Congratulations, home seller. You were able to find a buyer during these crazy times. Closing escrow, however, is a little different than it once was.
Realtor.com’s Erica Sweeney speaks of how COVID-19 has thrown a few monkey wrenches into the closing process. As for timing, “Not surprisingly, home closings are taking longer now,” she says. “At the end of March, closing times averaged 60 days from the time an offer is accepted, up from 43 days in February and 26 in January.” April is a crapshoot so far.
Delays in Underwriting, Inspections and Appraisals
Reasons are due to one element that did not suffer over the past few months: mortgage rates. Lenders have been swamped with processing refinancing applications, which are now being filed at a record pace. But there’s more.
“In addition to a backlog in refinancing underwriting, social distancing and shelter-in-place orders are delaying and complicating every step of the home closing—including home inspections, appraisals, and walk-throughs.”
When things were “normal” home buyers would send a home inspector to the seller’s home to vet it for any flaws. During these days of shelter-in-place mandates, home sellers may be at home during inspections, but if this prospect makes you nervous, you can ask for a “remote home inspection” instead.
Sweeney quotes home inspector Welmoed Sisson:
“We are offering clients the option of doing a ‘remote inspection,’ where we inspect the house alone and review the findings with buyers and sellers via a videoconference.” He says that now and at least for the next six months while the inspector is at the home they would use gloves, hand-washing, and wipe-downs using antiseptic cloths.
Appraisers have it a bit easier. While they used to visit the home to assess its value, now the Federal Housing Finance Authority has instructed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to temporarily permit exterior-only or desktop appraisals during the COVID-19 crisis.
“These appraisals use public records, multiple listing service information, and other data sources to identify details about the property—and don’t require going inside the home,” says Sweeney, who adds that although that’s good news for sellers, the process could end up taking longer as a result.
Virtual Walkthroughs Becoming Commonplace
Walkthroughs are now being done virtually in more and more locales.
“Social distancing is also affecting buyers’ final walk-throughs, with some being done virtually on FaceTime and others not happening at all.” Sweeney cites how the majority of buildings in New York City are not allowing anyone other than owners to enter or exit.
Escrow Closing Delays Amid COVID-19
As for the delays in escrow closings, chalk them up to shuttered title offices and creative methods of shuffling the considerable amount of paperwork to the buyer. Desks are generally not six or more feet wide, and handling the paperwork can be tricky.
“The way around this is, rather than having everyone gather in one room, various parties might sit in separate rooms and shuffle papers between them. Some closings are even taking place outside on sidewalks.”
Remote closings are possible, using digital means depending on the state you live in.
“For instance, remote online notarization is allowed in just 23 states, but the National Association of Realtors® recently sent a letter to Congress asking lawmakers to expand it nationally to speed up real estate transactions during the pandemic while limiting in-person contact,” says Sweeney.
In any case, closing escrow is possible, it just takes a little longer these days.