Real estate agent showing a young couple a new house. The house is contemporary. All are happy and smiling. The couple are casually dressed and the agent is in a suit. The couple are being greeted at the front door by the real estate agent.

Expect some parts of the homebuying and selling process to be different amid the coronavirus pandemic, but don't be shocked if much of the experience ends up being the same. (Getty Images)

My wife and I were excited as spring approached. Not only were we looking forward to warmer weather, but our plan to upgrade to a larger house was about to begin. By mid-March, the real estate market was heating up and we were planning to sell our townhouse in Northern Virginia. We loved our community, but with two young children, we were quickly outgrowing our home.

Less than a week before we were to go on the market and with our home decluttered and cleaned, the coronavirus outbreak came to the U.S. in a big way. As the second week of March unraveled at a rapid pace, my wife and I continued to get our home ready for sale, even if we were no longer going outside. But when would that sale happen?

[Read: How to Tactfully Back Out of a Real Estate Deal.]

Deciding to Sell

As things continued to escalate, we reached out to our real estate agent, our mortgage lender and experts, including my colleagues covering real estate at U.S. News, for advice. What we heard gave us reassurance: The housing market was still very strong, especially in our area. Of course, some sellers were delaying or canceling their sales, and some buyers were taking a wait-and-see approach but there was still a lot of interest.

After all of the work we put in preparing for a sale, it seemed important to at least try to sell our home, especially before our kids began school. If we waited too late into the summer, we may miss registration, and if we waited another year, our kids would either have to switch schools or we’d have limited choices for where we would buy our house. We decided we would market the home for a maximum of two weeks while the outbreak remained in the U.S. – if it didn’t sell by then, we’d wait out the pandemic.

Like many other home sellers affected by the pandemic, we decided with our agent to cancel our open house to limit the number of visitors. We also had a maid service come by and fully sanitize our home. A one-hour window was set aside each day for showings, with two people plus their agent allowed in the house at a time. We provided hand sanitizer and left all of the room and closet doors open with the lights on to lessen the need for people to touch things. Real estate agents brought masks, gloves and booties for visitors.

Even with these precautions, I went through the house after showings, cleaning and wiping down things I thought people would possibly have touched: door handles, light switches, window treatments and faucets. Fortunately, we received an offer after less than two days for the asking price, which represented a substantial return on our investment.

[Read: Easy Virtual Tools for Homebuyers]

Under Contract and Under Quarantine

The contract included a new addendum that the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors had put together to address the uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic. This addendum allows either the buyer or seller to extend the closing at any time during the contract period for issues related to the virus, which offered some peace of mind for my wife and me as we went under contract.

Next, we began the search for our new home. Some open houses were still scheduled, but we decided we would not attend those to ensure social distancing.

Even with all of the changes taking place, we still had a sense of excitement as we searched for our forever home. The search also helped distract us a bit from the trying times and help focus our minds on other things even if just for an hour or two.

Our must-have list changed because of the pandemic. Fixer-uppers were out because there’s no knowing when contractors will be available to do work. We also needed a house with a washer and dryer included. Usually purchasing these appliances isn’t a big deal, but with more stores closed or only doing curbside drop-off, buying new appliances is suddenly more of a challenge.

The buying process was smooth at first, but we hit a road bump when we decided to pull out of our contract to purchase a new house. Our contract was contingent on the sellers being able to find a new house in their desired area. They were having trouble in their search because of low inventory, and the closing date of our sale was fast approaching.

It was a bit worrying to have to go back out to find a home, but luckily a house came on the market that was in the right neighborhood and at a lower price than the first home we bid on. Between our first offer on a house and when we started looking for another place in early April, mortgage rates rose. Our lender worked to get us a comparable rate to avoid significantly higher monthly costs.

In the days before closing, we did a final walkthrough of our new house, which went by as usual, aside from wearing face masks. The sellers had already moved out, and the kids were able to accompany us and come up with ideas for their rooms, the basement and the backyard.

Closing Time

Closing on the sale of our townhouse and the purchase of our new house fell back-to-back on a morning at the end of April. The novel coronavirus outbreak again caused a change in how this would be done since social distancing meant that we couldn’t be in the same room with a lot of folks.

Instead, closing was done in different locations with a representative from the title insurance company coming to our soon-to-be-sold townhouse where my wife and I signed all of the documents. The closer would then drive the papers to the buyer’s house and have them complete the transaction on their end. The same happened for the seller of our new house. Signing took place with the three of us – the closer, my wife and me – standing 6 feet apart behind the closer’s tailgate where the papers were laid out. After an hour, we no longer owned our house and were the proud owners of a new home.

