Editor’s note: All of HomeLight’s coronavirus information for buyers, sellers, and agents is available on our COVID-19 hub.
If you’ve been thinking about taking advantage of the record-breaking low mortgage interest rates (as of writing this article, the interest rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage sits at 3.31%), you’ll want to hire a buyer’s agent during the coronavirus pandemic.
Understanding the role of a buyer’s agent
A buyer’s agent is a real estate agent who is a licensed professional representing you, the buyer, in a real estate transaction. An agent helps you find a home that fits your needs (and your budget!) and will answer any questions you’ll surely have about the neighborhood.
While you tour various houses, and fawn over cherry cabinets and refinished, original flooring, your agent will point out things you might overlook, such as awkward floor plans, whether the property is in a flood/fire zone, and so much more.
Once they’ve helped you find a house and you’re ready to make an offer, your agent is going to help you submit an offer that won’t offend the seller! They’ll go over the details of the contract so that you know what you’re getting when you sign your John Hancock on the proverbial dotted line.
A buyer’s agent will be your new best friend as you navigate the homebuying process, and you can find everything your agent is going to do for you in the buyer’s agent agreement.
How to hire a buyer’s agent in a coronavirus world
Have you ever noticed that when you decide you’re ready to start house-hunting, you see advertisements for real estate agents everywhere? You could be waiting at the bus stop and see an agent’s face and contact information plastered to the side of the bus. You could be out for a drive and spot multiple billboards dotting the side of the highway!
The reason why you see so many real estate agent adverts is because there are more than 2 million real estate agents in the United States — 1.4 million of them are members of the National Association of Realtors.
With so many active, licensed professionals ready to help eager homebuyers, how do you choose a buyer’s agent out of the millions of well-qualified professionals?
Step 1: Do your research!
Before hiring the first agent you find on Facebook who seems competent, you’re going to want to do a little bit of research first. HomeLight’s agent matching service is a great tool to use during this time because you can find top-selling agents in your area who can help you look at properties without leaving home.
The service analyzes more than 27 million transactions and client reviews to find you three top-selling agents who understand the area, your needs, and local market trends. You can then look through the agent’s profile, talk to the agent, and gather a lot of useful information to help you make a decision.
Some of the information that you can expect to find on the profiles include the agent’s years of experience, average price point, what neighborhoods they do the most business in, and any awards they’ve earned throughout their career. You can even read reviews from previous clients.
Other methods of finding a real estate agent include asking for referrals from folks you know who’ve bought or sold a house in the past. You can even ask for referrals from professionals who have business dealings with real estate agents (home contractors, mortgage brokers, and plumbers, for example).
If you’re an active member of the community, you can use community networks to find agents. Not only will you be able to find someone knowledgeable about the city, but you can get to know them outside of the real estate office, too.
Step 2: Interview prospective agents
One of the challenges of trying to hire a buyer’s agent in a coronavirus world is not being able to shake their hand and have a face-to-face conversation with them. With that said, you do have the ability to have a conversation with them over the phone, or you can use a service like Zoom or Skype to have a video chat. We prefer video chats because they feel more personal, and it’s always nice to be able to put a face with a name.
When you do get to talk to an agent, be it via phone call or video chat, there are some important questions you’ll want to ask them regarding the coronavirus and safety.
Top-selling real estate agent in Massachusetts Shari McStay, of the McStay Team, shares, “Under any circumstance, it’s good to have an experienced agent who’s accessible to you and someone who can accommodate you quickly for showings. Buyers should look for an agent who has excellent negotiation skills, as well as connections in terms of home inspectors, attorneys, and lenders.
“Buyers should check with the agents about what they’re doing as far as safety goes. Are they practicing physical distancing orders, and are they wearing masks? Do they have gloves and booties available, and are they up to speed on town requirements?”
Jane Lee, a top-selling real estate agent in Illinois, shares what she does to give agents and their clients some peace of mind during this time: “I provide face masks to all my agents. I also provide them with gloves, alcohol spray, and hand sanitizer, so they aren’t afraid to go out.”
Viewing a house
Another thing buyers should ask agents about involves how they can look at a house, as no one wants to buy a house completely unseen!
“Many agents are using Zoom to video chat with their clients. In our office, we like to use Facetime to show properties because we can walk buyers through the house and answer any questions they have. We also like to use virtual tours and 3D tours to show houses as well,” says Lee.
McStay adds, “We’ve been using a lot of social media, such as Zoom calls, to get in front of our buyers and help them view properties. A buyer has to drive by the house, and do virtual tours and 3D tours. They will review certain documents, like the seller statement, and have a preapproval before they can even enter the property.”
Protecting the buyer
Because these are uncertain times, it’s important to have an agent who is going to look out for your best interests. You might have an offer accepted; however, if you’re in the middle of the transaction and you lose your job due to the pandemic, you don’t want to be stuck buying a house you can no longer afford.
As you interview agents, ask them whether or not they include a coronavirus clause in their contracts — which many brokers around the nation have started doing. The clause is designed to extend deadlines for home inspections, appraisals, and title searches — all of which are experiencing processing delays due to the outbreak.
If one of the buyers or someone in their household is immunocompromised, the clause might ask all parties involved with the transaction to disclose whether they have any coronavirus-related symptoms. It might even include detailed cleaning procedures.
“In the unfortunate circumstance that a buyer loses their job due to the virus and they can no longer obtain their financing, a coronavirus clause protects buyers, and allows them to back out of the transaction and get their deposit back,” McStay adds.
To recap, when you’re interviewing prospective agents, ask the following questions:
- What safety precautions are agents practicing
- Is the agent up-to-date with local regulations for dealing with the virus
- How will the agent show a house
- Does the agent include a coronavirus clause in their contracts
- If so, what is covered under the clause
Step 3: Choose your agent
Once you’ve spoken to several agents, now it’s time to make your decision.
Ask yourself which agent makes you feel the most comfortable. An agent should be able to answer any questions you might have regarding coronavirus safety, market trends in the area, and so forth.
If you’re relocating to a new city or state, make sure you ask about things that are important to you, such as the school district, neighborhood safety, and public transportation, for example.
You might not have had the chance to speak with them face-to-face, but you can trust your gut instincts!
Be safe and hire a buyer’s agent during the coronavirus pandemic
No one truly knows how this pandemic will affect the nation in the long term. One thing is for sure: people will always need to find housing. Some people might be wondering how the coronavirus will impact the economy and home sales both short-term and long-term, but that remains to be seen. If the time is right for you to buy a house right now and you’re financially stable, then a buyer’s agent can guide you through the process and help you be sure you’re paying a fair price.
Whether you want to buy a house now or wait to buy until 2021, you don’t want to do it alone. By hiring a buyer’s agent, you have an expert who can guide you through every step of the way.
Header Image Source: (Alissa Kumarova / ShutterStock)