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Touring homes smartly in a COVID-19 world 

Few events have so dramatically impacted virtually every facet of our daily lives as has the coronavirus crisis. Its uniqueness and virulence swept the globe with shutdowns, spikes in unemployment, and many have lost their lives.  

Now that most of those closures have been lifted — and the employment rate slowly improves —  some Americans are taking a cautious approach toward returning to some semblance of pre-Covid-19 life. Others, meanwhile, are changing their behaviors entirely and remain practicing social distancing. 

Somewhere in the middle are homebuyers, as most individuals who bought a home the traditional way say they would do it again if given the chance despite what they know now, according to the results of a new poll. 

Among Americans who attended an open house within the past year, nearly two-thirds said they would attend another showing in the current conditions, according to a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors.

Not only that, but they would rely more heavily on real estate professionals. Indeed, 47% of buyers acknowledged home experts — such as agents and loan officers — are particularly important for guidance during uncertain times. 53% of sellers echoed these sentiments. This leaves a group of people who say they would not attend an open house at least until it is deemed safe to do so by local authorities or medical professionals.  

If you fall in the latter category, you're not alone. Virtual open houses are ongoing, which enable you to see via computer or mobile device just about everything you would under normal circumstances.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you go about the homebuying process in a constantly evolving environment amid the Covid-19 world.

Do your homework on virtual open houses 

Thanks to the internet, search tools, and home listing applications, doing your research has never been easier or more convenient.  Taking a deep-dive into all the particulars of a potential home purchase is especially important for virtual open houses. Although modern technology is incredibly versatile and images are clearer than ever, nothing compares to touring a home. Thus, you'll really want to lean on your real estate agent who will likely be able to obtain details on the home that may not be available to you through regular home listing apps or search tools. For example, they may be able to get floor plans of the house which you can use a map to guide you during the virtual tour.  

You may be surprised as to just how many people not only are looking to buy a house — largely due to record-low mortgage rates — but have attended virtual open houses. Talk to friends to see what they know and where to go.  

In addition to your agent’s ability to find available listings and when they are showing, they can likely connect you with the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), a private real estate listing database that sends alerts to your email when certain properties in your area become available. 

Linda Devlin, a Pittsburgh-based real estate professional, told Homelight that MLS is highly customizable

"On the MLS, agents have always been able to post when we are going to have an open house, including the date and time," Devlin explained. "Now, MLS has added a virtual open house URL so we can put the link right there in the MLS listing. We can then send it to buyers or post it on any social media site." 

Book viewings in advance 

While all 50 states have emerged from lockdown mode, social distancing measures are still in place that restrict crowding and mandate face masks. For example, while there traditionally is no limit to how many people can be in an open house at any given time, that may not be the case for states looking to curb gatherings.  

If you wanted to view a house in person, ask your real estate agent about convenient times to do so that won’t require special Covid-19 precautions. This way, you can really get a feel for the house and can avoid uneasiness about being among many people at once. In a recent survey conducted by Gallup and released in July, 54% of respondents said the lack of social distancing in their area had them worried, up from 45% in mid-May. 

Inquire about disclosures 

Disclosures are material defects in the house that traditionally cost money to repair. The seller is required to inform potential buyers of these, but you may forget to ask about them or not notice them during a virtual tour. Talk to your real estate agent about this issue.  

By adapting to the circumstances of the moment, you can get all the information you need despite the restrictions to make the right decision for you and your family.