10 Tips for Buying and Selling Houses in the Pandemic

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Like many other industries, real estate has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. New York on Pause has prohibited in-person showings and open houses, and stringent protection measures are likely to continue once showings are allowed again.

But buyers and sellers have been impacted by the shutdown too. While many New Yorkers are realizing that they can work remotely indefinitely, and therefore are free to move upstate since they are no longer tied to their work’s location, upstate sellers’ homes have become their everything—so even if sellers are still willing to part with their houses, they’re sure to have a more challenging time prepping to sell.

We asked five real estate specialists from throughout the region for their top tips for buyers and sellers in the topsy-turvy new world of the Hudson Valley real estate market.

Tips for Buyers

1. Do your homework.

If you aren’t sure where you want to live, do some research and spend time driving around. Once you’ve zeroed in on an area, spend a day there, driving and/or walking around, getting a feel of the place, and taking down the addresses of places that look appealing. If a virtual listing looks promising, look the property up on Google Maps and Google Earth to check out the surroundings and the house’s proximity to grocery stores, pharmacies and places of the like. And, whether you’re shopping in person or virtually, take your time, says Lisa Halter, principal broker and owner of Halter Associates Realty in Woodstock. “Figure out what area you want to focus on, just like any other time,” she says. “You don’t want to rush into something because you’re in a panic about the pandemic. Approach it logically and look at the areas that you think you might be interested in.”

2, Get pre-qualified for a loan

Get pre-qualified before you start scouring an area for your new home. “Get your pre-qualification before you even start looking, in this current environment,” says Megan Brenn-White, a licensed real estate salesperson at Keller Williams Hudson Valley United, based in Middletown. “You can’t even see a home generally without having a pre-qualification letter to begin with. Everybody’s trying to minimize any contact, so they’re not going to even consider an unaccompanied showing unless they’re pretty sure you are a serious candidate.”

3. Hire a broker or an agent.

That’s the advice of David Birch, principal broker and owner of Barns & Farms Realty in Columbia County. Navigating the real estate industry and negotiating a contract with a seller can be challenging at the best of times, but it’s been even more difficult in the midst of strict health protocols to protect real estate agents and home buyers and sellers from exposure to Covid-19. “You need a broker who really is ingenious and aggressive,” says Birch, “who will find a way to get you into a home.”

4. Go virtual, but protect yourself.

Since New York on Pause has prohibited in-person real estate showings (unless both parties agree to sign a “home harmless” agreement and a risk agreement to allow a prospective buyer entry), buyers are relying on virtual house tours. An attorney can place an addendum in your contract that won’t close the purchase until you are able to see the property in person to confirm that it’s right for you. “An attorney can also advise you about some of the questions that might be raised during the process of arm’s distance closing purchase,” says Katherine L. Jennings, an associate real estate broker with Houlihan Lawrence, based in Millbrook.

5. Remain open-minded about location—and your budget.

This last tip may be the most difficult for buyers to swallow. If houses are selling quickly in your desired location, be willing to look in areas you haven’t considered before. And be prepared to open up your price range as well. “Look for homes that are at least 20 percent below the top of your budget,” says Brenn-White. “Assume you will go into a bidding war, which will increase the house’s price substantially.”

Tips for Sellers

1. Work with an agent.

That’s the most important thing to do if you’re trying to sell a house during this unprecedented time, advises Halter. Now is not the time to try to sell on your own. “Try to find a firm that’s tech savvy and able to use Instagram and FaceTime and Zoom,” she says, “and who has the technological tools to be able to help in this virtual environment that we’re working in.”

2. Put your house on the market immediately!

“The level of interest has increased, like, 20-fold,” says Brenn-White. “It was already a seller’s market, but now it’s like a super-seller’s market.” If you’re considering selling, don’t dither. An increasing amount of people from New York City are buying upstate properties sight unseen in an attempt to escape the viral hotbed the city has become—and upstate inventory is currently low. Bidding wars are fast becoming common, with sellers getting more for their homes than the original asking price.

3. Be as adaptive and creative as possible.

“If you’re looking to sell in this market in a traditional format, it’s not going to happen,” says Gary DiMauro, principal with Gary DiMauro Real Estate, a boutique firm with offices in Hudson, Tivoli, Rhinebeck, and Catskill that will open a Kingston office this summer. Sellers need to be much more involved in the process than ever before, he explains. If you are allowing unaccompanied showings, you may be asked by your agent or broker to speak with buyers directly to schedule showings. “Try to accommodate brokers and arrange times to leave your house so buyers can come in for showing, says Birch. “Be flexible about leaving the house so the broker can come in to help you sell your home.” But insist on realtors and prospective buyers wearing personal protective equipment at all times.

4. Dive into the virtual world of real estate.

The absence of in-person showings and open houses has created a need for virtual tours and communications. Keller Williams Hudson Valley United has been conducting open houses over Zoom, allowing interested buyers to ask questions and view interiors. Photographers specializing in online tours have been deemed essential businesses, giving sellers the option of allowing a photographer (wearing PPE) to shoot each room and stitch the images together to create panoramas and virtual floorprints. Or you can create a virtual tour yourself by taking quality photographs or video. “One of our client sellers did a video tour of his house that was very professionally done—he might have been an editor for HGTV in a previous life,” says DiMauro. “He did a video tour, edited it, and even added music to it. He then sent it to us so that we could add it as an attachment to our website listing. That is the most adaptive situation that we could ask a seller to maintain for us.”

5. Keep your home as clean as possible.

Constantly spiffing up a house that’s on the market is difficult at the best of times, but it’s even more challenging during the pandemic, when our houses are also our offices, studios, classrooms, gyms, and whatever else we need them to be. But if you’re allowing prospective buyers to enter your home for unaccompanied showings, make sure you thoroughly clean and sanitize everything before and after buyers visit—for their protection as well as yours. And be aware at all times of the image your house presents to the world. “It has never been more important to keep things incredibly clean,” says Houlihan Lawrence’s Jennings, “because when you’re only doing a video tour, the clutter on countertops or in closets or bookshelves will look more extreme than it would in person. You really want to be sure that you’re providing the best possible virtual showing experience for buyers by keeping everything as minimalistic and cleaned up as you possibly can.”

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