COVID-19 has changed just about every aspect of our lives, from the way we interact with others to our work environment. In the past four months, several companies have instituted work from home policies and have found that employees are not only still able to get their work done, but many of them enjoy working remotely. Working remote means that employees cut out their commute time, giving them more time to spend with their family. It also cuts down expenses for the company in utilities and rent on the office space they lease. Many companies are now considering keeping some of their workforce remote, even as restrictions ease. Aside from lowering their costs, they are also able to hire from a much broader pool of candidates by allowing employees to work virtually anywhere. So, if you don’t have to live close to where you work, what does this mean for the housing market?
In general, potential homebuyers are house hunting in the suburbs and more rural areas. Many of the attractive aspects of city life have been put on hold during the pandemic in the name of social distancing. Meanwhile, urbanites may feel cooped up in small apartments, apprehensive about sharing amenities and common spaces (elevators, laundry rooms, on-site gyms) with their neighbors.
A survey of 1,004 people by the International Council of Shopping Centers found that twenty-seven percent of adults in the U.S. are considering moving because of COVID-19, and many of them are looking to the suburbs or rural towns. Realtor.com surveyed 1,300 people over the first two weeks of April and found that 15.7% of homebuyers want more space in their next house and 13.6% want “more and better outdoor space.”
For many people, being able to work remotely means they can afford their dream home by moving away from the city, where the cost of living is often quite high. In fact, Vic Lederman of Stansberry Research makes the case that remote workers in the tech industry (like Facebook or Twitter) will make well above the U.S. median household income level and so if they settle in these more rural towns, the entire area will experience a rising-tide effect.
That said, working from home isn’t everyone’s ideal situation. Some employees are anxious to get back to the office, away from the distractions of home. While these employees may want to stay within driving distance of the office, we could see more offices move to the suburbs as they seek more affordable buildings with sprawling floors that are conducive for social distancing. Whether or not this trend will be short-lived or the new way of doing business, the need for social distancing has certainly created a desire for more space on both a personal and commercial level.
With the Fourth of July right around the corner, you may be brainstorming ideas on how to celebrate with friends or family in a time of social distancing (a term we are very familiar with and perhaps tired of). Having an outdoor gathering can be one way to still socialize with friends while minimizing the risk of exposure from COVID-19. If you decide to host a BBQ, you may realize your backyard needs a bit of TLC before you can entertain. Investing in a patio might be the answer; afterall, a “Remodeling Impact Report” from the National Association of Realtors in 2016 found that 102% value is recovered from building a new patio and 106% is recovered from a new wood deck. Whether you are designing a new patio or deck, or are lucky enough to already have one, here are a few ways you can improve the area and make it one of your favorite places “in” the house.
Choose Versatile Furniture
Great furniture doesn’t have to be expensive to make a patio inviting. You may already have some chairs and tables that just need a quick facelift. You can easily remove rust and repaint/ spray paint metal pieces for a refreshed look. You can use benches for flexible seating or buy chairs that are ideal for both dining and lounging. A hammock is also a budget-friendly way to add a relaxing place to kick your feet up.
Create Outdoor Storage
Part of having versatile furniture is finding storage options that can help utilize the area if you have a smaller yard plus keep it looking tidy. An ottoman with an empty base can house magazines and sunscreen. A bench with built-in storage can hold cushions and pillows. Wooden crates can be painted and then treated with sealant to weather-proof them.
Add a Fire Pit
One easy way to instantly make your patio cozier plus establish a focal point in the yard is to add a fire pit. Not only do they provide heat in the cooler months, they are entertaining to watch and fairly inexpensive to install. A quick Google search will yield dozens of DIY fire pits (just be sure to stick closely to the materials list so you know you are constructing a safe fire pit) and you can always purchase a smaller, more portable one from a home improvement store or online. One of the biggest benefits of a fire pit right now is that people can easily congregate around the fire while staying six feet apart from each other.
