How to buy a home remotely in the midst of COVID
Tim and Alison Harris were living in Houston when he was recruited in 2016 to work in the Spokane, Washington area.
After researching neighborhoods, banks and a real estate agent online and through co-workers, the couple found themselves in a bidding war for a new home. It was then that Marianne Guenther Bornhoft, the real estate agent the couple first found online, stepped in.
âWe had already left town. And Marianne said, ‘Okay, stop your bidding. There is another house that has just arrived on the market. And obviously, we do not see it. You are no longer here. I need your absolute best deal, âsays Harris.
Harris found Bornhoft, a 26-year real estate veteran, by searching online real estate sites, listings, agent websites, and even social media, like Twitter and Facebook.
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While most agents appeared to post the same video tour for every home, Bornhoft offered more original details that house hunters are looking for, such as homes that had unusual ‘garden art’. âHis personalized video tours revealed details that mattered to the couple, who at the time had a three-year-old son.
âSo we have the house. And we only got to see it via the FaceTime tour, âsays Harris. âIn a market like this, you absolutely have to have someone who knows what’s best for you,â says Harris.
Less than a quarter of potential buyers would feel comfortable buying a home entirely online, according to a survey conducted in February by Zillow. But at least 75% agree with online tools, including digital floor plans, 3D tours, or video projections with an agent.
Here are some tips and online tools recommended by experts:
Classes offered through US Housing and Urban Development are underutilized, says Eric Lawrence Frazier, who runs thepowerisnow.com, a real estate consulting firm in Riverdale, California.
âThey’re looking at the details. And on top of that, they provide additional resources to help you manage credit, on a budget and all that stuff, âhe says.
Check your credit score
Before you start looking for a home, make sure your finances are in order so you know what you can afford, says Nicole Peterkin Morong, financial planner and CEO of Peterkin Financial in Braintree, Massachusetts.
You can request your free report from the three credit rating companies once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com. After you receive your report, it may take time to clear the errors.
Peterkin Morong also sends clients to Experian, one of the top three credit rating companies, for its free monitoring service. Most people forget how using credit – not just debt – affects their score. Experian provides updates and takes some of the mystery away, she says.
âIt educates them for free and allows them to do a bit of cleaning up to figure out what’s going on,â says Peterkin Morong.
Research the market
Start with the big sites like Zillow, Realtor.com and Redfin, experts say. Realtors can also put you on a list for the Multiple Listing Service, or MLS with their ID.
âThere are so many tools,â says Frazier. âEvery full-time real estate agent has a website and you can sign up to receive notifications about properties available in your market for sale. “
If you want to hire a real estate agent, real estate portals can be a good place to find agents, like Bornhoft, who offer live FaceTime tours.
Use LinkedIn to find advisors, brokers
Using LinkedIn can help you gain confidence in someone’s background, education, and experience, says Frazier. If you like what you see, you will feel more confident when you decide to work with them.
âIt’s not 100%, it’s not an absolute, but there’s a good chance that person will take a consultative approach with you,â rather than just making a sale, he says.
Use mortgage calculators, rate comparison sites
Once you have an idea of ââhomes and what you can afford, a mortgage calculator can help you negotiate rates. Bankrate.com and Nerdwallet.com offer good tools and a variety of lenders when looking at mortgages.
Harris, for example, says he researched rates and then found a bank in Spokane, Wash. That matched the lowest offer.
Don’t feel guilty about changing banks for the loan if you can get a better deal, says Peterkin Morong.
Google Earth is your friend
Once you have a good idea of ââwhere you want to live, use Google Earth to take a detailed look around. The Street View feature can help you find the area, including the quality of homes nearby.
Bornhoft, Harris’ agent in Spokane, noted quirks in some neighborhoods like “court art” – large metal sculptures or other decorations. Harris therefore checked the area on Google Earth and was able to get a feel for the personality of the neighborhood. Harris says looking for homes in Houston taught the couple to poke around.
âIt may be that yes, the inscription was beautiful,â says Harris. âBut it’s in front of a pound. And they don’t show you that picture. “
Community groups websites
To really immerse yourself in a neighborhood, see if there is a social media group in the area on Facebook or other platforms like Twitter and Instagram. Harris, for example, found a nearby school to investigate his son.
Many neighborhood associations communicate via social networks. Other places to look include city websites, assessor offices, and recreation services.
Rachel Layne is a Boston-based freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, CBS News, HBS Working Knowledge, USA TODAY, and other publications. Previously, she spent two decades covering multi-industry companies for Bloomberg News.