Yes, Americans are still buying and selling homes

One of the questions we’re asked almost on a daily basis is “How’s the real estate market?” Most people we speak with assume that, because of the pandemic, it’s come to a screeching halt and that prices have plummeted.

Neither of these assumptions are true. In fact, people are still buying and selling homes. We’re not seeing the volume of activity that we usually see in the spring market, but the market is not stagnant.

Prices have remained much the same as they were before the onset of the pandemic, much to the dismay of homebuyers. Home sellers are digging in and few are willing to take rock-bottom offers.

It’s the low interest rates, however, that keep homebuyers in the market.

How does real estate work in a country under attack by a virus? It’s different, that’s for sure. But the workarounds to maintain social distancing have actually turned out to be quite efficient.

Viewing homes for sale

A recent survey finds that nearly 60 percent of home sellers say they would be fine with holding an open house.

Then, there are others who put restrictions on showings. For that reason, many homes are now shown virtually by the agent or with 3-D tours.

And, they’re being embraced by homebuyers. One of the big real estate portals says that they are seeing an almost 500 percent increase in requests for agent-led video tours, while another portal is seeing a nearly 200 percent increase in requests for 3-D home tours.

But, will they actually buy a home they’ve only toured virtually? According to the aforementioned survey, 25 percent of homebuyers aren’t opposed to buying a home they have never toured in person.

The number of home showings across the country took a dip on April 12, but has been steadily rising since then (an increase of nearly 24 percent as of April 26).

The entire home buying and selling process has gone virtual, from home showings to inspections, appraisals and closings.

Please reach out if you have any questions about the process and how we can help you navigate it during the pandemic.


Behind on your bills? Here’s what you need to do

It’s terrifying to suddenly find out that you’ll not be receiving another paycheck. It’s easy to go into panic mode, especially if you have others depending on you to keep the lights on and stomachs full.

Across the country, utility companies are responding to the government shutdown by promising not to turn off their services when bills are overdue. Unemployment insurance checks can then go toward more important items, such as food.

Once the initial shock wears off, there are things you can do to mitigate your situation and, hopefully, save your credit score.

Start by speaking with your lender

If you can’t make your house payment and haven’t yet contacted your lender, put this one at the top of the list of things to do.

Many lenders have online options to fill out the required paperwork for requesting forbearance, making it a lot easier than sitting on hold for lengthy periods of time if you call.

Some lenders are offering forbearance only, and the details vary, depending on lender. Forbearance allows the borrower to miss payments, often penalty-free, and make them up at a later date.

While this option offers immediate relief from one of our biggest payments each month, many borrowers don’t understand that forbearance isn’t forgiveness. The missed payments will need to be paid and many lenders will be demanding a lump sum.

Maura McDermott at tells the story of one couple in Long Island, NY whose lender is allowing them to skip their house payments for three months, without penalty, “… but then all the missed payments would be due in a lump sum in four months.”

Few Americans are able to come up with thousands of dollars in a lump sum after several months of unemployment.

With the passage of The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (aka CARES Act), if your loan is backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the Veterans Administration, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, you may be offered additional options.

First, the CARES Act “… provides several levels of relief to home-loan borrowers, including the right to request two periods of mortgage-payment forbearance or suspensions totaling up to 360 days,” according to Russ Wiles with the Arizona Republic.

The National Association of REALTORS released an analysis of the act and says that while “… regular interest can still accrue,” additional fees, such as penalties and interest, won’t “… be assessed for the forbearance.”

Visit the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website for additional information on the various options available to help you with your mortgage.

Your other monthly bills

We mentioned earlier that many utility companies have agreed to keep their services running, despite non-payment.

Typically, this doesn’t mean they won’t be tacking on late fees and it doesn’t mean you won’t be faced with a huge bill at the end of the crisis.

It’s challenging right now to avoid the former, but the latter can be handled by whittling away at your bills. Pay what you can, even if it’s just a small amount.

Once we’re back to business-as-usual, folks will be facing huge bills and those disconnect notices will go out. You’ll be glad you paid at least part of what you owe.

Your credit

With everything else going on right now, it seems almost petty to think about what all this is doing to our credit scores. It will be interesting to compare the average American’s score pre- and post-pandemic.

