You, Covid, and Real Estate
Your reality is the reality that matters to you, but is your reaction to the pandemic leaving you with an accurate picture of the possibilities ahead? For too many, the realization that COVID-19 represents considerably more than a short-term inconvenience has slowly set in. The weight of this realization colors all that we do while in isolation. The resulting fear, anger, and disillusionment contribute to “mental fuzziness” that makes even the simplest decisions stressful. Based on what I’ve heard from readers and gleaned from the bombardment of news, social media, and statistics floating about, I’m offering simple, well-meaning suggestions for clearing your head to tackle real estate decisions or to comfortably live with deferred decisions … for now.
During this time of dramatic contrasts, there is not just one point of view on real estate ownership:
- Some individuals and families have lost their jobs or been laid off, so they are struggling to make mortgage payments and maintain their homes.
In contrast, others are still working—often from home—and are wary of what’s ahead, but are not currently in financial trouble.
- Some homeowners, now on hold, were ready to sell their home and move up or cash in their real estate before the pandemic hit.
In contrast, many buyers, who had given up on their dream of homeownership since real estate prices continued to climb beyond their means, now wonder if there’s hope.
- Some property owners resigned themselves to managing with housing that was too small for their needs or lacked essential functionality.
In contrast, as homeowners live through extended and unpredictable isolation—which often includes working from home and home schooling children—design and functionality issues that could be tolerated before have driven some homeowners to realize that this is not the right home.
- Vacation home owners, Airbnb hosts, and income property investors can suffer financially if rental income decreases, especially if there’s a mortgage to service.
In contrast, tenants expecting to realize dreams of homeownership in 2020 may see their plans dashed if virus-driven job-loss unexpectedly makes even paying the rent a challenge.
This pent-up realization that there are real estate decisions to make is thwarted by a truncated real estate industry, unapproachable traditional lenders, and an uncertain, precarious job market.
Preparing for confident decision making:
1. Security and control:
These two often-taken-for-granted basics are what is missing in your life and work now. Search out ways to establish as much physical and mental security for those you love and for yourself to achieve some sense of control, including:
- Securing food and participating in reasonable exercise will feed wellness and calm you. Let go of thoughts concerning what you “should do,” being “productive,” and keeping up with what others are doing or not doing. This type of thinking revolves around now-irrelevant, pre-virus standards. Relax into living today’s life to the fullest.
• Face financial shortcomings by opening discussion with lenders and finding viable financial solutions to keep a roof over your head. You may call on mortgage brokers, local representatives, religious leaders, nonprofits, and other groups or individuals who are helping members of your community—including you—stay in their homes, in all senses of the phrase. You’re not alone. This disruption is happening to everyone. Don’t be shy, shamed, or proud. Ask for help when you need it.
• Action or inaction? Once immediate security demands are met, take a long look at what you feel you must do now compared to what you would have done now if the virus had not appeared. Is that really still the best plan? It may be too early to tell. Don’t rush into real estate decisions that may be difficult to reverse. The world has changed. Your world has changed. Right now we don’t know exactly how those changes will play out in the real estate market or anywhere else. Pace yourself.
2. Selective listening:
Some days you can shake off the weight of this situation to concentrate and some days you can’t. Listen to yourself. Deliberately select times when you feel stronger and clearer to tackle decisions of consequence. On the days that it’s wiser to ignore yourself, load up on mood-lifting activities that give you peace, pleasure, or both, like favorite movies, books, meditations, exercises, hobbies…. “This too will pass” may become your mantra.
3. Today is not tomorrow:
As you adapt to the loss of freedom and variety and ease out of denial toward acceptance, you’ll discover ways to cope with these and other restrictions and to rise above them. New interests, ideas, and distractions will appear, especially if you let go of what’s lost and remain curious. People who’ve lived through disaster and crisis often report a lessening of oppressive feelings long before things start to improve and especially when they make an effort to improve things.
4. Use the time you have:
Overnight solutions and quick fixes can be counterproductive when adapting to an ever-changing crisis. Slow down. Take a deep breath. Truths are still unfolding in this pandemic. Yes, it may leave permanent scars on society, but don’t get ahead of today’s issues. This is not a rerun experience for anyone. No one knows the best next step, the time frame, or the outcomes. Beware of sales pitches from “experts” claiming they do know or have all the answers.
Solutions lie in a combination of the best immediate actions, “observe and think” strategizing, and staying flexible to live with uncertainty.
- Free time was a luxury, a scarce commodity, before the virus hit. Slow down. Stop trying to do it all. Let family members, including the children, contribute in their own way. Encourage family participation in chores, home maintenance, and the fun stuff.
• You have more to process than ever before so “doing nothing” is actually letting your brain do its thing. Preoccupation with keeping yourself and your family safe leaves your brain continually multi-tasking. This distracted state dictates that you may not be thinking as clearly as usual and so work tasks are not as satisfying nor as easy to complete. Instead of fixating on intensifying productivity and piling on goals, consider lightening your workload to give your brain a break while it processes COVID distractions. Begin with what’s necessary. Progress to what’s possible. Then, you may discover that the impossible becomes doable.
• Adapt. Let go of “the way I’ve always done things” and explore alternatives, even silly ones. Laughter is the best medicine, so use if often. Slow down and enjoy the silence, the lack of traffic…everything that you’re happy has changed. Encourage others to let go. There’s no failure in this brand-new world. We’re all experimenting, exploring, discovering…without having had the luxury of preparation or early-warning. Embrace possibilities.
5. Network while physical distancing:
- Virtually assemble a support group—reach beyond your usual circle of friends—to reduce frustration with isolation and to expand your horizons.
• Build a network of professionals to help you and your group understand what is really going on beyond your front doors. For example, local real estate professionals are investing time and effort to make the process of buying and selling real estate safe for all concerned. What have they achieved in your neighborhood?
Answers to real estate questions specific to this complex time with its uncertain real estate markets can be elusive for wanna-be real estate buyers and sellers. The progression of the pandemic varies greatly across the country and promises to remain an unpredictable factor for a significant time in the future.
In the meantime, what can be done locally, property by property, falls to local real estate professionals and brokerages along with their local financial services counterparts. Could you confidently buy a home when you’ve only visited the property virtually or watched video walk-throughs?
Contact local, experienced real estate professionals who are actively involved in exploring how best to conduct safe showings and transactions under specific conditions imposed by physical distancing requirements and contamination dynamics. Ask what restrictions, like lack of available appraisal or inspection services, may limit real estate choices and compromise purchasing or selling. Be aware that an accepted offer does not remove risk in this unprecedented time. “Will the transaction close?” may remain the big question for a while.
If acting now is the only option, ask real estate professionals a lot of questions. Before you act, first investigate every detail including preparation of your home for listing or, if you’re buying, the home selection process, offer presentation, and closing. This research will enable you to fully understand which compromises may affect your outcome. The more flexible your timing, the more adaptable your real estate professional, and the more aware you are of how real estate works, the better the outcome may be.
Be realistic. “Hoping” and “wishing” are not viable real estate strategies.