5 Things I Learned from Selling My House During COVID-19

The pandemic has made everything more challenging these days. Leaving the house now requires a mask, hand sanitizer and a lot of precaution. So of course, my husband and I decided it would be the perfect time to sell our condo and upgrade to a single-family home. To be fair, we decided to do this long before COVID-19 came around, but it just so happened that our timeline matched up perfectly with the shelter-in-place (SIP) order in our county — lucky us.

Before I dig into the lessons I learned from selling our condo during the pandemic, I want to note that the property is located on the San Francisco Peninsula, which had pretty strict SIP orders. To give you a general idea of the timeline, we put the condo on the market on April 27, 2020, accepted an offer on May 29, 2020 and closed on June 26, 2020. We are currently in the process of purchasing our new home, so I’ll have a follow-up piece about that, along with one about how moving during COVID-19 went within the next month or so.

5 Lessons Learned From Selling My House During COVID-19

Lesson #1: It’s more stressful.

The problem with selling property during the pandemic is that there are so many unknowns. Of course, selling in a normal market already comes with a handful of unknowns, as you don’t know if others will find your house appealing or (in our case) if the condo’s homeowners’ association would turn off certain buyers. Add to that the pandemic, along with the uncertain market, and you have a recipe for a potential disaster that would land us underwater (losing money on the house). Because of these unknowns, it was a very stressful process — more so than usual. The current market comes with record-breaking mortgage rates, though, which means more potential buyers may feel comfortable shopping, and our condo did get quite a bit of attention. Compare national mortgage rates to see how they have been trending over time.

Lesson #2: You only deal with serious buyers.

The bright side of selling during the pandemic is that you generally only deal with serious buyers. That’s because traditional open houses are a thing of the past, as potential buyers were required to make appointments to see property in-person — remember that we were selling in California, which had strict SIP rules starting in March. At the appointment, all attendees (which was limited to one realtor and the “buying party”) must wear a mask. On top of that, agents and potential buyers had to submit a Coronavirus Property Entry Advisory and Declaration (PEAD) form before visiting the property. This form lets them know they may be exposing themselves to COVID-19 by entering the property.

Another option for sellers these days is to ask the buyer for a preapproval letter in exchange for a property tour. This was something we took advantage of, as it guaranteed that the people looking at our condo weren’t just nosy neighbors. Speaking of neighbors …

Lesson #3: Your neighbors may judge you.

I sat on the board of our condo’s homeowners association. This meant I knew quite a few of our neighbors. Unfortunately, I think it made our neighbors feel like they could share their opinions with me about our sale. When they found out our condo hit the market, we were told we didn’t live there long enough to make a worthwhile investment (we were there over two years) and that we were crazy for selling in this unstable market. We also had neighbors that were flat-out shocked and didn’t know what to say. Thankfully, when I explained we were selling to upgrade to a single-family home, they were all understanding and encouraging. If you opt to sell right now, know that your neighbors may judge you and that’s OK.

Lesson #4: Preparing your house is weird.

Moving all of your belongings from a place you called home for years is always a weird feeling, but it’s even weirder when you’re actually going through the process of moving, booking a storage unit or working with a stager and not knowing if you may contract COVID-19 from your interactions. You’re wearing a mask and trying to social distance, and in the back of your head, you’re still concerned that you’ll get too close to one another.

It’s also challenging to make others feel comfortable in your home when your agent isn’t allowed to go inside for the tours or to welcome someone to the open house. To combat this, we had a bottle of hand sanitizer and a note about how we wanted to make them feel as comfortable as they could in our home. The note also detailed what we loved about our community and the condo itself. We wanted to add some sort of personal touch since our agent wasn’t able to physically welcome others into our home.

One thing we weren’t expecting was that we’d have to move out of our condo in order to sell it. Our original plan was to live there until we accepted an offer, and then start shopping for our home. Unfortunately, COVID-19 had another plan. When we put the condo on the market in April, potential buyers were only allowed to tour homes that were vacant (note that this rule changed in June). Since that was the case, we put all of our belongings in storage and moved with our son into my parents’ house — definitely not something I thought I’d be doing with my husband and son in my early 30s, but that’s life. Want to hear more about our move? I’ll share all the details in another blog post soon. Long story short, the whole process of preparing our condo to sell was weird, with lots of unexpected roadblocks.

Lesson #5: Signing is awkward.

Signing is supposed to be an exciting time in which you can finally take a deep breath and know the property is either yours or no longer yours (depending on if you’re a buyer or seller). Signing during COVID-19 is anything but that. The notary came to my parents’ house with a mask and gloves on. She had a spray bottle of hand sanitizer that she used to clean the pens before she handed them to us. We sat about 4 feet away from her at my parent’s dining table, and we were also wearing masks. We made sure to not shake hands or even get too close to the notary just in case.

Although we did feel relieved when we closed the condo and it was no longer ours, we also didn’t have as much of a personal experience as we did when we purchased it. The notary did nothing wrong — she made the best of an awkward situation — but it wasn’t as special as I was expecting it to be (I know that sounds super cheesy).

Would we do it again?

Absolutely! We opted to sell because it made the most sense for our family. We quickly were outgrowing the condo and needed a lot more space for our son to roam. Plus, mortgage rates are at a record low right now, so it’s the perfect time to get a mortgage. Although we don’t have a new home yet (yes, we are still living with my parents), the sacrifices we made and awkward situations we encountered to sell will be worth it in the long run.

Julie Myhre-Nunes

Personal Finance Editorial Director

Julie Myhre-Nunes has been working in the personal finance space for over 10 years. She discovered her love for everything banking, credit card and loan-related when she was a teller for a major bank during college. Since then, she has moved on to oversee a handful of personal finance websites, including NextAdvisor.com, Interest.com and MillionMileSecrets.com. Julie’s personal finance knowledge has been featured on Fox Business, The Boston Globe and CNBC, while her writing has been published by USA Today, Business Insider, Wired Insights and American City Business Journals, among others. She is an alumna of San Jose State University, and she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.