House Hunting in a Pandemic - 03/29/20

Even while you are sheltering in place you can do a lot of house hunting and you probably should. There is nothing like being cooped up in your home for a whole week and more for you to start thinking about all the things that bother you about your house, condo or apartment. Is this really the best place for you today and in the coming years? If your lives have changed, now may be a good time to start the process to change you abode.
So, what can you do from home? First, figure out what you don’t want. What types of housing do you not want, a downtown condo or a big house on the shore. I suggest deciding what you don’t want because it can be hard to figure out what exactly it is that you do want.  Also,  don’t forget you can fix up or change your present location. (And, what better time to do it than now, when you are at home anyway. I hope my wife doesn’t read this part.
Assuming that fixing up or expanding your present house is not your first choice and you’ve excluded what you don’t want you might want to talk to your banker or investment adviser about what you can afford. I find buyers are often surprised at what you can afford, particularly with a 90% mortgage or with non-traditional financing. Many different types of financing are at record lows.
Next think about what types of neighborhoods appeal to you. Since you are at home, now’s a good time to call up some friends in that neighborhood and talk them about what they do and don’t like about living in their neighborhood. You might even consider a Zoomtails neighborhood search party. At my house each night of quarantine we get on a video conference call via Zoom with various friends and family. The calls are a blast, you get to talk to friends and family, face to face, from anywhere in the world for free and you actually feel like you’ve been to a party or a family reunion afterwards.
Now you can look at some specific houses without being overwhelmed with the multiplicity of choices. Also, you are not looking for the right house in the wrong neighborhood.
For many folks, the next step is go to one of the big two websites, down from the big three, now that Trulia has merged with Zillow. I personally prefer, rather than Zillow, but that’s mostly because Zillow is a nightmare to deal with for Realtors. Getting data corrected on Zillow can take me, my marketing and tech departments days to get corrected. Zillow’s Zestimate is also often very wrong, but lots of people lover it. So much so, that came up with their own value estimate. Take them all with a large grain of salt.
You also have to be awake for lots of other misinformation on these sites. Sometimes they will tell you the nearest public school is in Rye or Armonk other times the square footage is just wrong. Having said all that, there is lots of good information on these sites and don’t forget the company websites like and They each try to develop their own useful tools, which may be just what you need. For example, my company Berkshire Hathaway, just rolled out Virtual Visits, a way to just search for houses that have a virtual tour.
Which brings me to another way not to visit a house. Last year, I had a great family from Kansas that was looking to move to Greenwich, but were only going to have a weekend to look at houses and decide which one they wanted to make an offer on. Before they got here, we narrowed it down to three neighborhoods. Next, we went over the same listing on their computer and mine so we were looking at the same thing. We narrowed down the choices and I would go to the house and call them on Facetime for a walk them through the house. They could ask me to zoom in to one area or step back for a broader view.
This year, I would do the same screening using Zoom and it’s desktop sharing feature so we were both looking at the same image at the same time. One feature that is particularly useful when sharing is Bing Map’s bird’s eye view. Type in the house address at and then right click the house and select “View Bird’s Eye”. Then click on the arrows around the compass to rotate to different 45 degree views of the house and neighborhood. (At one time when you did this for my house you could seem me taking the dogs for a walk.) You can also do this with Google Earth, but it’s a little distorted.
Back at your present house, if you bought a flat screen in the last 4 years, there is a good chance you can plug your laptop into your big flatscreen TV and put the computer screen on your huge flat screen TV where you can pick up a lot more details. (You can also try to “cast” the screen to your TV wirelessly, but I couldn’t it with an iPhone and a Sony. It seems the two companies don’t play together well.)
Real estate has been deemed an essential business, so we are still working, some of us harder than before. Showings may still be a possibility depending on the buyer, seller, the agents and the rules de jure from the state, town, company and MLS. Of course, this is lot easier when the house is vacant.
Once you are serious about buying, if you are going to use a mortgage it can be very helpful to get underwritten pre-approved. This means you go through the whole approval process, not do just a quick pre-qualification letter where they review your credit. With a true pre-approval all you need is the appraisal and you can close in under a month, which can be a big advantage in negotiating.
If you’ve got the time the info is out there. You might as well have a leg up on the competition by being full prepared with financing and information.

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