John and Kristin Untisz move to a different military base every three years or so, a nomadic lifestyle that led them to establish a rule about their whirlwind relocations: They’d never buy a home sight-unseen.
Then the coronavirus pandemic erupted, and the couple broke their own rule. This summer, they closed on a Mississippi home even though they hadn’t set foot inside.
The 2020 homebuying season has forced Americans to rethink how they approach the housing market. Shawn and Jill Craven cajoled their 1-year-old daughter to don a facemask while they toured homes for sale. Shane and Karina Thompson met with the builder of their Florida home by FaceTime rather than in person.
In normal times, buying a home is stressful and emotionally draining. It’s the biggest purchase most consumers make. During a public health crisis accompanied by a global recession, the stakes seem even higher.
Home prices have continued rising in recent months, although some housing economists expect that trend to reverse. And a shortage of homes for sale means many buyers are competing with other shoppers, setting the stage for bidding wars that can bring in dozens of competing offers.
As COVID-19 spreads, another new trend has emerged: Casual tours of open houses are a thing of the past. If home shoppers mask up to tour properties, they’re probably ready to buy.
“Buyers are serious,” says Debi Jensen, owner of Century 21 All Professional in Port St. Lucie, Florida. “There are no tire-kickers.”
A military move — and a leap of faith
John Untisz works as an Air Force physician, a job that requires him to move his family every few years. After buying houses in the Florida Panhandle and Texas, John and his wife, Kristin, established a ground rule.
“We always said we would never buy a house without seeing it,” Kristin says.
The coronavirus had different plans. The Untiszes committed in early March to a new house at a D.R. Horton development in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, near John’s new posting at Keesler Air Force Base. At the time, the lot was bare dirt, and there was no model home identical to the floor plan they chose.