In the meantime, order your credit reports from the big three reporting agencies. Normally, every American is entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from

That has changed, however. Starting April 20, 2020, the “Big 3” (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax ) will be providing a free credit report every week for the next year.

While there isn’t much we can do to prevent negative entries right now, we can protect our scores by combing through each report to ensure accuracy.

The folks at Equifax recommend that you also add a consumer statement to your credit reports. “You can add a brief 100-word statement to your credit reports to explain your situation.”

Four in 10 American adults lack the funds to cover a $400 expense, according to a 2018 Federal Reserve report. Undoubtedly, it’s even worse than that now.

Don’t hide from your financial problems. Be proactive, keep track of where what little income you have right now is going. Communicate with lenders and others and keep an eye on your credit score.

The COVID-19 scammers are out in full force: How to avoid becoming a victim

While the government shutdown has brought out the best in millions of Americans, there will always be those who seek to take advantage of any situation.

Unfortunately, because government agencies charged with rooting out the scammers are closed, they’re finding it much easier to get away with their illegal hoaxes.

Thanks to the folks at Equifax, the credit reporting agency, many of the more common scams have been exposed. Be on the lookout and don’t get taken in.

“I’m calling from the [government agency name]”

Be wary of an email or phone call purported to be from a government agency. The person or email will tell you that the agency needs your banking information and, if they don’t receive it, your Medicaid or Social Security will be terminated.

Don’t fall for it and never follow a link in an email from someone you don’t know. “It could download a virus onto your computer or device. Make sure the antimalware and anti-virus software on your computer is up to date,” warns officials with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

According to the experts at Equifax, “… government agencies will not contact you unless you request it, and they will never request personal information over phone or email.”

The same goes for any communication regarding your government stimulus check. “The government will not ask you to pay anything up front to get this money. The government will not call to ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer,” according to the FTC website.

Learn more about the stimulus payment scams, later in this post.

Have you applied for a government grant or loan?

You may receive a letter, email or phone call telling you that you’re pre-approved for the loan or grant but they need your banking information so that they can deposit the funds.

The letters may appear to be on official letterhead and the emails may look equally authentic.

Again, never click on a link in these emails.

Instead, use the search bar in your web browser to navigate to the agency’s site to check your status, or call the number on the agency’s website.

Looking for a job?

Use caution when replying to job offers that arrive via email, especially if it’s for a job to which you didn’t apply.

Again, don’t follow any links within the email. Use your favorite search engine to research the company. Look for an “employment opportunities” or jobs section of the website and learn if the job is listed there.

Never give your email address or phone number to anyone you don’t know who calls or texts you.

Ignore potential employers who ask for a fee for training materials, an application fee or fees for anything else. “Employers and employment firms shouldn’t ask you to pay for the promise of a job,” according to the experts at the FTC.

Stimulus payment scams

Where there’s money, there are scammers trying to get their hands on it. The latest involves the stimulus checks that Americans are receiving in their bank accounts or in the mail.

Ignore phone calls and emails stating that you must pay a fee to get your payment or anyone who claims that you need to supply your social security number, bank account information or debit card account numbers to receive your stimulus payment.

The folks at the FTC urge you to follow these tips to avoid a COVID-19 stimulus payment scam:

  • The IRS won’t contact you about your payment. Anyone who emails, texts or calls you claiming to be with the IRS is lying.
  • There is no fee to claim your stimulus payment.
  • A common scam right now is a communication purported to be from the IRS saying that you were overpaid and need to send back some of the money.

If you suspect a scam, report it to the FTC at


  • Don’t click on any links or download any attachments in emails from anyone you don’t know personally.
  • Never give out personal information to strangers, regardless of who they say they are.

How to live in a home for sale without losing your mind

There’s a frustrating dilemma that occurs when your home is for sale. It happens when the need to keep the home clean, tidy and staged collides with daily living.

Trying to keep the home in showing-condition when you’re living in it, complete with kids and/or pets, is a delicate balancing act.

Then, there are all those little annoyances that you should be prepared to tolerate. It’s always easier and less stressful to enter a new process armed with knowledge. So, let’s dive into what you can expect while your home is on the market and how to make it easier on you and your family.

