Selling a Home During Coronavirus: What You Need to Know

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You were planning to sell your home soon (or perhaps already had your house on the market) when the coronavirus outbreak hit the U.S. and upended life as we know it. You aren’t alone. Many Americans across the country were gearing up for what was looking like a hot spring housing market, and now aren’t sure what to do: Move forward with caution? Give it a year? Wait and see?

If you’re wondering whether it’s still possible to sell a home during a pandemic, where to find information about your area, what to do if you encounter delays, and how to proceed without compromising you or your family’s health, then consult HomeLight’s list of seller FAQs about navigating this uncharted and fast-changing environment.

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Can I still sell my house during the coronavirus pandemic?

It depends on where you live. Get in touch with a reputable real estate agent in your area to find out how local restrictions and closures are impacting the ability to buy and sell homes locally.

Under guidelines from the White House, Americans nationwide are practicing social distancing measures in order to mitigate the crisis and flatten the curve. Until further notice, people are to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people and to perform work and school obligations from home when possible. The majority of state governments are urging people to stay home except to grab necessities using “shelter in place” and “safer at home” directives as a matter of public health. Practically speaking, this adds extra logistical challenges to the selling process and may result in some hold-ups.

That said, real estate agents are quickly adapting by doubling down on virtual tours, digital closing tools, and remote client meetings. However, some state and local regulations have frozen all real estate services, while property inspections, title and escrow, and moving services may be on hold or delayed during this time. Ask your agent for the most up-to-date information as restrictions affecting real estate are shifting by the day and may vary from city to city.

Are real estate services allowed to operate in my state right now?

At the Federal level, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has declared “title search, notary, and recording services in support of mortgage and real estate services and transactions” as well as “residential and commercial real estate services, including settlement services” essential. However, guidance from CISA is advisory in nature — it’s not a federal mandate. That means states, counties, and municipalities can create their own rules.

Of the states that have issued “shelter in place” directives of some kind, many have declared at least some real estate services as “essential” and therefore allowed to continue operating despite the directive, but a handful have not. Shelter in place orders generally require businesses that aren’t deemed “essential” to shut down their physical offices.

If you’re under some kind of shelter in place order and real estate has not been deemed essential in your city, county, or state, any services that cannot be done remotely will be on hold. As of April 3, 2020, 14 states have permanent laws allowing for Remote Online Notarizations (RON), while 12 have enacted emergency RON measures in response to the coronavirus, according to the National Notary Association (NNA). Elsewhere, closing a transaction still requires an in-person signing. Rules and guidance around online notarizations — such as which technology you need and whether notaries need to register — also vary across states. Check the NNA’s website for updates and to see where your state currently stands. You can see how there are a lot of variables in the mix here, so best to call up your agent and get their input.

A house sold during coronavirus.

If it’s feasible to sell my house, does that make it a good idea?

Selling your home now versus in a few months could be advantageous from a pricing perspective. We know that the market was hot before the coronavirus hit and that sellers may be able to still command a value reflective of the economic expansion that preceded this crisis. However, as tens of millions of Americans face losing their jobs, a recession is imminent or already taking shape.

Robin Dennis, a top-selling real estate agent in Concord, New Hampshire shares her perspective: “I think it’s a good time to list your home because many sellers are deciding to wait, which makes it even more of a seller’s market due to lack of inventory. Despite all the upheaval in the market, there are still buyers looking to buy homes. These are real qualified buyers. In most cases, these houses are going under contract quickly, therefore showings will be limited.”

The best thing you can do is connect with a top local agent to find out what your options are and how the market’s faring in your neck of the woods. Their job is to provide you with the facts so you can determine what’s best for you.

An infographic showing how to sell a home during coronavirus.How can I show my house virtually?

Consult HomeLight’s guides on how to deep clean, declutter, depersonalize, and stage your home (DIY-style) so you can virtually show your home at its best. If you aren’t comfortable with your agent or a photographer being in the home (or if such businesses have been shuttered where you live), ask your agent for tips on how to record your own video walkthrough and best practices for how to take listing photos with your iPhone.

Agents may be able to send your raw photos to a professional editing service for touch-ups. You can also talk to your agent about adding a 3-D or video walkthrough to your listing or holding a virtual open house using technology like Facebook Live or hosting a Facebook “watch party.”

What else can I do to reduce in-person showings?

