How can we all stay as safe as possible during this troubling time?
The best way to help stay safe is to stay home and self-quarantine.
So, what do you do, if you have a real need to find a home during the Coronavirus pandemic?
Here are the Ten Steps we at the OAHU. REAL ESTATE. LIFE. Team can use to help Buyers find a home during the coronavirus pandemic:
1. Set Up Your Property Searches Using Specific Criteria
First, we will help you set up portal searches for Oahu real estate through the HiCentral MLS. We will ask for your preferences with respect to price, area, size, etc. Or if you prefer, we can select properties for you that best meet your needs. Accessing the MLS data, however is the most convenient for you, is the first step to finding a home during the coronavirus pandemic.
2. Review All Marketing Media Available
Next, Buyers should review all available photos and videos for properties of interest. This should include available virtual tours, such as Matterport. Most Sellers today have professional listing photos. Only 25 are allowed in MLS, but often, a listing agent will have 50 or more available. These may be posted on an agent’s own website or their company’s website. I often have more than 40 for my listings. I typically post them directly on the Hawaii Life and our OAHU. REAL ESTATE. LIFE. website.
I also frequently use Matterport tours and/or video for my listings. Not all listing agents use these tools, but I think they will become more commonplace soon. As Buyers’ agents, we will help you obtain all these materials from the listing agents, so you can review them in the comfort of your home. Matterport tours, in particular, are very helpful tools. They help you visualize the floorplan of a home. And they will actually walk you through the home. Below is a screenshot of a Matterport Tour from one of my listings. To “walk through the listing,” you click on the round circles with your mouse. These also can include a floor plan. (The Matterport tour below is not live.) HERE is the live Matterport.
Below is a screenshot of the location on your Matrix Property Portal (in MLS searches I set up) where you can find a Virtual Tour or Video. The Hawaii life website has the tours on the button where it says “Virtual Tour.”
3. Narrow Down Your List
Next, pick your favorites out of all that you are shown online. Once you have narrowed the selection of homes to no more than a handful, you and I will start a very intensive review of these properties. We’ll start with the most favorite one or two.
4. Ask Lots of Questions & Get Supplemental Photos/Video If Needed
What’s next? Ask me lots of questions if you feel there are any gaps in the visual information. What exactly is not shown in the photos and video that you would like to know about? Listing agents should be available to me when I contact them, and willing to answer questions. Listing agents may already have or may be willing to go and take more photos and video, or FaceTime with their phone, if necessary, so you can see more. Or I can go on my own, in some cases, and use FaceTime/Skype and/or video, as well as photography. For example, the listing photos may not show the side yard, laundry, or garage. Or maybe you can’t tell if there is a dishwasher in the kitchen. All bedrooms might not be shown. You may have questions about the view. If you want answers or more photos of a particular area of a home or have specific questions, be sure to ask, ask, ask away!
5. Check Out the Neighborhood
You should visit the neighborhood of houses you really like both online and in your car (without me!). Drive around the neighborhood at various times of the day when you have a legitimate purpose to be out (e.g., you need to get groceries). Make sure you like the neighborhood, and there is nothing about the area that is a deal breaker. Do your research online, in advance, as to businesses in the area, schools, churches, crime, traffic, etc. Think about what is important to you. Google Maps is a great tool for checking out the local area. There are Map functions on every MLS listing as well. It is next to the Virtual Tour icon. (See above.)
Ask me if you need help using any of these tools. Please note that normal traffic patterns and noise issues may not apply right now, due to fewer people being out. You can also ask me to contact the listing agent with specific questions about the area. If the listing agent does not know, she can also ask the Seller.
6. Get Copies of the Disclosures, Title Report, Survey, Building Permit Package & Condo Docs
Many listing agents, such as myself, try to get all of these materials ready and available prior to even listing a home. Not all do. It requires some legwork and is an up-front expense for the Seller, but it is usually not difficult to do.
We hope to see more and more agents providing these materials in advance of listing. I will help you get these in advance, if they are available. For condos, there is usually no survey or building permit package. However, with condos you might want to also get the condominium house rules and any immediate past minutes, if they are available.
If there are deal breakers in the disclosures, permit package, or house rules that cannot be resolved with price or repairs, why go see the property? Having these items in advance is a good idea for many reasons. For example, if there are survey discrepancies, it gives everyone more time to get encroachment agreements. Having disclosures in advance also can help to make a personal visit (if you ever do have one) to the home more productive. Why go see a condo, if you have a cat and it is not pet friendly, or if you are a veteran and it is not on the VA list?
