Real Estate

First-hand account: What it’s like being a first-time homebuyer during a pandemic

After casually lusting after homes on Zillow for over a year – it’s the new Millennial pastime – my husband and I finally took the leap into homeownership this spring. 

There was one big wrench in the process: COVID-19. 

We started seriously looking for a home in April. This was in part spurred by low mortgage rates, in part by us being in an apartment together 24/7 due to stay-at-home orders. In 2019, we thought it would be fun to have side-by-side desks in our home office/guest bedroom/storage space.

In 2020, we learned that we were gravely mistaken. We’ve spent the past few months running into opposite rooms for Zoom calls and mapping out our days to avoid awkward mid-meeting walk-ins. It rapidly became clear that we needed more space. 

Between my job at HousingWire and my husband’s job in the industry, we were acutely aware that rates keep going lower and lower.

We were also aware that stay-at-home protocols are seriously hampering open houses. Even so, we slapped on some masks and toured two vacant houses that were recently listed in our desired area. Our real estate agent did the dirty work of touching doorknobs – with gloves on, of course – while we shouted questions at her from a social distance. 

The first two homes didn’t have what we were looking for, but another home popped up shortly after. 

This one was occupied, but stay-at-home orders lifted in Texas on May 1. We were still leery, as were the sellers. To view the home, we put on foot covers, face masks and gloves, which were thoughtfully provided in a basket on the entry table. We fell in love with the house and put in an offer shortly after viewing it. 

Homes go fast in this area, so we knew we had to act quickly. Looking back, had any of this taken place even two weeks later when the rest of the housing market seemed to wake up, we probably would have been outbid. But with us being a little early to the market, and the sellers having a baby on the way, the timing worked out.

Hazmat suits aside, this experience didn’t seem too out of the ordinary. 

The next steps are where we had our real takeaways, and those were:

  1. Financing (use a mortgage broker!)
  2. Signatures (eSigning technology is the best!)
  3. Closings (Should be fully digital by now!)

Going through a mortgage broker was a game-changer. While I bitterly watched rates continue to fall after locking in a rate, I’m still pretty darn happy with our broker. We couldn’t have shopped for rates and products like that on our own. 

On the signature side, I say death to wet signatures! From the bajillions of documents that went back and forth, eSigning was a lifesaver and I can’t imagine it any other way. For example, after the home inspection, we found that the oven was broken. Cue negotiations with the seller and at least three more documents drawn up. I’d have carpal tunnel without Docusign

Once we actually closed, I was looking around the title office for a tablet instead of the mountain of papers in front of me. No such luck, but I did get to keep the pen!

There wasn’t an alternative, actually. With COVID-19 precautions, we were told to keep them. We’re now one mortgage and two pens richer!

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