Throw Some Shade
A backyard hangout or BBQ doesn’t have to be a sweaty, sunburnt ordeal. Incorporate shade to keep you and your guests cool. If your backyard doesn’t have many trees, you can purchase shade sails or umbrellas to cover the areas of the patio you plan to lounge in. You can also install a retractable awning or even build a pergola and add vines for a more natural feel.
Have a Pop of Color
After getting the basics set up, adding a bit of color is a great way to really make the space your own and show off your style. Quick ways to make your patio more visually appealing include laying down a big outdoor rug, planting bright flowers, using fun-shaped or colorful planters, or tossing in some weather-proof pillows with interesting designs.
Focus on the Accents
If you are looking for a way to really make your patio/ backyard stand out, there are plenty of things you can do. You can create a stone path to a bench or your favorite area of the yard. Bonus points if you cast your own stones using quick-mix concrete. A vertical succulent garden can be a great conversation piece, especially if space is an issue. Hanging up string lights or investing in a water feature are other great ways to instantly add some curb appeal to your backyard.
The Patio is Ready, Now What?
Now that your patio is ready for entertaining, what should those who are social distancing keep in mind while hosting the perfect BBQ?
As many of us find ourselves working from home, you may realize the temporary work space you had set up in the corner of the kitchen was fine in the first few days of quarantine but just isn’t cutting it now. Or maybe you’ve always worked from home and you’re ready to give your work space a few updates to improve your productivity and mood. Below are a few tips to creating a home office that suits your needs.
1. Designate Your Work Space
The most important aspect to a home office is choosing the space you will designate for work and only work. Ideally, your office would be its own room but having a room pull double duty can certainly work with proper boundaries. Keep work in your designated area and resist temptation to bring paperwork or your laptop to places you eat or lounge. This will ultimately help maintain a work/life balance so that when you finish with work, you can feel rewarded by relaxing in your living room or baking in your kitchen. It will also help you focus and stay on task when you enter your work area.
2. Have Ample Lighting
Make sure your home office is very well lit. The last thing you want is to strain your eyes for 8 hours of the day. You may need to play around with the lighting to avoid a glare on your computer screen and make sure your face is clearly visible for video calls. A small desk lamp can help with task lighting and reading.
3. Check Your Posture
Along the same lines as lighting, checking your posture and investing in a good office chair are key to your health and comfort. Some things to keep in mind regarding your posture:
4. Declutter and Organize
Physical clutter can instantly make your mind feel cluttered as well. Keep your work surfaces as tidy as possible to help you stay focused and reduce stress. Organize both horizontally and vertically; most homes don’t offer large office areas (or a specified office at all) so utilizing shelves can be a great way to keep important files and tools close at hand without infringing on your actual desk. For more information on decluttering and organizing, check out this blog post.
5. Check The Background
Since face-to-face meetings have largely been avoided in favor of social distancing, video calls have made a huge jump in popularity among companies. Something to keep in mind is what your coworkers or clients may see behind you when you have these video calls. Keep your background clean and throw in a bit of your own style with a piece of artwork or a shelf sparsely decorated with beloved trinkets. Perhaps you still have a few in-person meetings with clients or coworkers; it’s important that you keep any areas of the house a visitor may walk past on the way to your office cleaned up as well.
6. Add Color and Personality
Choose a color palette that encourages your work-flow. For some, this is a bright, poppy color. For others, a cool and calming color may do the trick. Then you want to pick accessories that make the area feel more homey and set the mood. Finally, give yourself a view or create an inspiration board to make the space inviting and engaging.
Now is a great time to curate the perfect work area whether you’ve been working from home for years or are new to working remote because of COVID-19. If you are still struggling to stay on task, think of places where you feel most productive and try to duplicate those elements. If you like the music at a local coffee shop you can play similar music at home. Perhaps the outdoors help to keep you focused, you can incorporate more plants and be sure to choose an area with a window. Something else to keep in mind is that you may be able to deduct your home office expenses from your taxes. Be sure to check the IRS website to determine if you would be eligible to do so and check out this article for more information.
