the process go smooth.
Furthermore, hiring a realtor that has helped other buyers successfully purchase during COVID and has relevant and current experience & knowledge is imperative to your success.
While the process has changed, our commitment to an exceptional experience and services has not. With that being said, we’re still looking to provide experiences that avoid crowded spaces, close contact, confined spaces, and ultimately – coronavirus transfer.
Below, we look at the steps involved in safely buying a home in Vancouver and the surrounding areas during the COVID-19 pandemic:
Getting pre-approved for a mortgage before you begin your search for a home is critical.
Knowing your affordability from the start is always key, and getting a mortgage pre-approval before you start looking is how you do that. In a “normal” setting, the mortgage broker will pull your credit, proof of down payment, and get your income documentation to determine how much the bank is willing to lend you.
During COVID, there are a number of additional reasons to make sure that you are in a recent and updated pre-approval and actively working with a mortgage broker:
Lenders are taking a closer look at your job stability and income
If you had a pre-approval before COVID, make sure that you get an updated one. Most lenders will be requiring ALL documentation upfront in order to approve you for a mortgage: proof of income and a dated job letter (showing that you’ve been working during the last 30 days), paystubs, your T4 or Notice of Assessment. Due to COVID, they may require additional documentation to prove job stability – like a letter from HR.
Many home sellers only want to show in-person to qualified buyers
Due to the number of collapsed offers and issues with financing, many home sellers and/or their listing realtors are asking for a copy of your pre-approval before allowing you to view a home to make sure you are a qualified buyer. This helps to minimize in-person showings to buyers that aren’t fully prepared to make an offer, in efforts to reduce the spread of COVID.
Lenders aren’t fans of exceptions right now
If you were pre-approved for a mortgage pre-pandemic, you need to talk to you lender again and get an up-to-date confirmation of how much mortgage you qualify for. Don’t assume that what you qualified for before will be the same as it is today – especially if things have changed for you financially or in your credit score.
If you’ve been temporarily laid-off, could be in the future, or just started a new job, now is not a great time to apply for a mortgage. Banks like certainty, and given COVID they are red flagging any thing odd in an application and limiting exceptions, such as low credit, skipped payments, probationary periods at new jobs, contract work, and temporary lay offs.
Interest rates are at all-time lows, and locking in a rate hold can be used to your benefit
Interest rates are crazy low right now. Getting pre-approved means that you’ll be locking in an interest rate for anywhere between 90-120 days. That means that even if the rate increases moving forward, that you’ll be able to access today’s low rate as long as your completion occurs in the next 3-4 months.
Make sure to choose the RIGHT realtor
Choosing the right realtor is more important than ever. With so much of the process happening virtually, you’ll want to make sure that you’re working with someone that:
- Has current market knowledge that has helped clients buy during COVID and can factually guide you through what’s happening with prices
- Has knowledge of the TYPE of home you’re buying, and can point out any information or flaws that might be hard to get an understanding of through pictures or a video tour alone
- You can trust and can take the lead on neighbourhood, home, and extra due diligence that needs to be done given the situation
- Has a strong network of mortgage brokers, inspectors & professionals to help you get the job done
- Has proper safety protocols in place for in-person showings
- Is tech-savvy and can help with conducting virtual showings or gathering information
- Has online tools in place to deal with offers & other matters virtually
- Is a strong negotiator and can work to get all the facts & deal with offers on your behalf successfully
When hiring a realtor during COVID it is very important that you ask and address the above points to see how they are dealing with COVID.
At Bridgewell, we are certified master negotiators and have helped many buyers purchase homes during COVID. We have remained active in the market, and have the experience, knowledge & online tools that you need to succeed.
For more on Buying and our COVID-19 protocols, check out Buying with Bridgewell during COVID-19
Property research & online showings
Coronavirus has changed the order of the steps in the househunting process, as much of the homework & due diligence on the location, neighbourhood, and property is done BEFORE we start touring homes in person. Once we’ve done all our due diligence and know a home is a serious contender, then we go and see it in person.
Your agent is more important than ever!
In the new world order, your agent will do more research and due diligence than in the past (and that’s a great thing for you!)
Here’s how the initial house-hunting process is playing out to start:
Determine your preferences & get set up on email auto-notifications for properties
For years now, the majority of buyers have started their home search online.
While you can search on public sites like realtor.ca or rew.ca, they don’t fully sync to the MLS and therefore don’t show all of the detailed information available.
