While quarantined, local realtor Francesca Brennan put her professional expertise into action for a personal matter. She and her husband purchased a new home – one that offers ample outdoor space and a place where the couple’s two kids – ages three and five – can focus on distance learning.

“We thought it would be nice to have a dedicated space that we could make a classroom, so that their specific needs were being met and they weren’t being shuffled around,” Brennan said, noting that a home with both a front porch and a backyard was high on their list. “With parks being closed, and a moratorium on play dates, we had to get creative with our own space, and the house we were living in was pretty limited in that.”

Brennan, a principal of Entablature Realty, recalled that interest rates were the lowest they had been in 50 years.

“My husband and I had time to go through our finances with a fine-tooth comb, because we had nothing else to do,” Brennan said. “He is a stay-at-home dad, but I have job security. We wanted to take advantage of the opportunities.”

Brennan’s experience is not uncommon.

According to a report from the National Association of REALTORS, existing-home sales rebounded more than 20-percent in June, following three straight months of sales declines caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A lot of people who’ve spent close to a hundred days in their house, and perhaps with their children in the house, are re-evaluating how the house works or doesn’t work for them,” Brennan said. “If people are going to be home 24 hours a day, seven days a week, they are looking for a little more space, and that includes outdoor space.”

Autumn is historically one of the best times to buy a house in New Orleans, says Brennan. And despite the ongoing pandemic, this season does not seem to be an exception.

“Obviously spring was shaky with COVID. Everyone was in a little bit of a holding pattern for a couple of months, but summer has been fantastic,” Brennan said, back in late July. “I don’t have any reason to believe that we won’t have a strong fall.”

Ready to Buy?

Find your NOLA neighborhood

Get an idea of what the real estate market is yielding throughout the city and then narrow it down to a specific neighborhood. New Orleans hosts a myriad of unique settings – from the swanky South Market District to the offbeat Bywater.

Most people already have an idea of which neighborhood they’d like to reside in, but realtors may introduce them to other sections of the city, so that they can see how the price points vary. Uptown, for example, with its close proximity to restaurants on Magazine Street and the St. Charles Avenue streetcar, is a perennial hotspot for home-buying activity, so expect less bang for your buck.

“In Gentilly, you can get a new three or four bedroom, two to four bath house, right around $300,000. But you’re not going to find that Uptown,” said William “Buddy” King, a partner and realtor with Satsuma Realtors, noting that Gentilly also has more land available for building new construction homes. “New construction is typically less expensive than a renovation.”

Talk to a lender

Although it doesn’t hurt to do some online research so that you can see what’s available around the city – and at what cost – realtor Erin Hardy of rêve Realtors believes it’s important to talk to a lender before making assumptions on what you can and can’t afford.

“A lot of websites can be inaccurate on what the monthly note would be at a certain purchase price,” she said. People are often surprised that in addition to a down payment, there are also steep closing costs, she added.

“A lender will help you figure out what your budget is and what type of loan product would be the best fit,” Hardy said.

Although budget understandably plays a major role in the house-hunting process, it’s not everything.

“Most buyers are price-conscious,” Brennan said. “But I think with rates being as low as they are right now, you can certainly borrow more money than you could when interest rates were higher. So occasionally, I will encourage people to look a little bit outside of their comfort zone.”

Final steps

Once you’ve found a home you are serious about buying, get an inspection report so that you can gauge the condition of the home before making a decision, said Hardy. Homebuyers typically hire the home inspector, who examines the roof, foundation, and plumbing system, among other elements of the abode.

Liz Tardo, broker and owner of NOLA Home Realty Group, emphasized that the process of buying a house rarely resembles what’s presented on reality TV, when people tour three homes, simply pick the one they love most, and move in soon afterwards.

“Life is not a TV show. You do have to kiss a lot of frogs at times before you find your prince,” Tardo said. “You might have to look at 10 houses before you find something. Now with COVID, that’s a little different. People are looking at less houses overall than they were six months ago to make a decision.”

Don’t go it alone

Call a realtor before you do anything, Tardo said.

“A realtor is out there selling houses and looking at houses all the time,” she said. “They know what the general clientele is looking for and they can help with what needs to be done on the house, if something needs to be updated.”

Per a Realtor.com article written by Crystal Caruthers, a realtor is a licensed real estate salesperson who belongs to the National Association of REALTORS, the largest trade group in the country. The typical buyer searches with a realtor for about 12 weeks and looks at 10 properties before selecting a home.

“The agent is only paid once the deal closes,” Caruthers notes. “If the buyer decides to sign another lease — or not to buy — that agent is not compensated. The same is true of listings. If the listing does not sell, the agent is not paid.”

