Summer is the priciest time to buy a home, but cost isn’t the only challenge home buyers are facing in 2020. An uncertain economy and social distancing measures, both the result of the pandemic, have upended homebuying plans for some and changed the process for everyone.
“Demand for homes was high before the COVID crisis, and after a pause in activity, many are again itching to buy,” says NerdWallet mortgages expert Holden Lewis. “The typical increase in home sales didn't happen this spring and early summer because of layoffs and safety concerns among both sellers and buyers. We might see a busier-than-expected housing market from now into the fall as buyers regain their incomes and confidence.”
Despite the initial shock of COVID-19, related economic fallout and general uncertainty, demand for homes is surging again. And though this year is anything but predictable, home prices are climbing as they tend to do in warmer months. Together, these factors necessitate some skillful navigation by prospective buyers. Here are some tips to help you do just that.
Know your market
Home prices jump 9%, on average, from January to June, and much higher in some areas of the country, according to a new NerdWallet analysis. While the most expensive time to buy is most often June or July — and inventory is generally higher then too — some areas buck this trend and see the highest prices as late as December.
Housing market behavior is very localized, so get to know the one where you’re hoping to buy. A local real estate agent can help you understand how prices and demand fluctuate where you’re shopping, as well as better prepare you for competition among other buyers, price negotiation with sellers, and the supply of homes given the time of year.
Some mortgage lenders have tightened their standards during the pandemic, so buyers may find it harder to qualify for mortgages. Your credit score, debt-to-income ratio and down payment amount will all play a role in determining whether you get a home loan with favorable rates.
Other buyers will be facing the same stringent criteria, so going into the process with a lender’s preapproval could make your offer stand out above the rest. Getting preapproved also gives you the opportunity to compare lender offers. Shopping mortgage rates across lenders can save you thousands of dollars in interest over the life of your loan.
Prepare to be flexible
Depending on where you’re home shopping, you may have to tour occupied homes via video, not be present during the home inspection and agree to additional clauses designed to protect the transaction in these unique times.
Sellers, agents, inspectors, lenders, appraisers and others involved in the buying and selling of homes want to stay safe and healthy. Paired with local and state mandates across the country, buying a home can look dramatically different than it did just a few months ago. Go into the process expecting these (and possibly other) changes and you’re less likely to be rattled by them during an already stressful time.
Determine where you’ll compromise
Housing inventory was tight coming into 2020, and the global health and economic crisis has tightened supply even further. Demand for homes far outpaces this supply, so you’ll have to act quickly when you find a home you like. Nationally, homes spend roughly one month less on the market in the priciest summer months than they do in the winter, according to the NerdWallet analysis.
Whether you’re thinking of your starter home or forever home, go into the process knowing what you’re willing to compromise on. Other buyers will be lining up too. Hem and haw over whether you can live without a front porch or garage and you’ll likely miss your chance to get an offer in.
If you’ve been planning to buy in 2020, considering a postponement can be disappointing. But, depending on where you're shopping, waiting could bring lower prices, less competition and more financial security in these uncertain times. The flip side of that is: Inventory tends to tick down in the fall, so you may have fewer homes to choose from if you punt your purchase.
Everyone is having to make adjustments this year, some bigger than others. Merely thinking through whether right now is the best time to buy given your personal circumstances can help you move forward with confidence and determination, no matter your decision.