Keeping the home clean

According to a study from a few years ago, clean homes with no clutter sell for $1500 to $2000 more than comparable homes that are messy. Ah, that caught your attention, right?

Homebuyers feel that clean homes show pride of ownership, which means their perception is that it’s also been well-maintained.

If you have children and/or pets, keeping the home clean isn’t an easy job. Create a plan before the home goes on the market where each family member has a set of tasks to complete before leaving the home in the morning.

Even the tiniest in the family can pick up toys and return them to their rightful place.

Yes, it may mean getting up a bit earlier in the morning, but for an extra thousand dollars (or two) it’s worth it.

Decide now what to do with your pets

Home sellers with pets have come up with some clever ideas on how to deal with their pets during home showings.

From dropping them at doggy daycare or a groomer to hiring a dog walker to get them out of the home during showings, crating them, come up with a solution that you can put into action on those days when agents will be showing the home.

Then, make sure their food and water bowls, leashes and toys don’t create clutter – stash them away.

Tip: If your dog uses the backyard as a potty, ensure that all the droppings are picked up before showings. The last thing you want is a potential buyer with “poop” all over her shoes.

Protect your privacy

While it may appear that they’re snooping, many homebuyers will open cupboards, drawers and closets to determine how much storage these areas provide.

Then, there are the small handful that are actually snooping, hoping to come upon anything they can pocket. Although it doesn’t happen often, it’s best to be safe and lock away or remove from the home the following:

  • Sensitive paper work (such as anything having to do with your mortgage and home, credit reports, anything could be used to steal your identity and anything else you wouldn’t want a stranger to see).
  • Checkbooks
  • Credit cards
  • Prescription medications
  • Firearms
  • Anything else that is easily pocketed that is of value

From the requests for last-minute showings to potential buyers wanting to view the home when you typically eat dinner, living in a home for sale can be challenging.

Relax into the process and keep reminding yourself that it’s temporary. Soon, you’ll find a buyer and can look forward to moving on to the next phase in your life.

And – a bonus – you won’t have to worry about what to do with the dirty dishes or laundry as you rush out to work in the morning.

Homebuyer: Can I Back Out if I Change My Mind?

What if you make an offer on a home for sale, the seller accepts it and then you change your mind about the purchase? Are you locked into the contract?

Whether you’re suffering from buyer’s remorse, you found another home you like more or any other reason, it’s a common fear.

The answer is, “it depends.” Finding another house you like more isn’t going to fly, nor will a bad case of buyer’s remorse.

There are other conditions, however, built right into the purchase contract, that will allow you to get out of the purchase. Often, this includes a return of your earnest money deposit, but not always.

These conditions even have a name: Contingencies.

The dictionary defines a contingency as “a provision for an unforeseen event or circumstance.” We like to think of it as an “if.”

“I will consummate the purchase of your home IF ‘Y’ occurs.”

Y is the contingency. It can stand for the success of your loan application, the sale of your current home, a satisfactory home inspection, the home appraises for what the bank is willing to lend. There are lots of different contingencies.

Contingencies have a time limit, which is written into the contract. For instance, the home inspection contingency may expire one or two weeks after receipt of the inspection report.

Let’s assume you didn’t miss the deadline. Instead, you ask the seller to fix the hole in the roof by a certain date. If the seller fails to complete the work to your satisfaction by that date, you can walk away from the purchase with a full return of your earnest money deposit.

Today, we take a look at some of the more common contingencies in a home purchase contract.

Common contingencies


That loan preapproval that you got from your lender? You do know that isn’t an offer, right? It is conditional on a number of factors, such as proof of employment and income as well as others.

Until the underwriter clears your file, you really don’t have a loan commitment, just a promise to try to get you one.

This is why buyers’ real estate agents insist on a loan contingency clause in the contract. This way, should you not get final approval for a mortgage, you can walk away from the agreement without penalty.


If the appraiser (hired by the lender) finds that your home is worth less than what you’ve agreed to pay for it, they won’t approve your loan.

There are, of course, ways to mitigate this disaster:

  • Come up with the additional money required
  • Come up with half the money required and request that the seller pay the other half
  • Ask the seller to lower the price
  • Walk away from the transaction

If it comes to it, and you end up walking away, the appraisal contingency allows you to do so.

