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Coronavirus leaves home buyers and sellers in limbo — and at financial risk

Michaelle Bond and Jeremy Roebuck, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Business News

A single mother and nurse in her mid-30s could no longer afford her house in Delaware County, Pa. So she took all the money she could scrape together for a security deposit and the first and last month's rent for an apartment, and she put her house on the market.

To help make ends meet, she needed the profits from her home sale, originally set to close April 6.

Two weeks ago, she lost her job. Last week, her buyer backed out. The buyer, a house flipper, worried that he wouldn't be able to get renovations done because Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf ordered nearly everyone to stay home and businesses to close to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

Now, she's stuck with a mortgage she can't pay, an apartment she can't afford, and stress over how she will cover groceries and her family's other living expenses, said her Realtor, Brian Kane.

"She's in a major financial bind," he said. "She can't get work. She needs the money, and now the sale isn't happening."

In the weeks since the coronavirus pandemic upended daily life, real estate agents have been doing what they can to complete sales. But buyers are stymied by financial uncertainty and the unavailability of inspectors and contractors. Sellers waiting for the busy spring real estate season don't know whether to list their houses as scheduled.

 

And no one knows just how long the uncertainty will last.

Two mortgages

When Karina Sharma and her husband closed on a house in January and finished repairs on their old home, the Bucks County, Pa., couple considered themselves lucky. Their townhouse would be ready to list in mid-March, just in time for real estate's busy spring season. A few neighbors' houses had just sold quickly, and they had no reason to think theirs wouldn't, as well.

Then the coronavirus hit. The couple couldn't get the professional photographs they'd wanted, and potential buyers can't visit. Sharma's husband, Aaron Butler, lost his job at an auto repair shop last month when the company downsized as business slowed.

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