Like everything else in life, the real estate industry in Seattle has experienced some real changes over the past 2 months. It's been topsy turvy these last several weeks but properties continue to be listed, get shown, go under contract and ultimately close. However, it has been far from normal. The Stay at Home order made many necessary restrictions to the local real estate world.
Some restrictions are slowly being removed but several of them will most likely be with us for the next several months. So, if you are considering buying a home anytime soon, you will want to be prepared for some of the new wrinkles that COVID 19 has added to the real estate process.
WRINKLE 1: ONLY TWO PEOPLE IN A HOUSE AT A TIME
One of the strong limitations put in place is that only a total of two people may be inside a listed property at one time, and one of those two people must be a real estate broker or their licensed assistant. We also must follow the prescribed CDC measures for social distancing. That means couples and families will not be able to enter the house together. This also puts the obvious kibosh on in-person open houses.
The positive here is that even though this creates less than ideal conditions for viewing a home, we still get to view them. And in a strange way this may help buyers make more informed decisions.
A lot of buyers wait to do deeper research on a property until after they have visited it. We tend to want to get a "feel" for the property before we commit time to truly investigating. For a lot of folks there is a sense that anything really important will reveal itself as we check out the property together. Since this element of experiencing the space together is far more limited at this time, we will want to do a little more homework up front.
Thankfully, brokers (at least the good ones) are posting more information, photos and virtual tours than ever. There is a ton of information to be learned from the Seller's Disclosure Statement and the permit history. Also, 3-D Tours and live social media tours that brokers are creating in lieu of open houses can give you a real sense of a house's flow. Thanks to all of this information, we can gain a deeper understanding and a feel for a property before we ever set foot in it. Doing homework on a property before visiting gives us an opportunity to explore that property more intentionally when we do see it in person. Even though we will have to take turns looking at the house separately, we at least know that we will be looking at it through a lense that we created together.
WRINKLE 2: SCHEDULING HOME TOURS
Speaking of taking turns, we are currently being required to schedule showings through the MLS. This is being done to ensure that only one group is touring a property at a time. This means we may not be able to have the same flexibility we had in the past when setting up tours for you lovely people. There are only so many open slots available per day/per listing and if the place you want to see is “hot”, we may have to settle for a less than ideal time to see it.
This is where patience and flexibility will help us win the day! If we are planning to see multiple properties, we may find it necessary to break up our tour into two or three trips to see everything on your list.
I'm game if you are!
WRINKLE 3: INSPECTIONS ARE WEIRD
The restriction of only having two people in the house at a time is making what was already kind of a weird experience even stranger. And just to be clear, when the restriction says "two people" it means the home inspector and the real estate broker. By rule, real estate brokers can’t leave any non-licensed person inside a house unattended. So, unless we have written consent from the seller (which is unusual) your real estate broker can’t leave the house to let you come in and look at a specific issue that the inspector may have uncovered.
Another bit of weirdness is that some home inspectors are currently not inspecting occupied homes or meeting in person with the buyers that have hired them. This affects the home buying process because it could create a delay in getting an inspection.
So, as I said, things are weird. But they are still working. Be prepared to go over your inspection report via FaceTime, Zoom or whatever meeting platform you, your inspector and real estate broker decide to use.
As for seller provided inspections, yes, in some cases that is still happening. Even so, I recommend procuring your own home inspection and sewer scope when possible. Especially if you are new to the home buying process.
I have a list of inspectors that I recommend working with and I am happy to share it with you!
WRINKLE 4: MORE NEW PAPERWORK
With more risks comes more paperwork. We want everyone involved in this process to go in with their eyes open. So get ready to be handed (or should I say emailed) some form of “Hold Harmless” addendum. This will serve to point out the inherent risks involved in this process and ask you to release your broker from any responsibility.
Don't worry, we want to cover your butt too. But you're going to have to learn about "Force Majeure" first.
Force Majeure clauses exist in a lot of different contracts but have not been typical to real estate contracts in Western Washington, until now. In fact, the virus has necessitated the creation of a Force Majeure addendum through the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.
Per that addendum, Force Majeure is defined as:
An occurrence that is beyond the control of the party affected and could not have been avoided by exercising reasonable diligence, making the means of performance objectively impossible. Force Majeure Events includes acts of God, war, riots, strikes, fire, floods, epidemics, or other similar occurrences.
If you are planning on making an offer on a home, in addition to the typical contingencies (inspections, financing, etc.) we use to protect buyers, make sure that your real estate broker includes NWMLS Form 22FM to protect you in the event that you contract the virus during your transaction.
WRINKLE 5: PERSONAL PROTECTION
Most of us have gotten used to wearing some form of personal protection when we go to the store or other public venue. It will be no different when you are touring homes.
At a bare minimum, be prepared to wear a mask when inside any listing you're touring. If you don't have a mask or gloves, ask your real estate broker if they have any. Many of us are supplying these items for our clients.
In addition to gloves, masks and hand sanitizer, I personally like to carry a disinfectant wipe that I use to turn keys and knobs. It's best to touch as few things as possible but it's nice to have a layer of virus killing fabric between you and an object if you absolutely have to touch it.
Speaking of touching. As much as you may want to embrace me or touch my face when you see me, I must ask you to exercise some self control and I will do likewise! Though I must confess, as an extrovert and a hugger, this is killing me!
Well, there you have it. You are now prepared to make your way into the real estate market. Go wisely, go safely and go with a great broker. And if you don't have a broker, give me a call and we can enter this crazy process together!