Home inspection

The home inspection report doesn’t have to derail the deal. If there are issues that the buyer can’t accept, negotiations can reopen to convince the seller to take care of them.

If the results are completely unacceptable to the buyer, a home inspection contingency allows him or her to cancel the deal, without penalty.

All contingencies are negotiable. If you feel you need more time to conclude a task, we will negotiate with the seller for more time.

It’s critical to meet the deadlines demanded of the contingencies and we work hard to keep you on track to do just that.

If you have any questions about anything in the home purchase agreement, don’t hesitate to ask. We’re happy to answer them.

5 things you may not know about home warranties

If the home inspection leaves you less-than confident that the home you really, really want to buy won’t need repairs in the near future, you may want to ask the seller for a home warranty.

You’re not alone, by the way. The home warranty industry rakes in more than $2.5 billion each year from people just like you — new homeowners seeking peace of mind.

Home warranties provide just that when it comes to the life expectancy of the home’s major systems. Some experts say that peace of mind is an illusion for those who don’t understand how the warranties work.

Read on to learn the five things you need to know about home warranties.

1. Home warranties are service contracts

Many new homeowners think of their home warranty as a type of insurance. It is not.

Furthermore, the federal government considers a warranty something that is included in the purchase price of the item. A home warranty is purchased separately, so it isn’t technically a warranty.

“Simply put, a home warranty is a yearly service contract that protects specific home systems and appliances,” according to the folks at First American Home Warranty.

2. Understand what’s covered

What your warranty covers depends on several factors, including the price of the warranty. The more expensive the warranty, the more it will cover.

The basic home warranty provides some coverage for the major systems in the home, such as heating, cooling, electrical and plumbing.

The home’s major appliances may also be covered.

3. Find out what’s not covered

“There are plenty of limitations; these plans generally don’t cover non-mechanical items such as windows or the structure of your home, for instance,” say the experts at

Unfortunately, exclusions (anything that isn’t covered) aren’t uniform across the home warranty industry. Most, however, won’t cover any repair or replacement of a problem caused by “normal wear and tear,” insect damage, deferred maintenance and acts of God.

This leaves the companies with a lot of wiggle room when it comes to accepting or denying a claim.

Some companies offer additional coverage for some of their exclusions, at an additional cost, of course.

4. Then, there is optional coverage

Optional coverage is the term home warranty companies use to describe coverage that you can purchase for certain systems, such as a pool and spa, septic, central vacuum or well.

If the home features any items not covered and you want coverage, ask for a policy that offers these options.

5. Is a home warranty worth the price?

“The average cost of a home warranty service contract ranges between $300–$600 per year,” according to Jessica Render at

When you need to use the warranty, and the problem is covered by the home warranty, the provider will send a service technician to your home. You are required to pay for the visit, which will run you between $50 to $100 per visit, according to Render.

Is the cost worth it? It depends. Many in the real estate industry feel that the peace of mind a warranty offers the new homeowner, who is typically cash poor for at least the first year of homeownership, is invaluable.

Consumer Reports and other consumer advocates feel otherwise.  “We recommend avoiding service contracts . . . far too often, warranty claims are denied because the company says the problem was pre-existing. Or, the claim is denied because the consumer can’t prove that a broken item was properly maintained,” says Anthony Giorgianni with Consumer Reports.

“Put your money in the bank instead,” he suggests.

If you do decide to go ahead with the purchase of a home warranty, check each company’s Better Business Bureau ranking and keep records of all home maintenance tasks you perform.

Cooped up at home? 5 outdoor projects to get your home ready for the post-pandemic real estate market

There’s talk in real estate circles that homebuyers who get into the market after we’re released from “self-isolation” will have an entirely different wish list than those who bought homes before the pandemic.

This makes sense when you consider that we’ve never spent so much time in our homes as we have over the past few months.

Look for home offices to be on many homebuyer wish lists. Outdoor spaces, however, will be hot sellers as well.

How’s your backyard looking? If you’re planning on selling, take a good long look and get to work on some projects to make your home stand out when we get back to normal.

1. Start with a clean slate

Winter is firmly in the rearview mirror. If your front and backyards still show winter’s scars, it’s time to get that remedied.

