Despite COVID-19, the real estate market has remained robust. With low mortgage rates and a shortage of housing inventory, more home buyers are competing for properties, to the benefit of sellers. As housing shortages in Greater Boston have prompted buyers to look for homes beyond the immediate suburbs, Worcester’s West Side has become one of the top ten real estate markets in the country.

If you’re trying to buy or sell real estate—especially if you’re new to the market—here are some trends and tips to help you get through the process in the midst of the pandemic:

1. Expect Delays and Extensions

While there are many reasons why a real estate deal may be delayed, among the most common involves a provision known as the “Mortgage Contingency Clause,” which defines the date by which the Buyer must obtain a mortgage commitment to purchase the property. Mortgage banks are slowed by high volume, remote work, and accessibility issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. That makes it harder for Buyers to adhere to mortgage contingency dates, and Buyers often require extensions. For the Seller, this can provoke fears that the deal might fall through and that they will have to start over again with a new prospective Buyer. Sellers should not panic! A Buyer’s extension request may simply be a timing issue. Get the facts.

2. Communicate Your Needs to Make Sure Everyone Is on the Same Page

From start to finish, the process of buying and selling a home is a collaborative effort among the parties, their real estate brokers, their attorneys, and (if there is a mortgage) the lender. Each party moves in and out of the transaction at a different stage. It’s essential that all information is shared so there are no surprises. For example, if a new closing date is set in response to a Buyer’s mortgage contingency extension request, but the Seller is also buying property and their ability to do so is contingent upon the original closing date, this change may cause significant problems. Be sure to let everyone know whether you are flexible on dates or whether you have constraints due to another transaction that is hanging in the balance.

3. Provide All Documents and Other Necessary Information on Time

Real estate transactions require that certain “staple” documents be provided, such as mortgage payoffs, condo certificates, wire instructions, and smoke alarm certificates. Brokers and attorneys will typically request these documents early in the deal, but clients can expedite the process by collecting them at the outset. Contact your lender directly to obtain a payoff statement; with mobile and online banking, this information may even be available with the click of a button. To ensure an efficient process, brokers, attorneys, and clients all need to understand and agree on what documentation is needed and who is responsible for getting it by when.

4. Take Advantage of New Modes of Closings

The traditional closing—where everyone sits around a table and exchanges documents and funds—still occurs. There are now other options, however. You can sign all the closing documents in advance, send them via overnight delivery, and have the closing attorney handle the closing in your absence. Given the risks of spreading the virus while seated together at a closing table, remote closings are encouraged. You may even find the process more convenient, since you won’t have to take time off from work or from a busy schedule.

Your lawyers at Mountain, Dearborn & Whiting LLP are ready and able to help with your real estate questions and transactions.