A Buyer’s Guide to Purchasing a Home While Sheltering in Place

People who want to stay safe and shelter in place, but also want to buy a home, may be a bit confused about what their next steps should be. That’s great news because there is so much you should be doing and can be doing – from home. I tell buyers all of the time that looking at homes in person, is really the only fun part of the home buying process. Some people might disagree, but really if you consider the steps – you will probably agree. Some people stress about spending money. Not everyone enjoys a new time-consuming task to fit into an already filled day. I have also yet to meet someone who enjoys filling out paperwork.

There is paperwork aplenty. Back in the day, we printed everything and I used to include myself as one of those tree killers. Nowadays, so much of what I do is online, there is no guilt anymore. My buyers can buy a home completely paperless if they choose, but the paperwork still exists, now as online forms, and there is plenty of it. There are many forms that are required to be filled out in order to buy a home. All of that can take place on-line. All of it takes time. All of it can be done from the comfort of your own couch.

How much can you afford to spend and how much do you want to spend?

How much you can afford and how much you want to spend are two different questions, which may have very different answers. If you are not purchasing a home solely with cash, a mortgage is going to be needed. Your income, existing loans, credit score, and down payment are all going to go into determining how much of a home you can afford. This is where the path to homeownership begins and it starts on your phone and computer from home.

What you can spend and what you want to spend may be two very different things.

The lender is going to pre-qualify and then pre-approve you, which will determine how much of a home you can qualify for. When you buy a home with a mortgage, you are essentially asking for permission to borrow money from a lender. A pre-qualification or a pre-approval is basically the lender giving initial permission to borrow that money. I have many clients qualify for more than they want to spend. Everyone has a different lifestyle and spend money based on it. Some buyers are conservative with spending habits, some like to have money for exotic trips, while others prefer take-out food every night rather than cook. How you spend your money plays an important role in what you might want to spend on a home.

Finding your comfort zone

If you want to maintain the lifestyle you have, you may want to or need to lower the amount you want to spend on a home in order to meet your lifestyle needs. Again, this can be done at home. Calculate what you spend on your lifestyle and add that to the estimated mortgage payment from the lender and decide if you can afford it all. If you can’t – then dial back on the amount of money to spend on a house or consider a reduction in the lifestyle budget, until you find your comfort zone. 

Where do you want to live?

Finally, all of the paperwork is done. You know your numbers. The fun can finally begin – from home. Let talk about where you want to live. At this time, I’ll set up a custom home search. Based on the results, we may tweak the search criteria several times.

Who are you going to call?

Now we can play a game called ‘what-if’. What if you found a home today? Who would you call to inspect it? What if the house needs painting and you want an estimate? Finding professional resources can be done during your option period, but why spend your time on that then, when you have it now? Creating a cheat sheet now of resources you might want will save you time later.

Ask Questions

You will often be able to see a seller’s disclosure notice and a survey on-line. Look at the documents and ask questions. Asking questions saves you time because answers save time. An answer may change your mind or may lead to another question. Photos can lead to questions too. If you can’t tell if there is a backdoor (and that’s important to you) or where it is – ask the question. If you can’t see a pantry (and that’s important to you) – ask if there is a picture or how big it is. Understand, there are some questions that you would ask after you would see a house anyway. There’s nothing wrong with asking those questions upfront if you have them.

Tour the home virtually

I have sold 4 homes sight unseen in Austin, years before the pandemic. I did it with video. There are video tours now that are available often in addition to photos, which can give you a better sense of room size and layout than photos alone. Again, ask questions, if a floorplan is not available and you want to know how big a room is – ask. If the size of the room is going to be a deciding factor in whether or not you buy it – ask now. You don’t need to leave your home to ask questions.

Only a few will make the cut

After all of the above is done. Very few homes will make the cut in terms of what you might like to see in person. At this time there are still two things to do. The first thing you should do is take a drive to the house and tour the neighborhood. A view from the car will tell you many things. House aside, you may not like the neighborhood. You may not like the street. You’re deal breakers are yours. If you don’t like it something that can’t be changed – there is no reason to pursue buying the house.

The second thing you should do is do a test drive from your phone or computer. Your phone’s map app or MapQuest can help you estimate your commuting time if you typically don’t drive to the proposed home location.

Touring a home for sale in person

Going to see a home in person right now, is very similar to going to H-E-B, or any other essential business right now. Currently, the recommendations during COVID-19 include wearing masks, stay 6 feet apart, wear gloves and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer when done.

Buying a Home in Austin l Moving to Austin

People are still moving to and from Austin every day. Interest rates are currently low. Despite the historic unemployment rates, to which Austin is not immune, this is still the state capital, a large hub for technology companies, home to many universities, the Circuit of the Americas, the live music capital and festivals aplenty. Austin is driven by a diverse economy. Am I expecting home sales volume going to be less? Yes, I expect it will be, but new listings will be less too. The market will be proportionally the same, just with less volume. As long as people are moving here, and the backlog of buyers still exists, Austin real estate is going to remain a seller’s market in the foreseeable future. If you want to buy a home in Austin and you have the financial means to do so, buy a home. Remember, you are only buying one. There are not that many you will actually want to see in person if you follow my buyer’s plan. Buying a home starts at home.  Stay at home, stay safe and do your homework.