Moving day was a whirlwind of activity, as it always is, with the added detail that the moving crew we hired all wore masks and gloves and maintained a comfortable distance while working quickly to help us put our furniture back together quickly at the new house.

While the preferred manner of hooking up our new internet connection would have been a self-install to maintain social distancing, the new service required some work inside, so we had to schedule a visit from a technician for a few days later. In the past, being without internet for a couple of days would have been little more than an annoyance, but with everyone at home, internet service has grown in importance. Phone hotspots kept us connected until we had service installed.

[Read: Should You Move to Lower Your Real Estate Taxes?]

Different, But the Same

Now that we’ve completed the sale, purchase and move, the big question is what was different? The answer: everything and nothing. This was our third (and hopefully final) home purchase, and ironically enough, it was our smoothest one. The selling went with nary a hiccup, and aside from the need to go under contract on a second home, we hardly missed a beat in purchasing our new house. Our mortgage lender and Realtors kept everything on track for a smooth transaction.

One thing that struck us was the humanity. People were worried not just about themselves, but also others. Potential new neighbors stayed at a distance, but made sure to warmly greet us.

Now that we’re in the house, would we change anything? We would rather things were “normal” and that we could explore our new neighborhood by going to more shops, sitting in parks and eating out. For now, we’ll take long walks, go for rides and order takeout. We can’t wait to get to know more of our neighbors and make new friends, but we have time. We wouldn’t change the house we bought and the people we met and worked with along the way for anything.


10 Secrets to Selling Your Home Faster

Ensure a quick sale.

Upscale modern house for sale

(Getty Images)

Selling your home quickly not only allows you to move on with your life, it also means fewer days of keeping your home in pristine condition and leaving every time your agent brings prospective buyers for a tour. According to real estate information company Zillow, the best time to list a home for sale is on a Saturday between May 1 and 15; homes listed during those times sell six days faster and for 0.7% more than the average annual home price. But how fast your home actually sells, and at what price, depends on factors beyond timing. Here are 10 secrets to selling your home faster, no matter when you list it.

Updated on March 20, 2020: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

Pick a selling strategy.

Pick a selling strategy.

African American neighbors greeting each other over fence

(Getty Images)

Before putting a for sale sign in your yard, it's important to pick the selling strategy that will work best for you. The for-sale-by-owner option may be best if you feel confident in your ability to market the home and negotiate. If your time is better spent on other details, a real estate agent could be best. If you need to sell the home quickly, you may want to inquire with an iBuyer, an entity that can make the deal close faster than the typical homebuyer. You should feel confident in the selling strategy you choose, and avoid switching from one to the other while your house is on the market. Buyers could be turned off by the constant changing of circumstances.

Invest in a professional photographer.

Invest in a professional photographer.

Close-up of a man photographing with a camera

(Getty Images)

According to NAR's 2019 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 44% of recent buyers started their search online. Of those, 87% found photos very useful in their home search. If your listing photos don’t show off the features of your home, prospective buyers may reject it without even taking a tour or going to the open house. Hiring a professional photographer and posting at least 30 photos of your home, inside and out, is a good way to attract buyers. Photography is often free for home sellers, as shoots are often conducted at the expense of real estate brokers as part of marketing the property.

Clean everything.

Clean everything.

Not prepared to miss a spot!

(People Images/ Getty Images)

Nothing turns off buyers like a dirty house. Hire a company to deep clean if you can’t do it yourself. “When the (home) is on the market, no matter what time of day or night, it should be clean and neat,” says Ellen Cohen, a licensed associate real estate broker with real estate brokerage Compass in New York City.

Key places to clean while your home is on the market include:

  • Kitchen countertops.
  • Inside cabinets and appliances.
  • Floors and room corners where dust collects.
  • Shelves.
  • Bathroom counters, toilets, tubs and showers.
  • Inside closets.
  • Windows, inside and out.
  • Scuffed walls, baseboards and doors.
  • Basement and garage.

Depersonalize the home.

Depersonalize the home.

Modern living room

(Getty Images)

Remove all your family photos and memorabilia. You want buyers to see the house as a home for their family, not yours. Remove political and religious items, your children’s artwork (and everything else) from the refrigerator and anything that marks the house as your territory rather than neutral territory. The same goes for any collections such as figurines, sports memorabilia or kids' toys that can make a buyer think less about the house and more about you. Family photos can be replaced by neutral art or removed entirely – just be sure to remove any nails and repair nail holes where any hanging photos used to be.