Even in the face of COVID-19, the real estate market in Shenandoah Valley remains active. Funkhouser Group has put several precautions in place so potential buyers and sellers can continue to purchase or sell homes while social distancing. At this time, buyers should do the following before scheduling a tour:
These guidelines are listed on a yard sign that is available to all sellers working with Funkhouser Group. Additionally, there are safety measures listed for property tours as well. These include:
If you are closing on a house as a purchaser or seller, you may be wondering what that process looks like during the COVID-19 outbreak. Settlement agencies have been in operation during the pandemic as they are an essential business but many of them have had to readjust their typical settlement procedures to ensure the safety of their staff and clients.
New Practices Under Virginia's Stay-at-Home Order
Certain procedures will vary between title agencies as each company decides what is best for their office. West View Title Agency has temporarily closed the office to the public and is handling closings over the phone while the seller or purchaser signs the documents from their car or a table in the parking lot, still within sight of a processor who can notarize the documents. According to Stewart Title’s website, they are limiting who attends closings, disinfecting between all clients, and maintaining 6 feet of distance (in addition to other safety precautions). Other agencies may require you wear a mask at closing or email photocopies of your driver’s license prior to settlement. If you aren’t sure what your own settlement agency’s policies are, a quick call can help you prepare for a contact-less/ limited-contact closing.
Closing in the Future as the State Slowly Re-opens
While the new practices for closing are not ideal, they are in place to prevent coronavirus from spreading. Setting aside the health ramifications, it’s important to keep in mind that if one employee gets sick at a title agency (particularly a smaller agency where the employees work closely together), it could require several people in the office to quarantine for two weeks which would slow down transactions. In the case of West View Title Agency, future closings will likely be handled differently than they were pre-pandemic. Buyers and sellers will close separately and only those who are signing documents would be allowed in so social distancing is still observed. Masks will probably be required as well. Regardless of how a title agency decides to operate, preventing the spread of COVID-19 is still up to every individual and we should all continue to follow recommendations from the WHO and CDC.
Although the Covid-19 pandemic has forced most of us to shelter-in-place, some of us may find it necessary to move to a new shelter. A move could be something that’s been in the works for months, or something that’s come up unexpectedly. If you find yourself in either scenario, don’t worry. There is plenty of good advice available to make your move more doable, even under trying circumstances.
First, if you are at a high risk of illness due of Covid-19, consider postponing your move. According to Coronavirus.gov, those who are over 65, those who have pre-existing medical conditions, and those who live in nursing homes or long-term care facilities are at greater risk of developing severe illness if they contract the coronavirus.
If you find it necessary to move now, whether you are in the high-risk population or not, be sure to read the following tips to make your move as safe and low-stress as possible. Moving services have been deemed essential by the federal government, so moving professionals are still operating in all states. This includes movers, storage facilities, and rental truck companies. The following tips are applicable whether you choose to employ professional services for your move, or take a D.I.Y. approach.
1. Research Before You Move
Determine If You Are Allowed to Move
Moving is considered “essential” by the federal government, however, some localities may have temporarily restricted moving because of Covid-19. For example, some buildings in NYC do not permit moving because of the shelter-in-place order. Check with your local and state government before you plan to move to make sure there are no restrictions in your case. If you are part of an HOA or condo board, also check with them to see if there are any temporary restrictions on moving.
Research Moving Services
Conduct research into all the different services you are planning to use during your move.
If you want to hire a moving company, interview them about their sanitary practices, how they clean and disinfect their equipment, and how they determine that their workers are in good health. Find out what kind of protective gear the company uses, like masks, gloves, and booties. Check to see if they have a cancellation policy in case you need to change plans last minute. Usually, contracts with moving companies are non-binding, so you have a window of time in which you can cancel the move without having to pay for it.
