Here are a few ideas to help you navigate this PCS season fraught with social distancing and travel restrictions. Fortunately, technology affords us some great solutions to both home shopping and selling in these interesting times.
Ask for virtual home tours.
A good real estate agent will be flexible and accommodating, and it never hurts to ask your agent if you can have a virtual Skype tour of a potential home. Already an often-used practice by military couples facing an overseas move, this option allows you to do a walk through and ask questions in real time and potentially see more properties than you could during a whirlwind in-person visit on house-hunting leave.
If you’re the seller, be proactive and offer to host a Facebook Live option for a previously scheduled open house event. Being flexible may pay off in earning you more views by potential home buyers.
Be a socially conscious seller.
If you have a home on the market and need to open your home for showings with potential buyers, put yourself in a desirable position by offering virtual tours when requested. In the event you do have to show your home in person, put potential home buyers at ease by having easy access to hand sanitizers, wipes, individually wrapped snacks and bottled drinks, and leave doors open so that they can walk through completely hands free. Ideally, the only people present in the home during a viewing should be the buyer and their agent.
Go to great detail in any offer to protect you in the event of changes.
This is a critical time to practice diligence in your paperwork. Working closely with your real estate agent and legal advisor, you should outline important dates and clarify in detail what will happen if either side needs to delay closing due to military travel order restrictions, for example. While the Service Member Civil Relief Act can protect military homeowners in other specific ways, it’s up to you to spell out certain details in your home offer or seller’s agreement.
If the seller is agreeable to it, you may opt to set a more distant closing date in the sale documents and say you will close “on or before” that date. This allows some flexibility for you to close sooner than the final date in the event you can both do so.
You can also have a contingency that allows for renting the house to the current occupants, if they still need some time before they can move. After the closing date, you have the option of renting the house to the current owners for a period of time, and a rental agreement would be spelled out accordingly in a separate agreement.
Just be aware that many mortgage companies require you to take occupancy within a certain period of time after closing, which will vary from state to state. Before drafting up any agreements, check with your mortgage company to see whether they have restrictions on how soon after closing you have to occupy the home. Title companies are bound by state rules; they can clarify important timeframes and how different scenarios impact the interest rates you qualify for as a homeowner occupying immediately, versus the home being considered an investment property that you rent out to someone. (This can affect your homeowners insurance rates as well, so you’ll want to pay careful attention to the guidelines.)
Here are a few other resources you may want to consider:
- Your real estate agent can provide you with a copy of any recent home inspection paperwork, or, if you can get the seller’s approval, you could request a pre-offer home inspection. Your agent should have a recommended local home inspector and may even be able to book the appointment for you or attend the home inspection and provide you with a virtual walk through.
- Many mortgage lenders and title companies can provide you with online access so you can complete every aspect of home buying or selling, including uploading documents and electronically signing papers, without ever having to set foot in an office.
- For the closing paperwork signing process, you can use a mobile notary. They will come to an agreed-upon location, such as your home or a public business, to meet with you to sign important documents.
Hopefully these tips give you some peace of mind and help you continue with searching for a home or putting your home on the market during this turbulent PCS season. Find a flexible and supportive real estate agent who is willing to work with you, and don’t be afraid to ask for your agent’s creativity and guidance in navigating you through this experience.