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Coming Home: Buying a House During a Pandemic

By: Liz Harrell
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Coming Home: Buying a House During a Pandemic

By: Liz Harrell
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After living in New York and New Jersey for five years, I found myself moving back home to Arkansas. The northeast offers so many wonderful things. New York had fantastic restaurants, ethnic and cultural diversity, and the courage-building bonus of navigating subways and busses. When I moved to New Jersey I found the people there to be friendly, helpful and open-hearted. But I discovered other things as well. I learned that snow is magical, but not when it comes in the form of a March blizzard and it takes two hours to shovel your driveway. I learned that no matter how many kind people I met, I deeply missed the warmth and familiarity of southern friends and family. And I missed good barbecue, porches with blue ceilings, and the beautiful Ozarks of my childhood. So when I got the chance to move back home to Arkansas, I was thrilled. 

But buying a house during a pandemic, from halfway across the country, and viewing houses through FaceTime with my Realtor in Conway wasn’t easy. Doing all of this during a seller’s market where every second counted and I had to make decisions quickly also wasn’t easy. The following topics were my main questions when buying a house. I absolutely got the house I needed, even though it was not the house I expected. I didn’t hold too tightly to some of my expectations, and being flexible was, in the end, the most important thing to remember.

School Needs

The question “is it a good school” is complex and means different things for different people. There are lots of easy ways to garner information about schools, such as visiting websites that present information and statistics on test scores, etc. However, one valuable and often unexplored avenue are social media groups, like local mom and parent groups on Facebook. Oftentimes these groups will provide extra insight that websites won’t, and they allow you to pose questions publicly. Virtual school is also now an option, and homeschooling is on the rise. These two choices have freed up some families to make home buying decisions without having to consider a specific school district. In the end my family chose in-school learning, and my daughter adores her diverse and teacher-friendly school.

Old Vs. New

I’ve spent my entire life wanting to live in a historic house. But as the single mother of two kids, the upkeep required for a historic home lost its appeal when I looked at newly-built houses. I’ve discovered that I love living in a new home where repair needs are minimal, which really underscores the phrase “never say never” (an anecdote I need to have stitched on a living room pillow). Older homes offer lovely history and character. Newer homes offer less worry and expenses. There are no wrong choices, only choices that reflect your needs. 

The Ideal Location

Do you need a home within walking distance to school? A location with a short commute to work? Would a smaller yard suit your lifestyle better? Are there busy streets nearby? I’ve lived in lovely homes in less desirable locations, and the lovely house features fade when you’re waking up at 2 a.m. to the sounds of industrial tree trimming trucks backing up into the mixed-use lot near your house (I speak from experience). If you’re moving to an unfamiliar area, like I was, it’s paramount to have a Realtor who will not only show you houses, but brief you on the specifics of the area. In the end, I wound up on a very quiet street with zero tree trimming trucks.

A Space That’s Just Right

When it comes to square footage, I always find that the perfect size isn’t always the largest house. After all, the luster of owning a huge house might quickly fade once you realize that every Saturday will be reserved for cleaning and scrubbing. The flip side of that scenario is knowing how to avoid buying something too small for your future needs. Are you planning to get married? Have a family? Work from home in the future? There’s always a perfect size, and house shopping is oftentimes a Goldilocks “not too big but not too small” endeavor.

A Cracker Jack Real Estate Agent

Finding a good real estate agent is perhaps the most important part of buying a house. Having an agent who is knowledgeable, savvy, responsive and persistent is key. I had a great experience with my Conway Realtor, Evelyn Dean. I was located in New Jersey while house hunting, unable to travel because of the pandemic, and she toured houses virtually with me. She scouted the areas, and FaceTimed me as she drove the streets so I could see the area. She was a fierce advocate for me during the buying process. 

Appliance and Services: Backorders and Delays

Backorder seems to be the current theme when purchasing appliances or trying to get utilities hooked up in a newly purchased home. Supply chain disruptions are a very real problem. Some new homeowners are waiting weeks, if not months, for washers, dryers and refrigerators. Ask specifically what appliances are in stock and ready for delivery, as opposed to other appliances you may prefer but have murky delivery dates. In addition to backorders, internet companies are swamped with requests for service. If you have a closing date on your new house, get your internet-phone-cable appointments on the books as soon as possible. 

Securing a Mortgage 

Ask questions. Ask more questions. The home buying process will be filled with hundreds of them. Learn all you can about PMI (Principal Mortgage Insurance) as it can impact your monthly mortgage cost. Check your credit score (and try to raise it). Ask yourself if you’ll have enough money to do necessary repairs or renovations after you purchase the home. Gather your paperwork (proof of income, tax documents, ect) and have it handy so there are no delays.

For more information on home buying and mortgage, click here to get started. 

Meet the author

A little about Liz Harrell

Elizabeth Harrell is an author, freelance writer, and lives in Conway. Her book, My (not so) Storybook Life, was published in 2011. Her blog projects and articles have been featured in At Home Arkansas, Apartment Therapy, Better Homes and Gardens, Design Sponge, and here on Only in Arkansas. Visit her at https://elizabeth-harrell.com

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