Before the entire country was frozen by the global pandemic, my fiancee and I were preapproved to buy our first home. While many New Englanders were beginning to hunker down, we were braving vacant homes, some of which have been victimized by mold and water damage. As if the emotions of being a first-time homebuyer weren’t enough to manage, we resolved to continue our search (safely) as the pandemic hit.
Our priority is safety, both our own and that of the seller. To ensure this, my fiancee and I share a few core tenets that every quarantine-era homebuyer should consider:
- Before deciding to see a home in person, see if a video tour is available.
- Adopt a strong preference for vacant properties.
- If a home is occupied, wear masks and gloves to the private showing.
- Only go see a house if you are prepared (or eligible) to make an offer.
Gone are the days of attending packed open showings solely to snoop on a “cool house” or to gauge personal tastes for our future domicile. Now, our search has become much more focused, which has made the process simpler. Our guiding principles are utilitarian, and our scrutiny of online photos and virtual tours has increased dramatically. I expect many buyers are now limiting their exposure through similar means.
I work for a high-producing real estate team and have assisted on dozens of transactions, yet I was shocked at how challenging this process is. We officially began our search in November, and now, months later, we haven’t made it past the first step.
There have been close calls along the way. A few months before writing this, we made an offer on a three-unit home in Lowell. We were ecstatic! After all, it made a lot of sense financially, and my fiancee comes from a lineage of landlords in Boston. Ultimately, however, our hopes were squashed by the dreaded home inspection, a classic end to the dreams of many homebuyers with financing plans through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA loans can only be approved if a property meets highly demanding standards of condition). The everlasting search continued.
The emotion we are currently experiencing, more than any other, is loss. Times are tough for first-time homebuyers. We are outbid on many properties that we fall in love with. When we walk into a building, we allow ourselves to start creating a narrative. We look at empty kitchen counters and imagine them piled with food with our friends sitting nearby. Future conversations echo through the empty family room, and my fiancee and I picture our nighttime rituals while puttering through the master bedroom. Then, after all the deliberation and storytelling, after all the paperwork and planning, our work proves to be futile.
Despite the frustration, we are thankful for this experience. For one, this home search has naturally spurred some important conversations. Where do we want to live? Closer to her work or mine? Do we invest in enough space for future children? These questions, while not always easy, solidify a deeper understanding of my relationship with my partner.
In a time of uncertainty for the world, we are seeking to answer a life-changing question: Where will we begin our new family? Stay tuned for my follow-up in the September/October issue of mvm, when I just might have an answer.