Homebuyers fired up by low mortgage rates find few open houses to visit

Eufemia Didonato

Record-low mortgage rates have helped put more Americans in a homebuying mood in recent months. But with the coronavirus still spreading, many sellers are keeping their social distance.

About 6% of homes that went on the market in July held open houses within the first week, according to real estate brokerage site Redfin. While that marks a rebound from a rock-bottom 1% in April, it’s way down from 16% last year.

“It’s still risky to allow groups of strangers into your home,” says Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather. “As a result, more homebuyers have been exploring the world of virtual tours and 3D walkthroughs.”

hook an ultra-cheap mortgage rate and buy a home, get ready for some changes to the traditional open house — or be prepared to attend a virtual tour.” data-reactid=”35″>If you’re looking to hook an ultra-cheap mortgage rate and buy a home, get ready for some changes to the traditional open house — or be prepared to attend a virtual tour.

Some sellers are open for business

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Some state and local governments banned open houses altogether in the spring, but the events are making a slow return in some areas.

“Only recently have agents and sellers discussed the possibility of holding open houses,” says Corey Burr, senior vice president with TTR Sotheby’s International Realty in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

They’re most common in the Northeast, where 12% of homes hosted open houses during their first week on the market, Redfin says. You don’t find open houses as often in the Midwest (9%), the South (7%) or the West (4%).

If you plan to attend an open house in this time of COVID-19, be prepared for some changes.

“We are noticing more open houses with specific instructions addressing the number of people allowed in a house at the same time,” Burr says.

Home shoppers will need to fill out a “visitor health screening questionnaire” before arriving to an open house and must keep face masks on the entire time. In some cases, the getup also includes gloves and shoe covers.

Get quotes from at least three to five lenders, so you can feel confident you’re seeing the best rates in the area.” data-reactid=”68″>Going through all of that to attend an open house is probably a sign your house search is getting serious — and that it’s time to start checking mortgage rates. Get quotes from at least three to five lenders, so you can feel confident you’re seeing the best rates in the area.

check rates from multiple insurance companies, to avoid overpaying for your coverage.” data-reactid=”69″>Homeowners insurance can be a major expense, so you should begin pricing that, too. Go online and check rates from multiple insurance companies, to avoid overpaying for your coverage.

Open houses get a virtual makeover

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Sellers may offer a totally virtual reality experience, complete with a 3D-rendered simulation, but more commonly they set up 360-degree photos.

homebuyer will look for a URL in the house listing or on the agent’s social media sites. Then, you’ll need a device like a smartphone or laptop, plus Zoom or whatever software the seller is using for the walkthrough.” data-reactid=”97″>To take a virtual tour, a homebuyer will look for a URL in the house listing or on the agent’s social media sites. Then, you’ll need a device like a smartphone or laptop, plus Zoom or whatever software the seller is using for the walkthrough.

There’s plenty of research you can do before attending a virtual open house. Start by reading through the listing and asking the seller’s agent for disclosures. These help you figure out if there’s an issue you want to ask about.

Then, look through the photos. Buyers who are interested in seeing more can schedule an in-person viewing.

If there’s anything you can’t see well in the photos or video, or if you spot any noticeable damage, make a note of it. Ask questions when you see the house during your private appointment.

Is the house nearby? Go take a spin through the neighborhood and check out the vibe. What kind of amenities are nearby? How well do the neighbors maintain their yards?

You may discover that with some popular properties, so many people want an in-person tour that the agent will resort to scheduling a conventional open house. So, you may find yourself on one of those waiting lists.

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