When you work with a realtor, they’ll be able to sync your preferences for properties directly with the MLS and get you set up on auto-notifications. No more manual searches – all the properties that match your preferences will simply be emailed directly to you in real-time with FULL information.
Figure out your favourite locations
- Research the neighbourhood – You can start by researching the neighbourhood online. Pay attention to things that matter most to you – whether it be schools, parks, amenities, demographics, or more. Working with an area expert for your realtor is a great asset, and the city may also have additional neighbourhood resources for you.
- Do a drive through tour of different neighbourhoods
You can do this one of 2 ways: literally drive through the neighbourhood & explore, or switch to google street view and make sure you have a good understanding of the surroundings. Pay attention to things you may not have noticed from the pictures, for example, power lines, proximity to schools, or anything “undesirable.”
Narrow down your favourite properties to tour virtually first
- Gather information about the property
Look at all the photos carefully. Check out the floorplan. Google the address. If there’s a pre-listing home inspection or status certificate available, read it.
- Read the whole MLS listing & description
Instead of just scanning through the listing details & description, make sure you read through it thoroughly and check that it meets your minimum standard. If the maintenance fee is way too high, you want something “move-in ready,” or there’s an absolute no-go for you, it’s better to find that out before you view it in-person.
Keep in mind that the public sites like realtor.ca or rew.ca do not have the full detailed information sheet, and you’ll need to have your realtor email it to you directly from their MLS platform. Your agent can help you with how to read the MLS listing feature sheet.
- Pay attention to the type of occupancy
A notice to vacate given to a tenant will not apply until the state of emergency is lifted. If the property is tenanted, you’ll have to discuss whether an inability to complete and take possession on time is going to be an issue for you if COVID tenancy rules are still in effect at the time of completion.
Tour the home virtually with your agent
Many listing realtors are upping their online game now, and have a number of different options available for you to gain perspective virtually on the home. Here are a few ways you can view or gain perspective of the home virtually with your agent:
- Review the floor plan (if given) and get an idea of the room sizes to make sure they would be adequate for you
- Connect with your agent on Zoom or Skype and review the 3-D walk through tour together
- Interactive facebook live (often in place of an open house)
- Video (facetime/zoom) with the listing agent/seller of the home, or with your agent if they allow access for realtors only
For examples, of a video walk through tour, click here: Virtual 3D Walk Through Tour Example
Get a sense of prices & affordability for your favourite homes in advance
Once you’ve taken a look at what homes you like online, it’s also important to make sure they’re in your budget as we’re still seeing homes under-priced for bidding wars selling above asking.
Ask your realtor to do a rough market evaluation for each home that is a “top contender” so that you can get an idea of what true market value is, and what any additional costs (ie maintenance fees, property taxes) will look like for that home. If a home is likely way out of budget, it might not be worth the risks and extra effort to see it in person.
Lastly, once you’ve done all of the above, choose the top-contenders that you’d like to see in person!
Remember, during COVID homeowners have the right not to show. While many buyers are still not comfortable with purchasing simply by virtual-showings only, some sellers are requiring “subject to viewing” in which they require an acceptance on price, terms, and dates prior to viewing in-person.
However, if you are granted access for in-person showings here is how it will likely go:
Open houses aren’t allowed, showings by appointment are the new norm
Open houses aren’t happening right now and aren’t likely to return until there’s a vaccine or the virus has been eradicated, as they’re not controlled and anyone can walk in.
Therefore, all showings are by appointment and most agents will require that you confirm that you’re a qualified buyer that has completed the previous steps in order to approve the viewing. You’ll need to work with an agent to see a property in-person.
You’ll be required to fill out a health questionnaire & COVID acknowledgement/waiver
You’ll be required to complete a form declaring that you are safe & healthy, as it’s critical that you don’t expose your realtor or the sellers if you have any COVID-19 symptoms or have had recent contact with anyone with a confirmed or probable case of coronavirus.
A health questionnaire & form are required for each property, and need to be submitted by your realtor to the listing agent atleast an hour before viewing in order for you to see the home in person.
Note that if you are seeing 4 homes in one day, you will need to fill out 4 forms, as each Seller and their brokerage will require confirmation – one form cannot be used for all properties. It’s a pain and it’s more paperwork for realtors so we feel it too, but it’s part of our new reality for now and keeps people safe!