Get rid of all the debris that winter deposited in your yard. Remove broken branches, trash, leaves and any other debris.

Although we love spring, we don’t care for the weeds it brings. Weeding should be next on the list.

Pruning dead or dying branches from trees and shrubs will not only make them look better but make them healthier as well.

Tip: Disinfect your pruning equipment before using. Give it a 5-minute soak in a disinfectant, such as Lysol. Rinse with water and allow to air-dry.

2. Turn your attention to the hardscaping

Hardscaping refers to the non-living elements in your landscape. This includes pottery, benches, water features, pavers, arbors and fencing.

Consider painting the fence if it needs it. Darker colors are better, according to Darin Bradbury, a landscape designer.

“Not only does the dark color give those vertical surfaces around the garden a uniform finish, but it creates the perfect backdrop for all that green foliage,” Bradbury tells Georgia Madden with Houzz Australia.

3. Add new plants

While the gardening centers at the big box home improvement stores remain open during the pandemic, it’s a good idea to shop online right now.

There are many online plant retailers and we’ve rounded up several for you:,, and

Landscaping professionals suggest that we should choose a theme before planting. The theme can be based on color, scent, pollinators (such as butterflies) or choose from some of the popular gardening themes:

Sticking to a theme helps prevent the space from looking too “chaotic and disconnected,” landscape designer Wayne De Klijn tells Madden.

“The right plant for the right space” is an old gardening adage that describes one of the most important secrets to gardening success.

Before purchasing plants, observe the landscape for a few days. Where is it sunny all day, shady all day, partially sunny? Choose your plants based on the existing conditions in your garden and you should have far fewer problems.

4. Mulch – the workhorse of the landscape

Mulch offers so much to your garden. It’s ornamental, it helps suppress weeds, it keeps the soil cooler in the summer, it helps the soil conserve moisture and, if it’s organic, it breaks down, adding nutrients back into the soil.

Choose whichever type of mulch you like and spread at least 2 inches of it over the soil, keeping it about 6 inches from the base of each plant.

5. Spruce up outdoor furniture 

Since we are all supposed to be staying home, running out to buy a new patio furniture set is not a wise idea. Hopefully, with a little DIY action, you can spruce up what you have.

Best of all, you can buy most of the products you’ll need online at or Gardener’s Supply Company and have them delivered to your door.

If your outdoor furniture is made of wood, follow the instructions you’ll find online at Ideas for updating other types of patio furniture can be found at

Stay well!


Cornavirus patient in the home? Here’s what you need to do to avoid infection

We’ve been admonished to do our part to “flatten the curve” by socially distancing ourselves from others, by washing our hands frequently and other forms of collective action.

If you happen to share a home with a coronavirus patient, it’s even more important to remain vigilant against the coronavirus.

While a daily cleaning and disinfecting of the home is important, there are additional tasks to perform when caring for someone suffering from the effects of the virus.

What to use to disinfect

After cleaning high-touch surfaces in the patient’s room (soap and water is fine for this), use an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered disinfectant, according to the instructions on the label. Wear gloves and ventilate the area while working.

The EPA offers a very long list of disinfectants to choose from on its website at Many appear to be available only to professionals but the experts at the Centers for Disease Control offers several recipes for DIY disinfectants to use on surfaces that may be contaminated by COVID-19 (coronavirus):

  • 4 teaspoons of household bleach in 1 quart of water (allow it to remain on the surface for 10 minutes before wiping the surface dry).
  • 70 percent dilution of isopropyl alcohol (must remain on the surface for 30 seconds).
  • Undiluted hydrogen peroxide (allow it to remain on surfaces for one minute).

Use care when working with bleach. Since it interacts with other substances and may emit caustic fumes, avoid mixing bleach with anything other than water. Ventilate the area in which you are working.

The CDC cautions Americans to avoid using recipes you find online. Vinegar, for instance, will not kill this virus, nor will tea tree oil.

How to disinfect a coronavirus patient’s room

Porous surfaces, such as drapes and rugs should be cleaned with a product manufactured specifically for the material and then laundered using the warmest temperature possible.

