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What I Learned From Buying a House During COVID-19

Sorry, Dorothy – repeating “there’s no place like home” will not wake you up from the nightmare that 2020 has trapped us in BUT there may be no time like the present to look into buying a new home during a global pandemic. After years of saving (and with a lot of help from our 2020 trip budget), my husband and I were able to buy our first house together. If you are wondering what it is like to house hunt during a worldwide virus outbreak – it was a different experience but one that I am happy I did and learned a lot from. This is what I learned from buying a house during COVID-19.


The Search

When you start getting serious about looking for a house, you start thinking about your criteria. How many bedrooms do you want? What end of the city do you want to live? To reno or not to reno? For us, our dream home originally came complete with an open concept, finished basement and a garage, but quarantine caused us to move some other things up in priority. For example, a home office became suddenly mandatory after I spent months hunched over on a wooden seat at the island in my kitchen. My point is, a few things changed, but it is important to assess what are your must-haves and what has some wiggle room to change.

We had to be very selective when physically viewing houses for a couple reasons. For starters, open house viewings were now a thing of the past so we had to book an appointment to be able to visit. Second, there were procedures put in place to make the experience of buying a home during COVID-19 safe for both us house hunters and the home owners. For example:

  • Prior to entering, we had to participate in a questionnaire to consent that we did not have any symptoms and have not traveled within the past 14 days
  • Out of respect and safety for the home owners, we were told to touch minimal things and whatever we did touch was disinfected afterwards
  • We made sure to keep our 6 feet distance from our realtor, which is hard to do when viewing a house

If anything, these procedures made us feel that both sides were being respected, provided a safe environment and really didn’t add that much more time. It did however, encourage us to really make the most of our time at each location and be very intentional and thorough to decide if this home was an option for us. Overall, it was different – but we found our home!

The Payment

COVID-19 or no COVID-19, figuring out your financing is a big component when you’re making one of the most expensive purchases of your life. You need to know how much you can comfortably afford with your mortgage and bills all factored in, furnishing your new home, plus, you’ve got to eat! For us, as big travelers in a travel ban world, we were able to reallocate our savings for trips for this year into furnishing our home. My advice would be to review what has changed in your finances or savings during COVID-19 and how that will adjust going forward – there is no shame in changing up your plans!

One very important bonus right now for those looking to buy a new home is that the interest rates are low. That’s great news for buyers as the cost of borrowing is much lower so you’ll pay a lot less in the long run. Now more than ever, it is incredibly important to shop around before locking in your lender and the terms of your mortgage. This rate finder tool from Rate Hub gives you a one-stop shop to compare mortgage rates from the Big Banks. But don’t just choose one from there, make sure to shop around via other options like your local credit union or the financial institution you work with for your day-to-day banking. Your financial advisor will be able to work with you to find a mortgage that fits your overall financial well-being and some may even offer lower rates altogether.

Here’s a hot tip for buying a house during COVID-19 that I learned from my realtor: when chatting with your financial institution, be sure to ask what they offer for an interest rate guarantee. An interest rate guarantee or mortgage rate hold, is locking in a specific rate for a certain number of days, so you will be guaranteed that rate even if they go up during your house hunting journey. This is important right now because as the market recovers from COVID-19, the interest rate will continue to rise back up so placing a hold on these low rates will buy you some time to make sure you are being thorough in your house search.

Even if the mortgage rate goes down, some financial institutions will honor the decreased rate. I will admit, I had a mini celebration each time I saw the rate drop before we officially signed our documents. For more helpful tidbits on mortgages during COVID-19, visit this blog we published earlier this month on how COVID-19 affects the renewal of your mortgage.

The Closure

Closing costs and the process it takes can be the most frustrating part of purchasing a home. Although, I wish it was under different circumstances, some of these processes have become quite efficient during COVID-19. Typically, once you are ready to sign on the dotted line – you end up having to do that many times and over many appointments across the city. Because of COVID-19, we were able to sign almost everything digitally including realtor agreements, mortgage documents, insurance and even signing the offer. There were some signatures needed in person with our lawyer but with the new procedures in place – it was quick, easy and safe!

Buying a house during COVID-19 maybe wasn’t the norm, but I was happy with the process and found it much more streamlined. It has been super exciting and has been a source of light in an otherwise dark time. Now we can reminisce on the Facetime bloopers with our realtor and cheers to building back up that trip fund over a distanced drink on our patio!

Home for sale sign

Mortgage stress tests: what to know

Keep hearing the term mortgage ‘stress’ test but unsure what it means to you. In this blog, we break it all down for you and provide advice on what you should consider when it comes to your mortgage.


There has been a lot of talk about the new mortgage restrictions aka “mortgage stress tests”. But with all the coverage and information out there, what does this actually mean and how does it impact you?

Starting Jan. 1, 2018, if you’re applying for a new mortgage (e.g., buying a new home), re-advancing an amount on your mortgage (e.g., renovations), or switching your mortgage to another financial institution, you’ll be subject to a “stress test”. What this means is that your advisor will assess your finances and qualifications based on a higher interest rate than what they are today.

What many don’t know is this process is already in existence for people applying for mortgages with a down payment of less than 20% of the home purchase price or those with a term of less than five years. The new restrictions will now include those who have a larger down payment and longer term time.

Credit unions are not governed federally, and provincially are not legally bound to comply with these new restrictions. However, as a mindful and trusted community partner, many credits unions already have similar policies to ensure our member’s financial well-being is a long-term focus.

“Approving a member for a mortgage that they could not afford to repay over the long term, simply to satisfy a higher purchase price, does not agree with our values as a credit union, nor increase a person’s financial wellness,” said Kris Wanner, Manager, Financial Services, Conexus Credit Union. “Also, it doesn’t promote community growth, all of which are key components to our cooperative.”

This “stress test” is being put into place to protect homeowners from rising interest rates which may impact their overall finances.  Lending rates have been at a historically low level for a number of years. Lately, we’ve seen a rise in interest rates which speaks to the why behind this stress test.

By factoring your ability to repay, and in turn how much they can spend on a home purchase, at a higher rate of interest provides you peace of mind knowing the greatest asset (and largest borrowing) you will ever have is something you can afford to repay.  It also presents the opportunity for you and your advisor to discuss the difference between “What I qualify for” and “What I can afford”.

“Being aware of your finances and your plans will give you a better understanding of what you can afford and not feel stressed,” said Wanner. “It’s also important to think of all variables when looking at affordability. Many times people forget of other expenses, which can cause them financial stress in the future.”

When it comes time to applying for a mortgage or renewing your mortgage, take a broad look at your finances and your plans – look back at what’s changed and where you want to go. Don’t forget to also look at all other factors and expenses that may be associated with homeownership, such as:

  • Property taxes;
  • Condo fees;
  • Utility bills;
  • Insurance; and
  • Home security.

Other expenses such as loan and credit card payments, food, entertainment, etc. are also important to consider.

Homeownership all starts by understanding the money you have and what you spend. Once you have an understanding, you can then create a holistic plan that works for you.

If you have any questions on what you just read or would like further information on mortgages, ask in the comments below or click the ‘Talk to us about banking button’ below to contact us.