Home buyers intent on purchasing real estate now can benefit from three significant advantages:
1. Less Competition: The pandemic continues to keep people home and job loss is at record highs. For these and other reasons, the 2020 spring real estate market is not the mass buying frenzy of past years. Home sales are down significantly in most markets.
2. Low Interest Rates: Interest rates are at historic lows which means buyer purchasing power is strong. Mortgage pre-approval will assure each buyer—and the respective seller—of exactly how much the buyer has to spend.
3. Homebuyer Education Courses: Established to prevent a repetition of the 2008-9 housing disaster, most courses are available online. The wide range of topics is designed to help buyers achieve short- and long-term real estate goals and plans.
Our key question remains: “Is now the right time?”
Whether you must or want to buy now or you’re determined to be ready when the time is right, there’s less room for error in these uncertain times. The more you learn about the buying process and homeownership in advance, the better prepared you’ll be to improve your current situation through a real estate purchase.
To avoid second guessing yourself about the decision to buy now, commit, in advance, to making a confident decision that you can live with during this economic upheaval and beyond. That does not mean making a quick buying decision nor over-researching your choices. What works here is improving your real estate confidence, so that you understand exactly how to buy and how to protect yourself and your home at the same time.
Make FIVE confident decisions from the start, so you end up with confident decision making you can live with:
#1. Set practical expectations
• Rarely, if ever, are home buyers 100% certain about their selected property or it’s price, except in hindsight. When asked to sign an offer to purchase, you’ll be excited and nervous, but aim to be more sure—much more sure—than unsure.
Spending all that money on a property you have only visited for an hour or two is bound to make you nervous. Worry if it doesn’t. What you want is confidence that the property meets your criteria and budget and that it is as presented (a clause in the offer calling for a home inspection will determine the home’s condition).
• Let go of searching for a “dream home” or “forever home”
Attempting to decide today what you’ll want or need two, three, or more decades in the future puts undue pressure on you. The pandemic has taught us how unpredictable tomorrow is. Search in the very best location you can afford for what you need now and in the foreseeable future.
#2. Plan the work and work the plan
Focus your search instead of trying to view a huge number of homes.
(1) Who is the buyer?
Who is or are making decisions?
• If you’re buying solo, who will act as a sounding board, problem-solver, and property “detective”—along with your real estate professional—to help you take a long hard look at each potential home?
• Too often couples view properties before they decide what they are looking for. Squabbling, fighting, or competing during the buying process distracts both buyers from assessing the true value of each property.
If you love modern and your partner loves traditional, investigate the two styles so you both understand the compromises involved before viewing property. Often design differences are cosmetic, not structural. Decor issues can unnecessarily distract buyers from expensive-to-fix problems, like a worn-out roof, a cracked foundation, or signs of water leaks. Remember, you’re both on the same side!
(2) Where is your best location?
Location is what you are really buying. Oh, there may be a lovely house or condominium unit included, but it’s location that cannot be changed and that will determine future value. Buy the best location you can afford, even if the property needs some TLC or cosmetic changes, since a great location will usually translate into steadily-increasing value.
Saying “no” to a great location because of someone else’s bad decor is a rookie or a pretentious mistake. Your real estate professional can help with your search by explaining the location-based value of each property. That is, within your budget, value is tied to which end of which street, proximity to what, which school etc.?
(3) How secure is purchasing power?
At the top of the list of your strengths is your purchasing power. What’s the source of the money to purchase, maintain the home, and pay off the mortgage? Many buyers are hesitant to take on a home purchase now when employment, income, and savings circumstances are very unsettled and becoming more so. Why are you confident you can provide the down payment, qualify for financing, make monthly mortgage payments, and meet closing and moving costs without compromises? “Hope” and “wish” are not realistic real estate strategies.
(4) What will be improved by the move?
If you must move now, this will be an easy question to answer. Just be sure you haven’t overlooked other solutions or new housing issues in the chaos that passes for everyday life right now. If you aim at improvements to your quality of living, that should also improve your standard of living. The reverse is not equally true.
#3. Build your confidence with real real estate knowledge
Explore what’s important in your next home: Research substance, not merely cosmetic items like stainless steel appliances and a kitchen island.
Investigate the costs of homeownership and maintenance. Learn about cutting costs to prevent becoming “house rich and cash poor.” Get the facts! For instance:
• Heating and cooling costs can take a big chunk out of your paycheck, so consider an energy efficient, cost-effective home. You’ll find information galore online. Take care you are not reading marketing pitches, but scientific information like A Consumer’s Guide to Energy-Efficient and Healthy Homes
• If lifestyle alternatives intrigue you, explore a few before you buy. Do you pass the test for tiny home living
#4. Discover what you don’t know you don’t know
If you pay attention, you can learn a lot from real estate professionals, but their job is not to teach you what to buy. They answer questions and follow your instructions. It’s up to you to decide which property to buy. Your professional will help you make the purchase successfully.
The last real estate crisis led to Homebuyer Education Courses and Counseling Services designed to help prospective homebuyers “think critically about the benefits and risks of homeownership, understand how to choose affordable homes and appropriate mortgage products, and build the financial knowledge, resources, and behaviors needed for sustainable homeownership and long-term financial health.”
Homebuying Courses are intended to provide assistance navigating the homebuying process and to help owners keep their homes over the long run. The directory of HUD-approved housing counseling agencies at US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD, hud.org) will introduce you to local housing counselors and to specialty counselors like those for reverse mortgages or for foreclosure avoidance.
Since each Homebuyer Education Course is different, determine the sponsoring organization and what each covers before you sign up. Most programs are available online, like these popular versions:
(1) Framework Online Homebuyer Course is provided by Framework Homeownership LLC, a partnership of two housing nonprofits.
(2) e Home America Online Homebuyer Education is provided by nonprofit Community Ventures.
(3) HomeTrek Online Homebuyer Education is a service of nonprofit InCharge Debt Solutions Inc.
#5. Interview Real Estate Professionals
Once you have a clear idea of your needs and wants, interview local experienced real estate professionals to match your criteria against available listings. Professionals are not limited to selling off MLS. They can contact suitable unlisted property owners to discover who is ready to sell now.
If what you want is not currently available, don’t abandon your plans or goals without re-examination. If you have to change direction or priorities to achieve what you decided on, stop and verify that now is still the right time.
COVID & Housing UPDATE: To provide the most up-to-date and accurate housing assistance information during the COVID-19 national emergency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB, consumerfinance.gov), Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA, fhfa.gov), and HUD recently launched the new mortgage and housing assistance website: cfpb.gov/housing. The site consolidates the CARES Act mortgage relief, protections for renters, warnings about COVID-19-related scams, details on student loan payment suspension, and much more.
For additional forward-thinking articles by PJ Wade, visit PJ’s RT column “Decisions & Communities”