Homebuying tips amid the COVID-19 crisis
One couple’s story shows the resilience of homebuyers as the housing market adjusts to new ways of buying.
Siesha and Kenya Andrews lost out on what they thought was their perfect home when a contract fell through early in the COVID-19 crisis, but they found the real home of their dreams only weeks later. They said the final result was worth the journey. “It was definitely stressful in the beginning,” said Siesha Andrews, 33, an HP Inc. field service engineer and Wells Fargo customer. “COVID-19 tried to kill our dream, but we stayed the course. We went from losing the house I thought was supposed to be ours, to gaining the true dream home God had for us all along.”
The Atlanta area couple’s experience shows the kind of adaptability homebuyers are showing this year during the pandemic and its economic fallout. Home sales fell nearly 18% from March to April as many potential buyers sheltered in place, unemployment soared, and sellers pulled their listings amid the outbreak.
“It was definitely stressful in the beginning. COVID-19 tried to kill our dream, but we stayed the course. We went from losing the house I thought was supposed to be ours, to gaining the true dream home God had for us all along.” — Siesha Andrews
Still, industry analysts expect home sales to regain momentum in the summer and fall if COVID-19 restrictions successfully ease up across the country. Homebuyer mortgage applications, for example, are already roaring back to higher levels than a year ago, amid a surge of pent-up demand, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
“What we are hearing from realtors is they are getting busy as governors are opening the economy,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors®.
This means homebuyers are looking for opportunities to buy, even if the housing market’s “new normal” is still a cautious one, said Liz Bryant, who leads Wells Fargo Home Lending’s network of home mortgage consultants.
“The positive effect of lifting stay-at-home orders, people returning to work, and interest rates remaining historically low will set the stage for homebuyers to enter the market,” she said. “And that means doing your research, from a financial and personal safety standpoint, is more important than ever.”
‘We must be prepared as much as possible’
That research includes conventional wisdom such as strengthening your credit, saving for a down payment, and determining what you can really afford. It also includes “pandemic wisdom,” such as taking certain precautions while house hunting; ensuring any sales contract has provisions that protect you from potential COVID-19 hazards; and assessing your health, job security, emergency funds, and overall financial situation.
“If there’s anything that COVID-19 has taught us, it is the fact that disasters can happen, and we must be prepared as much as possible,” Bryant said. “If your financial foundation is solid, however, you’re in a good position to navigate this market, potentially find the right house for you, and take advantage of the historically low interest rates.”
For Siesha and Kenya Andrews, the road to homeownership was a challenging one. Financially, they had a lot going for them. Both worked at home, so their jobs were secure, even in the pandemic. They had saved aggressively for a down payment. They knew what they could afford and where they could find it in the Atlanta suburbs.
Until COVID-19, their biggest challenge had been paying down their credit card debt and shoring up their credit. After signing a contract on their “first dream house” in early March, the pandemic shutdown kicked in, delaying their closing date. The seller refused to grant an extension and backed out of the deal, which was signed before COVID-19 protection clauses became standard contract language.
The Andrews credit their mortgage consultant, Greg Jackson of Wells Fargo, and realtor Sonya Davis of Metro Brokers for helping them keep their focus. In a matter of weeks, the couple said they found their meant-to-be home, which was “bigger and better for us than the one before.”
“It just shows us that when God closes one door, he always opens another one,” said Kenya Andrews, a credit card fraud analyst for Fleetcor Technologies. “We trusted God, and we trusted them, too. And now here we are.”
Embracing a family legacy of homeownership
Davis said her bond with the couple was a memorable one, forged in the ups-and-downs of their house hunting during COVID-19. She said Kenya is quiet and even-keeled; Siesha, spontaneous and loquacious. Together, they were entertaining, enjoyable clients: “We just clicked,” Davis said.
Mostly, they looked at vacant homes, with a few exceptions that required Davis to wear a mask, use sanitizer, and wipe surfaces down before and after the showing. “Siesha and Kenya were very conscientious. They worked at home, stayed away from crowds, and practiced social distancing,” she said. “That made it easier for them and me in shopping for a home.”
The couple also made an indelible impression on Jackson, who worked long hours to make sure everything lined up for them, especially after the first deal fell through. “I’ll just never forget how hard they worked, their desire to own a home — the first for either of them — and how grateful they were,” he said. “In the end, it worked out better than the original house they wanted. And that redeems all that they went through.”
These days, between getting new furnishings for their living room and a landscaping project for the backyard, the couple enjoys life with 10-year-old Malachi, Siesha Andrews’ son from a previous relationship. They also embrace their families’ legacy, especially in the area of homeownership.
“All my life, I’d never lived in a single-family house. It was always an apartment or townhouse,” Siesha Andrews said. “But my grandma owned two homes. She taught me that being a homeowner is really something special; something you can pass down to your children. It’s your legacy, and something I want to pass down to our son. More recently, my own parents bought their first home, and they’re 53 years old. Better late than never, you know.”
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