You’ll need to wear mask (and possibly gloves) and be asked not to touch anything
You’ll probably be asked to wear a mask (and possibly gloves). You’ll also be asked to reduce the number of surfaces you touch, such as door handles, cabinets, closet doors, and countertops. Most listing agents will have the doors open for you to reduce contact, and can open any cabinets for you.
Everyone’s goal is to provide a safe showing experience, and your agent should be following these safety protocols too. Your agent should be offering single-use gloves & masks for you in the event that you don’t have any, and have hand-sanitizer & wipes available for showings.
You likely won’t be able to drive around in a car with your realtor, and will likely have to follow along in your own car from home to home.
If you don’t have your own car, check with your realtor on how they are dealing with this or if alternative showing transportation options can be arranged.
In most cases, the only people allowed to be present at the showing are the people who will be on title. Parents, kids and friends will be discouraged from attending.
Most agents also won’t allow multiple showings to happen simultaneously, so it may be harder to get your ideal showing time, if someone has already booked an appointment at that time.
Writing an offer
Making an offer on a home hasn’t changed drastically; however, three things are become more important:
Subjects – specifically a financing & legal advice for COVID clause
The risk of a deal collapsing is still high, specifically for financing. Despite having a pre-approval for your income, in order to obtain a final approval from the lender they also need to review and approval the home itself. If it’s a strata property, they may want to review the strata documents to make sure there aren’t levies coming up that you’d have a financially difficult time managing.
Furthermore, most brokerages and realtors are recommending a COVID-19 related clause to seek legal advice. This would entail having a lawyer review your contract, and also advise you of any legal risks and ramifications of purchasing during COVID. (For example, losing your job after you’ve handed in your deposit and risks of not being able to complete)
Make sure your realtor has an online signature tool
Digital signing platforms like Docusign, Digisign, or another secure program and becoming more and more popular in contrast to meeting face to face and signing offers in person. It’s very important that your realtor is familiar with the online signing platform & pays for this service, as having the ability for you to sign online in the comfort of your own home is imperative right now as this is how you will be signing off on the initial offer and any counter offers negotiated. This is a tech-program that our agents at Bridgewell have subscribed to for quite some time – so it’s not new to us and we’d be happy to help you!
Strong negotiation & communication skills are still key
Negotiations are all being done over the phone – gone are the days of presenting the seller our offer in person, and waiting in the car to negotiate a response face to face! However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t still negotiate effectively – but having an agent that knows how to be persuasive and negotiate strongly via email or over the phone is EXTRA important!
At Bridgewell, we are Certified Negotiation Experts and are trained in email, phone, and F2F techniques to make sure that you get the best.
We’ve seen some unprecedented changes when it comes to closing on your new home in British Columbia.
Pre-pandemic, Buyers had to meet in person with their legal representative to sign the closing documents and mortgage paperwork wet-ink, and go through the completion process in-person. However, in April an exception was made due to COVID, and lawyers & notaries can now meet clients through video technology to have documents witnessed for their purchase, sale or mortgage.
Couple of keys points though:
1. While most lenders (and the big 5 banks) have allowed this – not all lenders allow for remote signings, so you need to check with the lender to ensure they allow for remote signing;
2. Clients should be able to print documents, meet with us on Zoom, sign in front of the screen, and then return the documents to us (scan and email, or dropped off to your lawyer/notary’s office).
Move ins are still occurring during COVID, and since real estate is considered an essential service most companies associated to moving (ie moving companies) are still working and servicing the public.
Property managers and condo buildings are still allowing elevator usage to move in, you just need to book it in advance as usual. Make sure to give at least 2 weeks notice prior to move in, as some staff members have reduced their hours and most are working from home.
When you move in, clean thoroughly as it’s important to be extra careful at this time!
As part of our services, Bridgewell offers free move-in cleans for all of our home buyers prior to them moving their furniture in!
Once you get the keys and the place is clean, then you will have done it – successfully purchased a home during coronavirus! Yes, there will be some extra steps involved to safely buy a home during COVID, and while the process has changed, our commitment to a great experience hasn’t. With the right team on your side, the home buying process during COVID can be done safely and successfully!
For more on our COVID protocol, you can view:
Buying with Bridgewell during COVID.
Looking to buy a home in 2020 amidst COVID? We are a professional team of realtors that have helped both buyers and sellers achieve their real estate goals during COVID.
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