While many found solace in Tiger King, mixology, breadmaking, and working out to fill the void during the pandemic, I embraced my new home dreams and focused on finding the perfect house.
Under normal circumstances, buying a home would be somewhat easier. Figure out the wish list—4 bed/2 bath, updated kitchen, and an ample yard—find a realtor, get pre-approved for a loan, and start the hunt.
But historically low mortgage rates during our search in April and May, an extremely low inventory, high demand, and close proximity to COVID hot spot New York City, drew flocks of New Yorkers living in high-density areas to our more spacious New Jersey suburbs.
And with that, our home-buying experience quickly turned into a gambit of negotiations, false hope, and competing with cash offers at least 15% over asking.
Still, all that we could deal with. We knew we’d have to be able to roll with the punches and to know when to walk away and when to push. But after making 22 offers and 15 bids in three months, I suddenly realized something had to change: our agent.
The Unique Pressures of Viewing Homes During a Pandemic
We met our first agent with a pre-approved loan letter and COVID waivers in hand. She warned us that inventory was low but demand was high. Showings would be limited. Sellers were afraid to open their homes to strangers. Only serious buyers were allowed appointments, and homes were selling rapidly.
Still, we can handle this, I thought.
The smartest decision we had made at that point was getting pre approved. Pre-qualified buyers often lose to more prepared buyers like us, we were told.
So we started to see houses. House after house after house. And we made offer after offer after offer—sometimes making two offers on different homes at the same time. But still no offer was accepted.
At some point, we nixed homes before we even got out of the car for a showing.
“Don’t put your mask on! Don’t get out of the car. It’s not worth it,” my husband exclaimed one Saturday afternoon, as the agent shared that there were already six offers on a five-bedroom home that had gone on the market overnight. Buyers were bidding sight unseen! HGTV had not prepared us for this type of home buying competition.
“Buyers are more competitive than ever and really bring their A-game in an attempt to knock out their competition,” said Fonda Kosmala, a realtor from Christie’s International Real Estate of Northern NJ. “There’s an increasing number of cash buyers as well as buyers with extremely strong down payment, up to 40% and 50% down.” She added:
“Bidding wars are becoming the norm.”
Reality Sets In
We persisted. For weeks and weeks, we kept viewing homes in full PPE, all while taking turns with a toddler. We made offers and bids on houses we didn’t really want, to no avail. Defeat started to feel second nature—a temporary high followed by an incredible low. The feeling closely resembled a high stakes game of blackjack. Everything over in seconds, paperwork be damned. I continued to fill my sleepless nights on the NJMLS site trying to be the first in the know.
“The seller’s agent says another buyer is offering no home inspection,” our agent shouted six feet across an empty yard. ”What clause do you want to add to your offer?
Offer number 22 broke me. How can anyone buy a home without an inspection?, I thought. It was all too ridiculous.
And then I realized the problem wasn’t the tight market or aggressive buyers. It was our agent. She had been pushing us to move faster, bid higher, put more money down, even change our wishlist just to make a sale.
So, we decided to break up with her. (She ghosted us after my breakup text.)
A Fresh Start
One week after the breakup, I shared my story anonymously in a private mommy community group on Facebook. Horror stories of home buying and selling flooded my notifications. Among them were helpful tips and agent recommendations. I took a chance on a single name, Fonda Kosmala, that kept repeating on my screen and privately messaged her and laid out my wishlist.
Right away, everything was different with her. Kosmala took every call, late night text message, and email. She did not push us into seeing or placing offers on homes that weren’t what we wanted. Instead, she assured us she would find “the one.”
She lined up three promising showings. Two offers later, we signed for our perfect home. Every box in our original wish list was checked.
We’ve moved into our home now, and we’re slowly making it ours, with paint and renovations we knew we’d have to do. It’s such a relief to be settled and not on the hunt. And we really have our agent to thank for that. Here are some tips for making a successful home purchase:
Tips to From a Real Estate Agent on How to Buy a Home
Advice from our agent, Fonda Kosmala:
Manage Your Credit
Your credit score is the most important factor in determining your purchasing power. Make sure you are not opening new lines of credit at least four months prior to your home search.
Get Pre Approved
Getting pre approved not just prequalified, from the very beginning is key. I’ve seen buyers not have all of their paperwork together and scramble at the last minute and lose out on properties as a result.
Don’t Hesitate to View
If you see a house online that you would like to see, try to see it ASAP. I understand it’s hard with people’s work schedules, but some properties are not even making it to a typical weekend open house.
Try to Think Logically, Not Emotionally
Don’t let your emotions dictate your purchase. Like any large purchase you’ve made in the past, think: cost per wear. Are you looking to expand your family in the next five years? Is this a starter home? Will you be saving an additional 5% every year for home maintenance? Not maintaining your home can mean larger added costs later.
Hire Your Professionals in Advance
Further, once your offer has been accepted, do not wait until you’re under contract to attempt to line up your inspectors. Some inspectors are booking at least a week out. Ask for specifics in the home inspection. Find out what's included in the pricing. Mold, termite damage, oil tank scanning, and radon testing may not be included and may be available as add-ons.
Similarly, have your real estate attorney ready to go as well. Do not wait to start looking for a real estate attorney upon an offer being accepted. Of course, any good agent will have numerous recommendations ready from the get-go, but these are important conversations to have upfront. Lastly, if there is a seller’s disclosure available with the property, ask that your agent send it to you prior to writing up your offer so that you can review it and ask any questions you may have prior to putting pen to paper.