Pandemic brings new home-buying process, slows down some sales

  • A house for sale at 322 South St. in Northampton, Tuesday, May 12, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 5/12/2020 2:26:36 PM

Spring tends to be a busy time of year for real estate agents like Laura Sandvik.

“Usually I’d be showing houses all day every day in the spring, but it’s only been a few showings a week, which is really, really weird,” she said.

Because real estate agents tend to do a significant portion of their work from home, the COVID-19 pandemic has had its most noticeable impact on the most in-person aspect of their job: showings.

Sandvik, who works with Delap Real Estate, which serves much of western Massachusetts, said in addition to wearing masks and practicing social distancing — new measures since the outbreak of COVID-19 — her agency can provide potential buyers with virtual tours in place of in-person tours. Sandvik said she’s even used FaceTime to “show” clients a property.

“We have such great technology now,” she said, noting this type of virtual service was available and frequently used by out-of-state buyers prior to the pandemic.

Unable to hold open houses, Marcia Brooks, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Community Realtors, has also noticed a slow start to her spring showings.

“Typically, this time of year, things are kicking off for a new season,” she said. “But because of this, things have been slower than they would have ordinarily been.”

Brooks said the agency, which serves the Pioneer Valley, is offering showings by appointment. Social distancing measures are taken when clients arrive at the property, and masks are required. Door handles are disinfected and the doors are left open, and clients are asked to not touch anything inside the property.

Brooks said that while proceeding with more caution than usual, people are still moving forward with plans to buy and sell properties.

“We are finding ways to do what our clients need us to do to get them to where they need to be,” she said. “It’s working. Houses are slowly coming on the market, and they are getting offers in a very timely fashion these days.”

Fairly priced homes that do go on the market are selling quickly, agreed Sandvik, who added it remains a seller’s market.

“People are always going to need a place to live,” she said. “Buyers are still out there, sellers are still out there. People still need to move for whatever reason.”

The process for completing a sale, however, hasn’t been without a hitch for some of her clients, she said.

For Tyler Chaney, the effects of the pandemic have left him “in a holding pattern,” according to Sandvik.

Chaney, a tattoo artist at Oxbow Tattoo in Easthampton, said he was nearing closing on a home in Holyoke when he was temporarily laid off as a result of state orders that closed all non-essential businesses. Since then, he has been collecting unemployment.

Chaney has a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan, he said, which means even though he has the money to make monthly loan payments — and will be employed again as soon as it’s safe for the tattoo parlor to reopen — his lender can’t approve a loan.

“On paper, I’m unemployed,” he said. “Until I’m employed, meaning I have a two-week paycheck, the loan company, or any loan company, won’t loan me any money.”

Sandvik, his real estate agent, said Chaney’s situation isn’t necessarily unique.

“People who have government loans are in a holding pattern,” she said. “I would say most of the people impacted are FHA (Federal Housing Authority), USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and VA (Veterans Affairs) buyers. They’re just stuck right now.”

Jane Trombi, senior vice president of residential lending at Greenfield Cooperative Bank, said even with non-government-backed loans, income verification is a stipulation of approval for loan applicants.

“If they’re unemployed, or furloughed, we would have to wait until … they’re back with their full-time income,” she explained.

Trombi said she hasn’t had many applications come across her desk yet from individuals who are recently unemployed as a result of the pandemic. Still, the bank, which doesn’t offer government-backed loans, has extended time frames for verification of employment.

“The good thing about being a small bank is we can work with people one-on-one,” Trombi said. “They don’t get lost with us.”

Chaney, who moved from California to Massachusetts in 2017 to pursue a career as a tattoo artist, remains hopeful the sale will work out. He said the current owners of the home in Holyoke have extended the deadline to sign the closing papers.

“I have a good feeling we’ll actually get it,” he said. “But if this drags on for another month or so, I don’t know how receptive they’ll be.”

Chaney added if he had signed a week earlier, he and his wife would probably be living in the house right now.

“But because we had to wait for the appraisal — that was after the shutdown — we’ve been in limbo,” he said.

 




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