Sheltered Home Shopping: I Bought a House in Tampa During CoronavirusChelsea LevinsonHomeLight Blog

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December 23, 2020

When Crystal and Anthony Rivera decided to upgrade their Tampa home this past summer, they knew it would be a challenge. The couple would have to tackle both selling their current home and buying a new one — all during the coronavirus pandemic.

Plus, they knew the competition would be hot: Tampa’s housing market is stronger than ever, and it’s seen impressive growth over the past year.

According to the latest real estate data, Tampa homes sell for a median of $290,000, and properties fly off the market quickly, averaging just 10 days from listing to contract.

And Tampa is definitely not the place to lowball a seller: An impressive 100% of listings get their asking price or higher.

A mask used while buying a Tampa house during coronavirus.
Source: (Katie Harp / Unsplash)

Tampa’s housing market trends in a coronavirus world

Top real estate agent Andrew Duncan, who works with 72% more single-family homes than the average Tampa agent — and whose team worked with the Riveras — says Tampa has become particularly hot since the start of coronavirus.

“We’ve seen a surge in the number of people moving here, as well as a surge in the number of people moving to rural and suburban areas outside the city,” he shares.

“It’s a very competitive market, and there aren’t as many listings as we saw a year ago. Considering we have more buyers and not as many listings, that obviously tells you that prices have been rising.”

Home prices are up

In fact, prices in Tampa have gone up 15.6% from 2019 to 2020. Duncan says bidding wars are increasingly common, and many buyers are forced to offer above asking price if they want to get their foot in the homeownership door.

Demand is rising with new buyers entering the market

Tampa Bay is what Duncan calls a military market, with MacDill Air Force Base as the city’s largest employer. Because many of the city’s residents are there on orders, there’s always demand for housing in Tampa.

Compounding the housing shortage, in the early months of coronavirus, many wealthy New Yorkers began to flee to Tampa to buy second homes. Add to that the many Tampa residents who — once forced to work from home — decided to upgrade to more spacious properties, and these converging factors have created unprecedented demand in the Tampa Bay market. Which is to say, if you’re planning to buy in the Big Guava, you might be facing some serious competition.

Low inventory means bidding wars

“We already had an inventory challenge,” prior to coronavirus, Duncan explains. “And then when you add in people being fearful to put their home on the market because of the virus, it definitely compounded the shortage of supply of homes.”

Expect multiple offers, potential bidding wars, and sellers unwilling to budge on their terms. Savvy buyers who want to compete in the Tampa real estate market may have to get creative with their bidding.

Inconsistencies in home showing policies

One major thing that’s frustrating agents and buyers alike during this time? The inconsistencies in how sellers handle coronavirus safety measures.

“There was no consistency from one seller to another,” Duncan explains. “We had some sellers who said ‘we’re only showing Fridays from five to seven.’ We had some sellers who required people to wear masks and booties and gloves.”

He even had one buyer who was required by a seller to produce a negative coronavirus test before he could see a home.

Buyers making offers sight unseen

Still, these complications haven’t exactly slowed buyers down. In some cases, Duncan says he’s seen out-of-town buyers “roll the dice” and buy homes after only a video tour.

Closings are taking longer than ever

Another change Duncan has noticed in the Tampa real estate market is that closing times are taking longer than ever. Prior to COVID-19, he says, closings in the city took an average of 30 to 35 days, whereas now homes can take more than 45 days to close.

There are a few reasons for these long wait times:

  • Appraisals are backed up.
  • Title companies are still figuring out how to operate efficiently with many in-person services still shut down.
  • Lenders are being more cautious than ever, with millions of Americans losing their jobs and entire industries being wiped out.

Duncan says some lenders are confirming employment every day leading up to closing.

“And some of them were even delaying closing to make sure the buyer didn’t get laid off a week later,” he adds.

Buyers have new needs in a coronavirus world

The final tip Duncan has for buyers hitting the Tampa market is to understand that there will be competition for work-from-home-friendly properties, like those with multiple office spaces. He also says because people are staying home more, buyers are looking for swimming pools more than he’s seen in recent years.

If you’re looking for these popular features, expect to pay a premium for them.

An aerial view of a Tampa house bought during coronavirus.
Source: (Ward Mercer / Unsplash)

Why the Riveras bought in Tampa during an uncertain time

Despite the challenges of the Tampa housing market, the Riveras knew they wanted to upgrade their home. They’d purchased it before the virus hit, and with the new stay-at-home restrictions, they found the space wasn’t big enough to properly accommodate their family.

