How the local real estate market is holding up amid coronavirus concerns

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. - Coronavirus concerns are changing how businesses work. From restaurants only doing take-out orders to grocery stores sanitizing their carts – one local title company is also changing up its practices so clients can do real estate transactions right from their car.

Meridian Title Corporation normally sees over 20 people on a busy day. They help customers close on their homes. But now with coronavirus concerns, that process looks a little different because people are signing from inside their cars.

“So where it says sign here there are a few numbers, you can just sign over those numbers,” one employee is heard saying.

“Closers will meet them at their vehicles provide them with closing documents and our closer will continue the process inside and talk them through the documents and signing process through the phone,” Haley Craig, an escrow officer Meridian Title Corporation said.

She said that the rest of the process is exactly the same until closing day. Customers are urged to call the office so one of the closers can meet them outside with the documents.

Customers can sign documents right from inside their cars and the Meridian employee is helping them through the phone inside.

Being able to see the car through the window is important to make sure the notary is legal.

“A lot of our customers are thankful we are providing this service in the car. In the safety of their own car,” Craig said. “It’s very typical in our Mishawaka office to see quite a few people in here, up to 25 plus closings on a Friday. Congregating in a lobby is obviously not an option for people right now and should be steered away from so this is our next step to avoiding that.”

She said these changes or other coronavirus concerns are not affecting business at all. In fact, this Friday they already have 27 appointments on the schedule with no cancellations.

Now, the coronavirus is negatively affecting a lot of industries in the U.S, but what about the real estate market?

You’d think the housing market would take a huge hit with people not wanting to jump into any risky decisions but Jen Luke, an account manager for Meridian Title Corporation said they aren’t seeing a change.

In fact, this is not just a good time to buy a home but to sell one.

“It’s still a seller’s market, the majority of what that means is there’s a lot of people that want to buy but there’s not a lot of houses being sold so it’s a good time to still list your house,” Luke said.

She traveled down from Fort Wayne and said that over there, realtors are not seeing any decrease in business.

When calling real estate agencies in Michiana, we found that is accurate here as well.

More realtors are doing virtual tours and open houses, showing homes through Facebook Live or other platforms so the clients and homeowners don’t have to worry about the coronavirus.

She said that with lower interest rates, this is the perfect time to buy a home.

“The interest rates are still kind of fluctuating. They were very down, now they are still kind of in the middle so a lot of people are still refinancing and it’s still a really good time,” Luke said.

“It’s still a great financial investment to become a homeowner, to purchase a home it’s one of the safest things you can invest in,” Amy Houk, a mortgage loan officer for Hallmark Home Mortgage said. “We’ve continued to see mortgage applications in regards to home purchases, have remained steady and with the rates as good as they are, it has increased the volume for refinances.”

With thousands of people out of work because of coronavirus legislation, mortgage lenders are seeing more questions from homeowners and folks looking to buy a home.

Houk confirms the housing market is good right now. Businesses having to do with real estate are considered essential and are continuing to run. So they are still seeing just as many customers.

When it comes to mortgage loans, she said they are getting more phone calls from those starting to buy a home as well as those worried about making payments.

They can work with home-buyers on a case by case basis as to whether or not they continue with the transaction or wait until the buyer is back working again.

For those struggling to make mortgage payments, it’s also done case-by-case.

“You’re pushing your payment out to the end of the loan potentially or modifying that loan,” Houk said. “It doesn’t mean you can’t make it ever, but it at least keeps your payments to where it’s not reporting late to the credit bureau agency and it’s giving you time before you go back to work and begin making your payments like normal again.”

She said if the government purchases as much U.S debt as needed which would include mortgage debt then that should keep interest rates low, which is a good thing for the housing industry.

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