Trying to buy or sell your home during the coronavirus pandemic? Here are some tips from the pros

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the housing market is thriving.

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Compared to the near standstill this spring due to stay-at-home orders, home sales are climbing at a record pace. The National Association of Realtors reported a 20 percent jump in existing homes sales in June.

“Incredible as it is, the real estate market is hot,” Lawrence Yun, chief economist with the National Association of Realtors, told PennLive reporter Julia Hatmaker.

The central Pennsylvania market, much like the rest of the nation, is a seller’s market due to a low inventory of available homes versus demand.

While people continue to buy and sell homes, they’re encountering a brand new set of challenges and rules. Wearing masks, signing waivers about your health and on-site settlements are just some of the new protocols.

Here we share advice from three Harrisburg-area real estate agents, as well as one home buyer, on how to successfully navigate your way through the new market.

Tips for buyers

Act quickly

Due to the competitive nature of the market, transactions are happening at warp speed. Agents say buyers are acting quickly and should be prepared to make offers on multiple homes.

“You have to keep your emotions under check,” said Maria Memmi, agent for Hershey Real Estate Group.

She said she tells her clients to decide how much they want to rationally spend on an offer and then how much extra “emotional” money are they willing to put on the line.

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Joann and Scott Prushinski of Palmyra are being assisted by Memmi as they search for a home to buy in Hershey or Lititz. While the couple have been looking for two years, Joann Prushinski notes the market has become more competitive since the pandemic started.

If you’re interested in a home, she advises acting quickly.

“Patience is the key right now. I would say if you are very interested in a property to come to the table quickly with your best offer,” she said.

Jennifer DeBernardis, a Camp Hill based agent with Coldwell Banker Homes said the one thing we tell very client is they might not get their dream house, but they will end up where they want to be.

“Have faith in the process,” she added.

Get pre-approved for a loan

If you’re on the hunt for a home, it’s a good idea to get pre-approved for a mortgage, especially now that the market is competitive. Don’t, and you could lose out.

“You’ve got to be ready to strike, or you don’t stand a chance,” said Jim Holtzman, agent with Howard Hanna in Harrisburg.

In some cases, realtors say a pre-approval letter is necessary and gives sellers confidence you will get a loan when the sale happens. Also, if you’re actively applying for loans, anticipate more stringent documentation requirements due to the downward economy and job losses.

It’s also a good idea to have your finances in order. Many buyers are putting more money down on homes, up to 20 percent, agents say.

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Unfortunately, those buyers in need of financial assistance in the form of Federal Housing Administration loans are having a harder time competing for homes because they don’t have as much money to put down, Holtzman said.

He said he recently entertained 11 offers for a home listed by a client, and none of the offers included requests for financial assistance.

Stay on top of the listings

Houses are selling fast, so if you’re on vacation you need to wait until you’re home to conduct your search, Holtzman said. And don’t wait around for open houses, which aren’t happening like they did in the past.

“Sometimes you only have a day or two to act,” he said.

A good realtor will put clients onto an automatic email search, so when a suitable home pops up on the multi-listing related to their specifications such as location, price or school district, the client will see it, usually before their agent, Holtzman said.

These days clients are very savvy thanks to online listings, Memmi said.

“In this age of technology, they see it before I do. We are moving at the speed of light. We are in the era of where you have the best agent in the world, more times than not clients are bringing you the property,” she said.

Tour the home

By all means, tour the home in person. While virtual tours were the only method to view homes during the shutdown, Holtzman now encourages clients to visit homes in person before making offers.

Of course, expect protocols such as mask wearing, limits on number of visitors and scheduling of tours ahead of time. Also, be prepared to sign a document about your health when you meet with a realtor or enter a home. It has become standard practice among agents.

Write a letter

As corny as it sounds, DeBernardis said some homebuyers are now penning letters to sellers.

These so-called love letters give potential buyers a chance to share a little bit about themselves and why they want to buy the house. She said some of her clients laugh at the idea but if you think about it a letter gives the seller a little more insight into who wants their home.

In some cases, a letter can seal the deal. DeBernardis said she has witnessed acceptances based on a letter that netted the seller less money.

Prushinski said she wrote a letter to one homeowner and sent a plant, and while the gesture didn’t work in their favor, she hopes when they go to sell their house someone writes them a note.

“It’s a nice little touch,” she said.

Don’t bypass the inspection

Some buyers are bypassing home inspections in hopes their offers will be more appealing. But unless you are familiar with the home and completely sure it’s in tip-top shape, you probably don’t want to skip this step, Holtzman said.

“I like people to get inspections in what they are buying and the mechanics of the house. There is an education that goes along with it,” he said.

Waiving inspection contingencies will make your offer stronger, but Memmi said you also want to sleep at night. There are risks involved, she added.

If you waive an inspection, move in and something is wrong such as a big crack in the foundation, you will regret not having done the inspection, she said. Some clients who do waive the inspections buy home warranties but you need to be clear on what they cover, she said.

Prushinski said they would never waive the inspection on an older home but it’s something to consider for a newer property.

Don’t expect a traditional settlement

Thanks to COVID-19, the days of buyers and sellers sitting around a boardroom table are gone.

Now, sellers are pre-signing paperwork and buyers are the only ones in the office, or in some cases, settlements are taking place on-site, Memmi said.

Tips for sellers

Find a home to move into first

In all likelihood, your home will sell quickly, leaving you scrambling to find a place to live. So before putting your home on the market, Holtzman advises to figure out where you’re moving to first.

“The bigger problem could be finding a suitable house to move into due to the low inventory,” he said. “The best thing you can do is find a house, and know your house will literally sell in a few days.”

And know that contingencies are often nonexistent in this market due to the high demand.

Boost the curb appeal

More people than ever are working from home, so if you’re selling it can be challenge to keep your house well-maintained. Still, agents suggest doing a few upgrades before putting it on the market. Once you do, keep it clean.

As a general rule, sellers should practice basic cleanliness and lawn care, Memmi said.

In addition, Holtzman stresses the importance of professional photographs and listings, and if your home is empty, do some staging to showcase the space.

DeBernardis suggests her clients take a few days to do some touch-ups to the interior and landscape before putting their homes up for sale.

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“Put it in its best possible light and then it’s a no-brainer,” she said.

She also advises homeowners to share as much information as possible about the house, including elaborating on any issues. Maybe the keys accidentally were flushed down the toilet and it overflowed and ceiling tiles had to be replaced, she said.

Sharing the information gives the buyers a sense of comfort.

List now and be ready to act

Well before a showing, multiple buyers now make appointments, Holtzman said, adding that you don’t want to accept the first offer.

So he suggests the home be on the market for at least 48 hours so you capture the market and potential homebuyers have time to tour the home.

Also, you need to factor in that showings are slowed down under mandates they be spaced out 30 minutes apart for time to clean and sanitize.

“Then if you have at least a couple of interested parties or more, it’s going to settle where it’s supposed to settle,” he said.

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