In June 2020, they got their lender approval and started looking for homes.

Love at first sight after a quick home search

The Riveras were seeking a house in Wesley Chaplow or Land O’ Lakes, and they didn’t look far before they found their dream home.

“It was the second house we looked at, and we fell in love,” Rivera shares.

It was a beautiful Land O’ Lakes three-bedroom, two-bathroom townhome, completely upgraded. It had brand new appliances, flooring, and renovated bathrooms.

Everything in the home was fresh and ready to go. And best of all? There was a perfect loft space playroom for the kids. Other homes in the neighborhood were nowhere near as polished.

The couple breezed through viewing the home, and they felt safe throughout. The sellers were taking showings by appointment only. Everyone wore masks, and there was hand sanitizer readily available for all.

“We just needed to put in an offer right away, because when we went to see it, there were already multiple offers on the table, and we didn’t want to lose out,” Rivera says.

A winning offer strategy

The thing is, the couple didn’t have a lot of wiggle room in their negotiation strategy because they needed to include a home sale contingency as part of their bid (this is a contractual stipulation that the buyer’s house must sell before they can complete purchase of the new one).

With the counsel of their agent, they decided to offer the full asking price, and the seller happily accepted. Rivera believes what pushed them over the edge was the fact that they didn’t need down payment or closing cost assistance.

And as luck would have it, they ended up getting a pretty good deal, too.

“When the appraisal came back, it came back a little bit lower,” which gave them the negotiating power to get an even better price, Rivera shares proudly.

Buying and selling simultaneously added stress

The Riveras were in a uniquely stressful situation, having to simultaneously buy and sell a home all while coronavirus made both sides of the transaction more difficult.

Rivera says she would regularly cry from the stress, but she was grateful to have the support of her real estate team. They tenaciously advocated for her and stayed on top of everything — especially as things went wrong. Which they did, often.

…Then their buyer pulled out a week before closing

One week before they were supposed to close on their new home, the buyer of their current home decided to back out of the deal.

“It was a cash buyer, and he waited until the last minute to say ‘Hey, I want to fix all these things, so I want it way below even the price we purchased it at,’” Rivera explains. “I think he was just trying to take advantage of the situation because we were supposed to close in a week or two, and he knew we were buying a new house.”

Duncan and his team sprung into action, calling the seller to explain the situation and assure him the Riveras loved the home and would do anything to make the deal work. But unfortunately, they’d have to wait until they could close with a new buyer because the couple was using an FHA loan and couldn’t hold mortgages on both properties at the same time.

Thankfully, the seller was willing to accommodate them and agreed to extend the contract another 30 days so they could find a new buyer. Their former house went back under contract quickly, and they were back on track to make a deal.

…And coronavirus lending delays kept creating hiccups

Regrettably, the Riveras weren’t out of the woods yet. They still needed to close on both homes simultaneously.

“Toward the end, I’m not gonna lie, it was really stressful,” Rivera reveals. “I guess lenders on all ends are so overwhelmed with the number of people buying houses right now that they’re a little bit delayed.”

Not long before they were supposed to close, their lender told them the date would have to be pushed back. To add to their stress, similar delays were cropping up on the sell side of things.

The Riveras even faced a delay on the actual closing day. They had their appointment set up for 10 a.m., but the title company called them to say they didn’t have everything they needed, and would have to push things to 3 p.m..

But in the end, they made their pushed back closing appointment — and things tied up just a half hour behind schedule.

The Riveras closed on their new home in the late afternoon of August 27.

A Tampa house bought during coronavirus.
Source: (Noah Benjamin / Unsplash)

But all’s well that ends well

Now that the stress of closing two homes in the midst of a pandemic is behind them, the Riveras say they have no regrets about their decision to upgrade.

“I’m so happy. I feel like all the bad things that happened are on the backburner, and I don’t even dwell on it anymore,” she gushes.

“I love my home, my family loves our new home, and there’s just so much space for everybody to have their own space. It’s definitely an upgrade from where we were. I couldn’t be happier, honestly.”

Header Image Source: (ryan haft / Unsplash)

When one Tampa couple decided to upgrade their home during coronavirus, they knew it would be a challenge. But they had no idea how many delays they were in for.HomeLight Blog

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