It should not come as a surprise to anyone that COVID-19 has thrown a few wrenches into the home closing process. The time it took from offer acceptance stage to closing a home on average was:
– 26 days in January
– 42 days in February
– 60 days and longer in March, April
This information is data collected by LendingTree.
Why the holdup?
One of the key reasons is that the lenders are swamped with processing a huge surge in refinance applications because of historically low mortgage rates. Underwriting teams are taking much longer than average.
On top of the backlog, the shelter-in-place orders are also causing delays in the complicated steps involved in the home closing process. Because of social distancing and shelter-in-place, its harder to do home inspections, appraisals, and walk-throughs.
Once a deal is reached, typically the home buyers will contract a home inspector to get an inspection done on the house for any problems. However, due to shelter-in-place, home sellers may be at home during inspections. Some home buyers may be uncomfortable with that process.
Many prospective buyers can get remote home inspection instead of where the inspector does their survey and then reviews the finding with the buyers and sellers using video conferencing technologies.
The inspectors must take a lot more precaution these days like while at the house, use gloves, wash hands, and wipe down everything they touch with antiseptic cloths or wipes. All these steps slow down the process.
Lenders require home appraisers to visit the house and assess their value before they approve a mortgage for a buyer. During the pandemic, FHFA (Federal Housing Finance Authority) has instructed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to allow appraisers to do their work from outside the house or use technology-based appraisal during the COVID-19 crisis. Technology can include using data from MLS (multiple listing service) data, public records, and other third-party data sources to get details on the property and avoid going inside the home. Such a step keeps the sellers safe, although the process can slow down the time to complete the appraisal step.
Walk-throughs are the typical process of checking that the home is in good condition—testing appliances, windows, doors, outlets, and other items— just before closing of the home. This process also allows double-checking any home inspection repairs by the sellers that may have been put in the agreement. Because of the risk of contamination, many sellers are leaving their doors and closets open so the buyers can walk through the house without taking their hands out of their pockets. Some home buyers are also doing their final walk-throughs virtually using technology like FaceTime. Some buyers are skipping the process all together.
The last step in the process, the home closings, is also moving to a digital step in many cases. Digital real estate closings, or “eClosings,” is where buyers and sellers can sign documents using e-Signature, and settle all paperwork without the need for being in the same room. However, such electronic closings are not legal in every state. Some states like Georgia has allowed temporary relief by allowing electronic notarization.
Finally, let us keep in mind that most of the delays in selling a home during the pandemic are beyond our control. But using proper precaution and technology, most all the steps are possible to get from an agreement to close, while keeping everyone safe.