Buying a home had always been part of my life plan, and in February, I thought I was almost home free: I’d made an offer on a condo in Philadelphia, and that offer had been accepted. All that was left was to close the deal, which I figured would be the easy part.
Then a little thing called the novel coronavirus came along and threw everything for a loop.
While it’s an unusual time to purchase real estate, I ultimately decided to move forward. But it wasn’t easy, and a lot of the usual steps of the home-buying process had changed. Here’s how I navigated this new reality in real estate, and what I learned along the way.
When I put in my offer, everything was normal
When I first submitted my offer on Feb. 26, everything was business as usual. At that point, the coronavirus was still little more than a side note on the evening news. The thought never crossed my mind that the virus would soon have a significant impact on my transaction.
In fact, for a little while, things seemed to be going my way.
To start, after submitting two previous offers that hadn’t panned out, I had finally managed to snag a unit in my dream condo building, an updated complex in Center City. Plus, of all the units I’d seen in the building—and there were many—this was the sunniest and most spacious.
In addition, the transaction was moving smoothly. I chose to waive my inspections in order to keep my offer competitive. My appraisal had also come back looking more than satisfactory. We seemed to be moving along just fine toward settlement, scheduled for the end of April.
How COVID-19 put my real estate deal on hold
But by March 19, Pennsylvania’s governor had declared real estate a nonessential business, meaning that all brokerage offices had to close and real estate agents had to work from home.
Since that time, the real estate industry in my area has been in a state of upheaval. The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® followed governmental orders and provided guidelines to keep both industry professionals and home buyers safe, but as the virus spread, those guidelines seemed ever-changing.
For me, as a home buyer, this lack of certainty, while understandable, sent me into a tailspin of anxiety: Would my real estate deal even come through?
Originally, I wasn’t too worried. I was told by my real estate agent (who is also my mom) that an exception was going to be made for closings of existing transactions. In addition, her broker was intending to put precautions in place to keep everyone safe, including putting buyers and sellers in different rooms and requiring everyone to use a separate pen.
However, by March 23, the point was moot.
The governor had issued a stay-at-home order for Philadelphia and five of its surrounding counties. Since Pennsylvania doesn’t currently allow for remote closings, that essentially left my home-buying journey in limbo.
How we moved my real estate deal forward
Even though my closing was up in the air, I still did everything I could to move forward as though my settlement were going to take place. Fortunately, my lender was able to work remotely, so I was still able to communicate with my loan processor to gather the paperwork I needed to send my file to the underwriter.
However, because this situation is so unusual, I was left with questions that no one knew how to answer. For example, what would happen to my interest rate if my settlement got pushed back and went beyond the date of my rate lock? Even if I could close the deal, would I be able to move in if the city of Philadelphia was still under lockdown?
In the end, I lucked out. Even though real estate is still considered nonessential in Pennsylvania, the governor did eventually issue guidelines that allowed some transactions to move forward. In particular, any contract that was signed before the stay-at-home order—which included mine—could close.
Inside a coronavirus-era closing: What’s changed
Once I knew my closing could proceed, it was simply a matter of figuring out how to do it while keeping everyone safe.
For example, since my condo building was allowing only owners to enter the building, I had to do my final walk-through alone without my real estate agent. I did, however, use FaceTime with my mom so she could view the space and point out any red flags. Thankfully, nothing cropped up.
My settlement was also much different than it would have been if COVID-19 hadn’t cropped up. Instead of having my whole team of professionals there to support me, it was just me and the title officer at his office. He sat at one end of a long conference table, and I sat at the other. We both wore masks and gloves, and did everything we could to avoid getting physically close to each other as we passed paperwork back and forth. The home seller didn’t even come to the closing; he’d signed his paperwork the day before so he could avoid the office entirely.
Although I was nervous to be in an office building, the exposure levels seemed low enough to be tolerable, certainly much less than I’d typically face entering a grocery store. In other words, it was worth the risk.
I’m now a homeowner, but my journey isn’t over
Once everything had been signed, sealed, and delivered, I faced yet another challenge: figuring out how to actually move into my new home.
While moving is considered an essential service in my state, since no one is allowed in the building except for me, I would have to handle the move all on my own. However, since I have a physical disability, that’s pretty much impossible.
My condo association assured me that it was working on a plan to ease these restrictions so I could move in. Until then, I will be living with my parents—and paying a mortgage on a home in which I can’t live.
Even in the best circumstances, buying a home is a long process. With coronavirus, it’s even longer and more complicated than ever. Patience is key. Even though this is not at all what I pictured buying a house would be like, when I look back at all that’s happened, I still think: Was it worth it? Absolutely.
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