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    Is now the right time to buy a home? 

    That’s a question that’s plaguing many potential buyers’ thoughts. Mortgage rates are at historic lows, making the call to buy a first home, relocate, or upgrade one’s living arrangements quite appealing. Yet, the market is competitive, making it potentially difficult to find a house with the specifications a buyer is looking for in the area they want to live, without overpaying or being edged out by a competitor. And, let’s not forget how the pandemic complicated things!

    Buyers have a lot on their minds at this point in time, and what they really need is expert advice to help them figure out if now is the perfect time for them to buy.

    We called on three experts from the title, mortgage, and real estate industries to answer that very question. Here’s what they had to say.

    Is buying a home a good idea when so many things feel uncertain?

    All of our experts mentioned that the historically low mortgage rates make now an appealing time to purchase a home, but that doesn’t mean buyers should jump on any ol’ property. It still needs to be a good fit for the buyer. If it’s not, the experts suggest you don’t rush the purchase.

    Kate Berard, Broker Assistant at The Mello Group, says, “​Putting your money into the right property is always a strong investment. Real estate growth and decline are cyclical in nature; that is why working with a local real estate agent that can navigate the best locations and type of real estate that will survive the ebb and flow of values is paramount. When looking at the whole industry, we are still seeing a steady increase in new construction, and resale values continue to rise.” 

    And, let’s not forget that the house itself isn’t the only factor to consider when purchasing a home. Finances should lead much of the considerations. 

    Jim O’Donnell, President of Equity National Title, says, “It all comes down to the financing — what buyers can comfortably afford. Choosing a lender becomes the critical decision, as the right one will help them understand what they reasonably and comfortably can afford for a monthly payment.”

    He continues, “Home prices are expected to increase over the coming years, so buying now will help homeowners build equity faster, making a home purchase a wise investment as long as the monthly payment is affordable.” 

    How does a buyer know if they’re ready to start shopping?

    Sarah Gomes, Producing Sales Manager for Embrace Home Loans, says, “Buyers will be in a good position to purchase a bigger home, or better location that may have been out of their reach if rates were not so low, if they get their mortgage financing in order before they start shopping for a home.” 

    Berard adds, “Working with a local real estate agent that you trust is also crucial in winning bids creatively and safely. A professional knows how to manage your expectations, secure timely and informative showings, make your offer stand out, and win you the home that is right for you; all the while protecting your contract rights and contingencies and holding true to your financial parameters.”

    Are there any reasons for buyers to pause their purchasing plans?

    Yet again, the experts agree that finances drive the decision to pause any plans to buy a home during a pandemic.

    “It is easy to get swept up in the low rate environment and pressure to buy now, but it all comes down to what you can afford,” says O’Donnell.  He continues, “Once buyers start the process, they can get disappointed fast when they get into a bidding war and lose out to other buyers who exceed the asking price by tens of thousands of dollars. It is a seller’s market, so the highest and best price will win the bid, as well as the best-qualified buyer —which can mean a buyer willing to waive mortgage contingency or home-inspection clauses. The combination means buyers need to be very well informed about the process and be very prepared. It is not a time to be a casual buyer.”

    Gomes agrees, and adds that buyers without savings to pay at least three-to-six months of bills, or an emergency fund, might want to consider whether or not now is the best time to buy. 

    Similarly, she says, “If the borrower had an occupation that was susceptible to this pandemic where a termination or furlough could be a possibility, they might want to consider this a deterrent in moving forward with trying to purchase a home.”

    How is COVID-19 affecting buyers?

    The pandemic has changed the way homes are being bought and sold, with some updates being temporary and others likely to be permanent. 

    “The market is moving lightning fast!” says Berard. “Once a home comes on the market, you must be ready to immediately go and see it — set up that appointment as soon as possible as to not miss the window of showings. COVID-19 safety precautions have lessened the free-for-all open houses and have moved us as a profession more towards scheduled appointment blocks. This means your real estate agent needs to be ready to go as well, which is why working with a real estate group that has team members to help out can also be great!”

    Berard continues, “If you do get to see the home in this market and are ready to make an offer, be prepared to go up against other qualified buyers. Your real estate agent should be able to help guide you in how to present the most complete, effective, and hopefully winning bid all while managing your expectations and keeping you within your comfortable window.”

    O’Donnell says, “When it comes to the closing, we are separating the seller’s and buyer’s transactions (almost like the west coast model), and more and more we are not seeing loan officers attending the closings — all to minimize the COVID-19 risks. Just like in other industries involving a lot of in-person contact, COVID-19 is forcing participants to rethink how to do business safely and some changes will become permanent. It is accelerating the adoption of more electronic aspects of the transaction, which will become permanent. An example of this is that in half of the states, a fully online transaction is possible and a few years ago, it existed in only two states.” 

    Gomes shares a glimpse of what she’s seeing specific to the mortgage industry: “Stricter lender overlays have made getting pre-approved a little tougher for some buyers. Also, credit scores and additional provisions to ensure buyers continue to make their salary or hourly wage are now part of the mortgage approval and closing process.”

    How can you know this expert advice is right for you?

    It’s great to hear what professionals from the mortgage, title, and real estate industries have to say about whether now is a smart time to buy, but how can you know if what the experts share makes sense for your situation?

    Well, you can’t. You’re the only person who knows what the best choice is for you, and potentially your family.

    However, there’s a lot you can gain from these experts. If you’re just getting started, consider some of these questions:

    • Have you met with a lender who can get you pre-qualified so you’re ready to jump if the right house manifests in your life? 
    • Are your finances in order? 
    • Is there anything you could do differently financially to make you feel more confident or safe in making a purchase? 
    • Do you have a trusted real estate agent who knows the area you’d like to live, your specific requests in a home, and who can advocate for you at all stages of the process? 
    • Are you feeling confident in your employment?

    These are only questions you can answer, and some of them you simply have to rely on with good faith and trust. However, O’Donnell has one more thought to share, regarding whether or not now is the time for you to buy. He says,

    “We’re advocates for homeownership for all the right reasons, as long as it is an affordable and informed choice. Every buyer is different and brings different needs and wants to their home-buying experiences — all of which makes for a very subjective and buyer-specific perspective. I’d say, rather than us being an encourager or a dissuader of buying now, our value would be in acting as an informer or educator…We have extensive experiences, which we can distill and share best practices for buyers so they are truly well informed and equipped to make good decisions.”

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