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Virtual open houses, masked notaries: How you can still buy a home in a pandemic

Andrew Khouri, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Home and Consumer News

It's a Sunday, a day when home shoppers would normally pack open houses. Luke Smith arrives solo to a Redondo Beach, Calif., listing, angles his laptop toward the front door so its camera can capture the scene and enters the two-bedroom condo.

"This property is listed for $819,900," the real estate agent for Rex tells his client, a video director who is 30-plus miles away watching on his own computer in a Beverly Hills apartment. "One of the first things you will notice when you do walk in is that breeze. I have that patio door open."

The novel coronavirus has shut down large swaths of the U.S. economy, leading to millions of layoffs and the closure of bars, malls and events. And it has slammed the real estate industry. Applications for loans to purchase a home have plunged, and deals are falling out of escrow.

But sales activity hasn't completely stopped, at least not yet. Those who are determined can still buy a home. They just have to navigate the strangest market ever.

From the state on down, California governments have issued stay-at-home orders but deemed aspects of the real estate industry essential. That has allowed home sales to continue in an increasingly complicated fashion.

Traditional open-house viewings are banned in California. Some buyers are touring houses virtually or taking part in individual showings with agents who stand six feet away.

 

Appraisers are conducting more drive-by-valuations, and buyers are watching inspections via video call.

If you are ready to close, a masked and gloved notary may show up to your doorstep to get signatures that must be completed in person.

"This is what it looks like during these times," software salesperson Spencer Gattinella said in a text, while sharing a photo of him and his wife in masks, signing the paperwork for a five-bedroom San Clemente house on a pop-up table in their current driveway.

Many people were searching for a home before the coronavirus was an issue. Now, along with their agents, they are feeling their way through rapidly changing rules.

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