The Gainesville real estate market continues to chug along despite the challenges presented by COVID-19.
There are many moving parts to a real estate transaction in Gainesville Florida or anywhere else. Gainesville real estate sales during the COVID-19 pandemic are still happening but the way that we serve our customers has changed.
Here is a look at just some of the ways Gainesville real estate transactions have changed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Due to the pandemic's effects on the economy, mortgage credit availability has decreased and lending standards have tightened. What this means is that the minimum credit score buyers need to qualify for a mortgage is higher than it was before the pandemic. Underwriting guidelines have also gotten more restrictive.
Before freaking out and assuming you won't qualify for a mortgage, the best course of action is to actually speak with a lender. Everybody's situation is different and you may be surprised to learn what you can afford and the types of loan products available to you if you are looking to buy a home.
Every lender offers different loan products. It's a good idea to speak with several lenders to learn about the various mortgage types they offer that can work for your situation. Asking friends, family, and co-workers about their experiences working with different lenders can be a good place to start when choosing who you want to work with to help you buy your home. Here are just a few local lenders who get high marks from home buyers:
"Carriers are still writing business as usual. There have been no rate changes or guideline changes due to COVID," says Austin Williams, a Personal Insurance Advisor with McGriff-Williams Insurance in Gainesville.
However, homeowners insurance rates in Florida are increasing. Insurance carriers in Florida sustained heavy losses over the past 7 years due to contractors who exploited a loophole in insurance regulations and submitted higher than normal claims for their work.
"Regulations have changed so we don’t anticipate the rate increases to be that dramatic, but rate increases are coming. The counties where these [insurance abuses] were concentrated are going to get the brunt of these rate increases. From what we have seen and heard from our carriers, this started down around Miami and worked its way North. Orange and surrounding counties were among the worst hit. Flagler, St Johns, and Duval were also hit pretty hard. Policy holders in these areas will see pretty dramatic rate increases and much stricter guidelines. For example in the prior mentioned counties we have a few carriers that will not write any homes older than 2010, while other carriers will only accept shingle roofs that are 10 years old or less. Luckily for Alachua county, at least at this time, we will not see many of these restrictions and our rates will not be hit as hard. We have been lucky to dodge most of this, at least at this time," says Williams.
Calling around for insurance quotes during the inspection period is always a good idea as pricing and amount of coverage can vary. Things can crop up during inspection that can affect how much you will pay for homeowners insurance. The condition of the roof and its age can play a major role in homeowners insurance rates. Other factors that can affect the amount you may pay for homeowners insurance include the age of the water heater, if there are faulty electrical panels, if the house is in a flood zone, or if previous insurance claims have been filed.
Homes in Gainesville are still selling during coronavirus. In some price points there are many more buyers than there are homes to sell. Homeowners listing their homes for sale in Gainesville will work closely with their Realtor to come up with a plan to best position their home in the market, including a plan for in-person showings. In large part, home showings have shifted from in-home showings to virtual through the use of photos, videos, 3-D tours, Facebook live videos, and other means. When a pre-qualified buyer who is ready to buy wants to see the house in person, steps to minimize risk can be taken before and after the showing. During home showings, Realtors follow CDC guidelines to aid in reducing the spread of COVID-19.
Just like every other part of the Gainesville real estate transaction, the closing process has changed to minimize contact. This includes everything from who is allowed to attend the closing, to where the closings happen, and how the documents get signed.
Only essential parties attend the closing. This usually means anyone who actually needs to sign documents - the title agent/closing attorney, the buyers, and the sellers.
Every real estate attorney and title agent has instituted their own closing procedures. Here's a glimpse into how just one real estate closing office in Gainesville is handling the changes since the advent of COVID-19.
"Last time I had a client in our building was Friday, March 13," says John Roscow, an attorney in Gainesville who has been handling real estate closings for a number of years.
Closings now take place across a plastic table on the law firm's breezy back patio overlooking a conservation easement, with Roscow sitting in an N95 mask 15 feet away from his clients. With the closing documents loaded onto his iPad and a hard copy placed in front of the buyers or sellers (who now have separate appointment times) , Roscow explains each document step by step, answering any questions along the way. Once everything is signed - with fresh blue ink pens that the parties are encouraged to keep - the closing documents are placed in an envelope which is then thoroughly Lysoled and left to rest for a couple of hours before processing. All surfaces are wiped down with Clorox wipes after every transaction, pens left behind are put in a box to be disinfected later, and the process begins again.
On rainy days, hot days, or when the parties have their kids along, closings happen curbside at the law office with the buyers/sellers staying in their air-conditioned car, reviewing the closing documents that were passed to them through their car window. Ever ready with his iPad, a masked Roscow goes over the documents with them, observing social distancing measures and standing on the curb. Fresh blue pens are distributed, the envelope of signed documents is passed back to him through the car window, and the package disinfecting process begins again once Roscow gets back inside his office.
There's no doubt that COVID-19 has brought a lot of changes into how we do business in our Gainesville real estate market. Despite all of the changes there is one thing that COVID cannot change - and that is our unity in helping people move from one part of their life story onto the next. Working as partners across every segment of our business is how we make that happen. No matter what comes our way, our Gainesville community has always found a way to adapt, fight back, and keep going. Because we know we are all in this together.