Wash bed linens, towels and clothing separate from other family laundry, and in the warmest water possible. Wear gloves when handling possibly-infected laundry and never shake the items before washing.

The CDC recommends using disposable “food-service items,” such as paper plates and plastic utensils. These can be placed into the trash and disposed of properly.

“Non-disposable food service items used should be handled with gloves and washed with hot water or in a dishwasher,” the experts caution. “Clean hands after handling used food service items.”

If your patient doesn’t have his or her own bathroom, clean and disinfect the bathroom after each time the patient uses it.

How to keep everyone in the home healthy

Frequent hand-washing is the name of the keep-healthy game when living with a coronavirus patient. Everyone in the home should wash their hands:

  • After removing gloves
  • After sneezing, blowing one’s nose or coughing
  • After using the restroom
  • Prior to preparing and eating food
  • Before and after your caretaking duties
  • After you’ve been outdoors, immediately upon entering the home

Caretaking considerations

  • The patient should be confined to one room of the home.
  • The patient should eat/be fed in their room.
  • All items handled by the patient should be disinfected daily or, if disposable, placed in a trash can lined with a plastic or paper bag. The caretaker should wear gloves when removing and disposing of these bags.
  • Remind other household members to use care when interacting with the patient.

Find additional tips from the following resources:

Caring for Someone at Home

Hand Washing: A Family Activity

Clean and Disinfect

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: Myth busters

Preventing the Spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 in Homes and Residential Communities


What to do if you can’t make your mortgage payments

It seems like only yesterday that the word “foreclosure” dominated the headlines as millions of Americans lost their homes during the Great Recession.

Now, that dreaded “F” word is reappearing in media accounts of the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on the economy. Yes, they’re speculating. Nobody really knows what will happen nor how long this will last.

All it takes is the prospect of missing one mortgage payment, however, to bring back all those dreadful memories from years ago.

Put “foreclosure” to the back of your mind. We have some suggestions to help you deal with the prospect of being unable to make your mortgage payments.

You’re safe for now

“President Trump on Saturday ordered foreclosures and evictions to cease for 60 days across the U.S. in response to the coronavirus pandemic that has idled millions of workers.”

Good news for the tens of thousands of Americans who have lost their jobs over the past few weeks. At least for one month, they will have one less bill to worry about.

But what happens next month? A lot depends on your current financial picture. If you’re a saver, you have far more options than those Americans who live paycheck-to-paycheck.

That first call

It’s a scary one – calling your mortgage company to tell them you can’t make your payment. But, call you must and afterward, you’ll be glad you did.

Many mortgage companies and banks are offering deferral programs during the COVID-19 crisis.

Keep in mind that a deferral isn’t forgiveness and you’ll be expected to make up the missed payments at a later date (unless you can convince them to tack the missed payments onto the end of the loan).

As well, the interest on the loan will most likely continue to accrue.

You will most likely need to offer proof of your hardship and many lenders require pay stubs and bank statements (to show a declining income) and a profit and loss statement from the self-employed.

What if my lender won’t work with me?

We have yet to hear of a lender who is refusing to at least listen to homeowners at this time. This doesn’t mean they don’t exist. If you have a conventional loan and the lender refuses to work with you, call a HUD-approved housing counsellor at 800-569-4287.

Borrowers with FHA-backed loans will find help dealing with their lender by calling the National Servicing Center at 877-622-8525. You will be asked to provide the names of all people listed on the mortgage and the full address of the property. If you have your loan settlement statement handy, jot down the 13-digit FHA case number. This may get you faster service.

VA borrowers can find help on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website.

Additional solutions

If your lender won’t work with you, or you prefer not to pursue the aforementioned solutions, consider the following ways of dealing with mortgage payments that you cannot afford at this time:

  • Sell the home
  • Apply to refinance your mortgage

Avoid foreclosure prevention scams

During the Great Recession, foreclosure prevention scams became a cottage industry. While we haven’t seen any recently, if the crisis continues, they may pop up again.

Many of these scam companies chose names and phone numbers that were quite similar to those of government programs. They charged high up-front fees while promising to pay off the borrower’s delinquent mortgage.

If you have any questions or suspicions about offers you receive, call a HUD housing counselor (800-569-4287) or reach out to us and we’ll point you in the right direction.