Work with your agent to keep showings exclusive to serious, qualified buyers who’ve already done extensive research of your home using available resources. Require that any prospective buyers provide proof of funds or a mortgage pre-approval letter before allowing them to book a tour. Your agent can take measures to make sure a home is a good match for interested buyers by talking to them about traffic patterns and distance to the closest school or park to eliminate anyone who isn’t a good fit. Some agents are also conducting “preliminary” showings where a buyer comes to look at the street and exterior of the home before they schedule a tour of the inside.

A family touring a home virtually during coronavirus.
Source: (fizkes / Shutterstock)

What if I really don’t want anyone coming into my home?

Many buyers are going to want to see a home in-person before making an offer, even if it’s just once. However, it’s your house, and you can show it on your terms. If you want to stop in-person showings and see what your listing could generate virtually, work with your agent to express your request to halt showings in writing. Your agent, at that point, may opt to add an addendum to extend the listing knowing that it might take a bit longer to attract an offer, according to the National Association of Realtors.

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Are buyers ever open to purchasing homes sight-unseen (without physically viewing it first)?

Data from HomeLight’s Top Agent Insights Survey for Q1 2020 shows that before the crisis, agents reported that only 5% of their transactions involved a buyer making an offer on a property sight-unseen, and only 30% of agents feel like sight-unseen transactions are on the rise in their markets. Traditional buyers are usually going to want to tour the property physically, even if it’s just once. However, people are doing what they can to adapt quickly in these circumstances and this new world may change the way buyers and sellers approach real estate transactions today and for a long time to come.

A woman and child washing their hands while selling their home during coronavirus.
Source: (CDC / Unsplash)

How can I protect my home, health, and safety while selling a home during coronavirus?

Sellers should follow the World Health Organization’s advice for the public, which include:

  • Wash your hands often (use an alcohol-based sanitizer if you can’t wash your hands).
  • Practice social distancing (including from your real estate agent and anyone who comes into your home).
  • Avoid touching your face.

Physical showings should be kept to a minimum and meetings with your agent should be conducted virtually whenever possible using your platform of choice whether it’s Google Hangouts, FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, GoToMeeting, Skype, or good old fashioned texting and phone calls.

Talk to your agent about local showings safety procedures, such as having buyers and agents drive separately; limiting the number of people per tour; requiring buyers to wear masks, booties or gloves; deep cleaning and disinfecting before and after tours; and established protocols like leaving all interior doors open and all interior lights on to minimize touching of surfaces.

In some areas, agents are using COVID-19 certification forms that agents, sellers, and buyers have to sign before entering a home to represent that, to the best of their knowledge, they are not infected with and have not been exposed to the coronavirus.

Is it safe to conduct property inspections right now?

In states and areas where inspections are permitted, buyers and sellers might have questions about how to keep themselves (and the home) safe during the inspection. There are some precautions that can alleviate fears and minimize cross-contamination.

Inspectors should walk through the house by themselves, unaccompanied by buyer, seller, or agent. They should wear gloves when touching anything in the home, and they should probably consider wearing a mask, as well. Some sellers might ask inspectors to use hazardous-materials uniforms to provide a barrier between the inspector and the home. For more guidance consult our guide on overcoming home inspection hurdles right now.

What is an alternative appraisal? How is it different from a regular appraisal?

An alternative appraisal is a home appraisal that does not conform to the standard Fannie Mae 1004 appraisal, usually because there is not an in-person interior inspection of the home. Instead, appraisers use exterior inspections, drive-bys, someone else’s inspection (such as a home inspector), or even a video walkthrough hosted by the seller in order to assess the home’s quality and condition.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency has permitted alternative appraisals to be used in lieu of a full appraisal through May 17, 2020, as a result of the coronavirus; these alternative appraisals help maintain social distancing while still obtaining a reliable valuation for both the buyer and seller.

A child receiving her temperature in a home during coronavirus.
Source: (Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash)

What happens if there are unforeseen delays or someone involved in the transaction starts to feel sick?

Typically, a real estate purchase agreement includes milestone deadlines for steps like the property inspection and appraisal, as well as agreed-upon closing and move-out dates. However, depending on local regulations, it may not be feasible to perform a home inspection on time, complete a title search, or for buyers and sellers to even move house as planned.

Given the amount of uncertainty right now, agents are quickly adding a special coronavirus addendum to new and existing contracts to provide some breathing room for delays in this fast-changing environment. They’re also relying on new language and forms for listing agreements and property showings. If the buyer or seller, or any of their family members, were to fall ill, these types of clauses would also allow move-out dates to be extended without penalty.

Are there any other go-to resources for home-sellers during this crisis?

Your best sources of information this time include:

Header Image Source: (Pexels / Pixabay)