Brennan believes going through the process of buying a house without an agent is possible, but it’s like going to court without an attorney.

“There’s no real benefit of not using a buyer’s agent,” she said. “There are a number of steps in purchasing a house and it can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be completely overwhelming. I think it’s meaningful to have someone who is advocating for you, and an expert in that field.”

Hardy maintains relationships with clients well after the closing, just to remain a resource for them. If they are torn between renovating their current home and buying something new, she can offer advice on what to do.

“It’s important to have a good rapport with your realtor, because buying a house may be the most significant financial investment you make in your life,” she said.

Selling the Home

Looking ahead

If you are selling your house, make sure you have a plan, Brennan said. Someone may make an offer early on, and then you will find yourself under contract.

“It takes one person to come in and love your house,” she said. “It could happen the first day the house is listed. If there’s a plan in place, you will feel more comfortable going under contract and negotiating.”

The blueprint may involve renting for a few months and considering your options before buying a new home; moving in with a family member so that you can save money; or purchasing a new house with the proceeds from the sale.

Find a listing agent

Brennan also suggests hiring a listing agent who can help you determine a listing price based on the condition of your home, and its location and size, along with what comparable homes have sold for in the surrounding neighborhood.

Tardo says the agent may walk through the house and decide what type of improvements need to be made before selling.

Boost curb appeal

Prime your home for virtual tour photos and in-person showings.

Outside, spruce up the landscaping and pressure wash walkways; add a fresh coat of paint to faded areas of the house; replace broken light bulbs, because prospective buyers may drive by the house at night to get a different perspective.

“I think that having the exterior look as fresh and clean as possible is important,” said Tardo, noting that a recent client gave their home a “soft wash.” Also, a little gardening goes a long way.

“Those exterior images are what people see right now when they’re looking on their computer and taking virtual tours,” she said. “We want that exterior to really pop.”

Inside, repaint brightly colored walls with more neutral colors; organize closets and pantries; and … clean up! 

“I really can’t emphasize de-cluttering enough,” Hardy said. “Countertops, tables, the TV stand – all of that should be cleared of the things that accumulate in our day-to-day lives. It’s important to purge before you list and take the professional photos, just to make it look as clean and tidy as possible for potential buyers who pass through.”

Professional photos should be taken when the lighting is best.

What happens next?

Once the home is listed, how long it takes to sell varies. If the home is reasonably priced in a seller’s market, it will likely sell before three months. A well-priced home in Uptown that’s in nice condition may get snatched within a few days.

“It really depends on the neighborhood and the amount of inventory,” Hardy said.

According to the National Association of REALTORS, 62 percent of homes sold in June 2020 were on the market for less than a month. (First-time buyers were responsible for 35 percent of those sales.)

If you are trying to sell a house you’ve already left, staging can lead to a quicker sale at a higher price, said Hardy. The International Association of Home Staging Professionals (IAHSP) say that 88 percent of staged houses sell at, or above, list price, and sell on average in 10.3 days versus 84.6 days for non-staged houses.

When to sell

Tardo says there is never a wrong time to sell a house.

“I’ve sold houses in every time of the year,” she said. “The time to sell your house is when there is a buyer … There are buyers out there. It’s time.”

The ins and outs of loans

If the house you love seems “slightly” out of your budget, or you merely want to make a smart financial move, it helps to know what sort of mortgage loans are out there. Satsuma Realtors detailed several:

  • Conventional loans typically offer the best interest rates, but good credit and a down payment of at least 5 or 10 percent will be required. Conventional loans can extend 15 or 30 years and can be interest-only.
  • 203k rehab loans are popular with “fixer-uppers.” These loans, provided by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), enable homebuyers to purchase a home that needs minor to major improvements. Borrowers must get preapproved for the purchase price and the renovation costs.
  • VA loans provide financing for veterans and others who meet eligibility requirements of the Veterans Affairs. Available in fixed and adjustable rates, these loans allow gifts or grants to pay closing costs, give current VA borrowers the option to refinance, and don’t require monthly mortgage insurance.
  • Loans for teachers, firefighters, EMTs and police are available through the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, which may offer a 50 percent discount on HUD-owned homes in areas with either high foreclosure rates or low homeownership rates.
  • Physician loans can make a mortgage loan easier to qualify for, oftentimes with a lower down payment and no requirement to carry private mortgage insurance.
  • Lease-to-Own or Rent-to-Own agreements allow a renter the option to purchase their rental home, within a few years of living on the property. The agreement may be beneficial for renters who need time to repair their credit or build credit. With this plan, an agreed-upon portion of your monthly rental fee can go towards building a down payment.