Let the light in.

Let the light in.

Sunlight through a bedroom window.

(Getty Images)

People love light and bright, and the best way to show off your house is to let the sunshine in. Open all the curtains, blinds and shades, and turn lights on in any dark rooms. If the natural light situation is lacking in any room, strategically place lamps or light sources throughout to set the mood. And while your house is on the market, open all curtains and turn on lights every time you leave your house for work or errands in case you get word that a buyer would like to tour the space before you get home.

Be flexible with showings.

Be flexible with showings.

Woman realtor talking to a young family

(Getty Images)

Buyers like to see homes on their schedule, which often means evenings and weekends. Plus, they want to be able to tour a home soon after they find it online, especially in a hot market where they're competing with other buyers. If your home can be shown with little or no notice, more prospective buyers will see it. If you require 24 hours’ notice, they may choose to skip your home altogether. "That's one less person who gets to see the property," Cohen says. Be ready to leave quickly as well – if you're still cleaning up or hanging around outside when the buyer arrives, it can make for an awkward interaction.

Set the right price.

Set the right price.

House with for sale sign in yard and open wooden fence

(Getty Images)

No seller wants to leave money on the table, but the strategy of setting an unrealistically high price with the idea that you can come down later doesn’t work in real estate. Buyers and their agents have access to more information on comparable homes than ever, and they know what most homes are worth before viewing them. A home that’s overpriced in the beginning tends to stay on the market longer, even after the price is cut, because buyers think there must be something wrong with it. "Pricing correctly on the lower side tends to work much better," Cohen says.

Remove excess furniture and clutter.

Remove excess furniture and clutter.

Self storage units

(Getty Images)

Nothing makes a home seem smaller than too much big furniture. Rent a self-storage container or a storage unit and remove as much furniture as you can. It will immediately make your home seem calmer and larger. Remove knickknacks from all surfaces, pack them away and store the pieces upon which you displayed them. Take a minimalist approach to books, throw rugs and draperies, and clear off your kitchen and bathroom countertops, even removing appliances you normally use. If you can scale down the contents of your closets, that’s even better, because it makes the home's storage space look more ample.

Repaint in neutral colors.

Repaint in neutral colors.

Couple preparing to paint living room

(Getty Images)

A new coat of paint will do wonders to freshen up your home, both inside and out. This is the time to paint over your daughter’s purple bedroom, nix the quirky turquoise bathroom and cover up the red accent wall in your dining room. Busy wallpaper can also turn off potential buyers. Your goal is to create a neutral palette so buyers can envision incorporating their own personal touches in the home. "You just want people to see the space for what it is," Cohen says. Rather than a stark white, consider neutral shades of gray, taupe and cream on the walls.

Spruce up the front of your home.

Spruce up the front of your home.

With white pillars, steps in the entry way

(Getty Images)

You’ve heard it 100 times before, and it’s still true: Curb appeal matters. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. A new or freshly painted front door, new house numbers and a new mailbox can breathe life into your entryway. Fresh landscaping and flowers in beds or in pots also enhance your home’s first impression. Trim trees and bushes, tidy up flower beds, remove dead leaves from plants, clear out cobwebs from nooks near the entrance and pressure-wash walkways, patios and decks. Leave the outdoor lights on, too, because prospective buyers may drive by at night.

Here are 10 tips to sell your home faster:

Here are 10 tips to sell your home faster:

Aerial view of house roofs in suburban neighborhood

(Getty Images)

  • Pick a selling strategy.
  • Invest in a professional photographer.
  • Clean everything.
  • Depersonalize the home.
  • Let the light in.
  • Be flexible with showings.
  • Set the right price.
  • Remove excess furniture and clutter.
  • Repaint in neutral colors.
  • Spruce up the front of your home.

Read More

Tags: real estate, housing, housing market, existing home sales, pending home sales, home prices, coronavirus, moving


Frank Nieto is a senior editor for the U.S. News Best Cars team, focusing on new and used car reviews. His specialties include family vehicles and pickup trucks. Frank's photos are published throughout our site. He has more than 20 years of experience in journalism, with more than 12 years covering the autos and transportation sectors, and he is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association. Frank has a bachelor's degree from Pennsylvania State University.

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