7. Walk the Exterior of the Property
Next, you can schedule an appointment with me and I will contact the listing agent for permission to walk around the property, outside. Do not, however, go on the property without permission, even if it is vacant. The fewer people at the property, the better. Any gathering of more than a few people should be avoided. Please don’t bring kids or members of the family, if they are not Buyers. When at the property, keep a safe social distance.
We will make sure that the exterior of the property meets your needs prior to entering the inside. If there are deal breakers on the outside, we will not go in at all. Maybe the lot is more sloped than you want. Or the rock retaining walls are almost falling down. Maybe the neighbor’s house is a junkyard. If these are deal breakers for you, absolutely do not go in. This is not the time to be curious about the inside of a house (which you have already seen in photos, anyway) when you know it’s not right for you.
8. Consider Writing an Offer Subject to Inspection
During the threat of coronavirus, some Sellers, especially in owner or tenant-occupied homes, may end up doing showings only subject to an accepted contract on the property. If your research in the enumerated areas above is looking good and you just need to confirm that what you’ve already seen in photos is what is really inside, this option may work for you.
We would write an offer on the property before seeing the inside, in person, in this case. IF accepted and you enter into contract for the property, you would be allowed entry during the home inspection period. During the inspection period, you would have the opportunity to cancel the contract, with a refund of deposits, if you don’t like what you have seen. You can also try to negotiate price adjustments and/or repairs during this inspection period, if warranted.
9. Consider Doing a Sight-Unseen Purchase
You can also do a sight-unseen purchase. In this case, you do not see the home in person at all! Normally, people do the sight-unseen method of buying only when they can’t come to Oahu. But it will also work when trying to find a home during the coronavirus pandemic. With a sight-unseen purchase, we will do as many of the steps above as possible. I will see the property and use things like video and FaceTime/Skype so you can see it too. With my assistance, you will research the property without seeing it in person. Because of the coronavirus threat, this method of purchase may be useful not only to off-island Buyers, but also, people who don’t want to or can’t venture out of their home at all. Some examples of people who might benefit from sight-unseen purchasing would be people in quarantine, people who know they have or a close family member has the virus, medical professionals working to treat people with coronavirus, or people who are at higher-risk of catching the virus.
10. Scheduling an Appointment to Go Inside
You’ve already completed the due diligence set forth above and are things are looking good. The home seems to check most or all of your boxes. You definitely, really like it from afar. At this point, you can think about scheduling an appointment to go in the house, if they are being allowed by the Seller.
When deciding to schedule, you should consider the following:
- Check your own health and the health of those you are around. You must be absolutely symptom free and not have been around anyone that you know of who has (or has been exposed to) the coronavirus. Keep in mind that some people with coronavirus are asymptomatic.
- Verify with me whether a property is occupied or vacant if you haven’t already. If owner or tenant occupied, please seriously consider not going inside at all.
- Take your own car to the property.
- (We can) ask questions of me and the listing agent about their showing protocols and personal situation. Make sure any questions asked are for everyone and are non-discriminatory.
- Disinfect your hands before you go in.
- Wear PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).
- Don’t touch anything at the property, if possible. If you have to touch a light switch, stair rail for safety, or a knob to open or close anything, make sure you are wearing gloves and/or use a Clorox wipe.
- Don’t touch your face for any reason.
- Make sure to properly dispose of gloves, wash your hands thoroughly with soap, disinfect, etc. after.
PLEASE NOTE: There may be other steps to take to help prevent catching and spreading the virus. Taking all these steps still may not prevent catching or spreading of the Coronavirus. Check with your doctor and the other experts if you have questions or to verify any of the above. Also, check with your doctor to see if your other health conditions make you particularly vulnerable to the virus. Always, err on the side of safety and caution.
Also please note that Hawaii Life and the Hawaii Board of REALTORS have come up with Addenda to help protect people with potential contract problems that may result from coronavirus-related issues. These provisions would likely be included in your contract, to help deal with some of the uncertainties of finding a home during the coronavirus pandemic. Anticipated problems may include delays, access issues, inspection issues, problems with lender financing, and some unknowns, as well. More on this at another time.
What Is Next?
You should follow precautions similar to the ones above once you are in escrow on a home and you are doing inspections. Buyers should aim to minimize visits to the property. Inspectors can provide written reports and many will use technology to connect with you during the inspection. See my other blog posts, below, on these topics.
These are our 10 Steps to Finding a Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic. If you have questions about anything you’ve read here, or are interested in starting your home search on Oahu, please call me, Yvonne Ahearn, at 808-721-8088. ~ Aloha
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