Are you thinking of selling your house during the pandemic? Here’s what our experience was like, and how we handled things with me being high risk.
In our case, the pandemic played a big role in our decision to sell our house in the first place. (The house we talk about in our debt free story.) We’d wanted to move for a while, but hadn’t seriously considered it because many of our family & friends are here.
But this past year gave us a clear taste of what it would be like to live away from family, friends, stores, and restaurants. Without traveling, and while my husband worked from home as well. And…it wasn’t nearly as bad as we thought.
In fact, other than not being able to see family & friends, there were benefits. We saved a ton of money by not eating out, and a lot of time by not running many errands. My husband got to work from home as well. I discovered the joy of curbside pickup. And we realized that we could be happy without many of the things we used to do all the time.
(Although it will be SO MUCH BETTER when we can see people in person again, and travel. Or, you know, get closer than 6 feet to anyone.)
So we decided to sell our house and move out of state, even if it meant selling our house during the pandemic. Here’s how we sold as safely as possible while still getting top dollar for it.
What We Didn’t Do
First, here’s what we didn’t do to sell our house, and why.
We didn’t consider any of the many offers we got via text, phone calls, and letters. Why? Because those were from people or companies trying to get a screaming deal on our house.
We didn’t use any of the services that buy houses either. (Like Zillow Offers, OpenDoor, Offerpad, etc.) Again, while it would have been nice to sell with a click, it wasn’t worth the money doing so would have cost us. (Even taking commissions into account.) I did look at an offer from one of those companies that came in the mail. The range they gave was way less than what we ended up selling for.
We didn’t move first and then sell this house afterward. Why? We spent a lot of time getting out of debt. We had no desire to go back in. Even if we’d been ok with that, it felt too risky. Finally, it can be harder to sell an empty house.
So how did we sell our house during the pandemic? In short, the traditional way — but with a twist.
Selling Our House
Phoenix is a red-hot real estate market right now. It’s up 13% recently, and there aren’t many homes for sale.
Since I am high risk, with a VERY high chance of dying if I catch Covid, I did not want people in our home. (Until they absolutely HAD to be.)
So our goal was to sell the house without having anyone see it first.
In normal times that might not fly so well, but we decided to give it a shot. We started with the basics.
Basic House Selling Tips
If you want to get your house ready to sell, here are the basic tips.
If something needs fixing, fix it. If you have really wild colors on the wall, repaint. Depersonalize it a little bit by taking family photos down. (Sad to say, that last one is especially good to do if you are a person of color.) Declutter until your house looks spacious. Then deep clean.
If you have pets and will be letting people in your home, see if your pets can stay somewhere else during the process.
In general the most important things to do are decluttering and cleaning. Your house will stand out from other listings if it’s clean and free of extra stuff. Way too many people do not do that, and buyers can’t look past dirt or a mess. Make the beds and pick up laundry before photos at the very least!
So we decluttered, cleaned, and repainted most walls. We rented a small storage unit for half our books and a few odds and ends to get those out of the house. Then we cleaned again.
We also found an experience Realtor to use that is good at marketing and selling.
Getting Ready to List the House
Normally the Realtor will arrange to have your house photographed. But again, we didn’t want people in the house. Not even a photographer.
So I made a Matterport video with my phone. That’s a 3-D walk through of the house, like what you can see with Google Street view. It’s really cool, free for one space, and easy to do.
I shot the listing photos myself too. I used to be a wedding photographer, so figured I could do it. It turns out that taking photos of the inside of a house is MUCH harder than I expected. I could tell our Realtor wasn’t a fan of me doing that, but I got it done.
Here are a couple of my photos:
Are the photos perfect? No. Do they do the job? Yes. I have a DSLR, but a smart phone with a wide angle mode would probably have worked too.
If you do this, make sure you have good, consistent lighting. Then clean and pick up again right before you take the photos. Get people and pets out of the way so they don’t end up in the photos. (My husband sat in the car with our dogs to keep them out of the way.)
Take pictures of each room from each point of view. Don’t skimp on these. Listings with lots of good photos do better.
Finally, take photos of the outside of your house too, ideally during the golden hour. (That’s the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset.) The light is really nice then.
Give Buyers as Much Info as You Can
Selling a house during the pandemic is a big deal. But buying one is even bigger! Buyers will be spending a huge chunk of change, so give them as much information as you can to help make things easier.
In our case, I created a general floor plan to include in the listing. Floor plans can REALLY help sell your house, especially if people can’t tour it before buying. But also even if they can. We measured all the rooms and that info got added too.
I wanted people to be able to imagine walking through the house, and to know if their furniture would fit.
I also made a short video with my phone of things to do in the area. But I don’t think that made much difference, if any. Maybe if I had targeted California buyers more it would have, but it sold before we could do that.
Our Realtor had drone photos shot of the house too. So buyers could see the area from above, and see part of the neighborhood.
Then it was time to start the listing process.
Fill Out the Listing Form Completely
Our Realtor let us know what info she needed for the MLS listing. There’s a LOT of detail to include, and you want to include as much as you can.
Gathering that info can help with the seller disclosure form too, and the appraisal. (We made a list of all the updates we did to the home over the years and left that for the appraiser.)
Normally you’d have a lock box and showings at this point, but we didn’t. We put in the MLS agent-only notes that due to Covid we would only let people tour the home after we accepted their offer. (Of course they could back out at that point if they didn’t like it.)
And it worked. Within 48 hours we had 4 at and over-asking offers that ended in a small bidding war. That’s very much due to how few houses are on the market here and how popular metro Phoenix is. Plus our house has a great layout and is in a good location.
We ended up selling for close to 3.7% over asking. We were also able to negotiate extra time in the house after it closed.
Could we have sold for even more if we had showings? Maybe, although we would have needed a cash buyer for that. But it wasn’t worth it to us, and we didn’t want to wait an unknown amount of time to move.
Covid Precautions During the Rest of the Sales Process
But accepting an offer wasn’t the end of things. The buyers then got to see the house, have an inspection, have it appraised, and do a final walk-through. All of those involve having people inside. So we left every time anyone needed to be in the house.
And by left I mean we sat nearby in our cars with the dogs while people were inside. We required anyone who went in to wear masks. (Although there’s no guarantee people will leave their masks on.)
Before leaving the house, we turned on all the fans and opened the windows. We had ceiling fans going, the bathroom fans on, the kitchen hood fan on, and the whole house fan on.
After people left, we checked our security cameras to make sure the fans were still on. (And ran in real quick wearing N-95 masks to turn them on when they got turned off.)
Finally, we waited in our cars for 3 hours each time after people were done with the house. The idea was to give the house time to air out. That much time may have been overkill but I didn’t want to chance it with being high risk.
Once the 3 hours were up, we came back in with N-95 masks on and sanitized. We wiped all the door handles, light switches, drawer & cabinet edges, faucets & handles, toilet handles & seats, plus the edges of anything that would be easy to brush against. Then we washed our hands and unmasked.
So in total we spent 14-15 hours sitting in the car between everything.
The Closing Process
The closing process was easy. Arizona lets people use a remote notary, so we didn’t even have to leave the house.
We did the paperwork online using DocuSign, and had the notary witness things remotely over a webcam.
We also had the option of having a mobile notary come to the house (outside) or of going to an office. The whole thing went pretty quick.
That sums up our experience with selling our house during the pandemic. Overall, it went really well. Was it inconvenient? Yes. Was it better than a high chance of me being hospitalized and dying from Covid? Very much so.
So if you aren’t sure how it might work to sell now, hopefully this gives you a good idea. I’m happy to answer questions about the process if there’s anything I left out.