If you are going to use a storage facility, call ahead to see what their current hours and policies are due to Covid-19. Storage facilities may have made changes to their operation such as limited hours of access or a limit to the number of customers allowed in the storage facility at one time. You will also want to make sure the company you use is sanitizing their storage units and common areas properly. Similarly, if you are going to rent a truck or trailer, find out about current company policies on operations and sanitation.
2. Plan the Timing of Your Move
Strategically Space Packing and Unpacking
Now more than ever it’s important to make a detailed plan of the timing of your move, to avoid any possible contamination of your belongings. First, because Covid-19 can last up to 24 hours on cardboard boxes and other surfaces, it’s best to pack everything up, and then wait 24 hours before you begin the moving process. Even if everyone wears gloves and masks, it’s better to take this extra precaution to protect your moving team.Then, you should wait 72 hours from the time your belongings are moved to your new home until the time you actually start living in the space. This way you can ensure that there is much less of a chance that a virus will survive on any of the surfaces.
If you are not able to postpone occupying your new home, be strategic in the way you unpack. Pack one box that you will open first, containing all your cleaning supplies and any essential items for the first few days, then keep it separate from the other boxes and let them sit for 72 hours. Take the time to clean and disinfect your new home before unpacking everything. Then, as you unpack, disinfect furniture, boxes, and anything else that was touched by your moving team before using it.
Plan Well in Advance for Setting Up Services
At this time, it’s likely to be harder to schedule an appointment with a technician to set up cable or internet services. It’s best to start looking for a technician well in advance so you can get an appointment at the time you need one.
3. Keep Open Communication With Others
Maintaining open communication with everyone who will be affected by your move is key to a smooth moving process. Tell your neighbors about your move and include specific details about the date and time of your move so they can maintain social distancing during your move. Ask neighbors if the timing of your move will be ok or if it could be problematic for them.
If you are working with a moving company, confirm your reservation and talk about how you will use safety precautions during the move. If you need to cancel the move, contact your moving company or anyone else who will be affected, immediately. If you rent, communicate with your landlord about how to return your keys and pick up your security deposit with proper social distancing. Also talk to your new landlord about how you can move in safely.
4.Take Sensible Safety Precautions
Reduce Personal Contact
Do as much planning as possible by phone or email, this includes scheduling the move and getting quotes from any professional services for the move. Many larger moving companies are already equipped to perform contactless moving. They can do virtual surveys using video chat technology instead of in-home surveys to give an accurate quote for the move. Video chat technology is also used by the crew during the move, allowing the customer to be away from the home while the move is taking place. For example, Bellhops, a national moving company, uses Facetime to communicate with customers remotely while they perform their moving services.
If you have friends or family helping you move, keep your moving crew as small as possible. If you need a lot of help, consider having helpers come in staggered shifts. Assign one person to manage the moving process and make sure all safety measures are followed and safe social distance is maintained.
Don’t shake hands with any one or hug to show appreciation to those helping you move. An alternative is to give a tip to show appreciation, there are now many virtual ways to pay for services, like Venmo or Paypal. For friends and family, consider gift cards instead of hosting a meal or party.
Be Prepared For Cleaning and Sanitizing
Before the move, stock up on items you’ll need for cleaning and sanitation purposes. Make a list of everything you need and try to get it in one trip to the store. Be sure to have masks, gloves, and booties for everyone helping with the move. If you are working with professional movers, find out if these are supplied by the company, or if you will need to supply them. Also purchase enough hand sanitizer, antibacterial soap, disinfectant spray or wipe, and paper towels for everyone helping to use.
Use Clean Boxes
It is safer to do your own packing in order to minimize contact with others. Since Covid-19 can live on cardboard surfaces for up to 24 hours, you should get new boxes or use boxes you already have at home. Do not collect used cardboard boxes from elsewhere. Cardboard boxes are preferable to plastic bins because the coronavirus can live for up to 3 days on plastic surfaces.
Clean and Sanitize as You Go
Before your move, sanitize items as you pack them. You can use a commercial sanitizing product, or make your own by mixing one tablespoon of bleach to one gallon of water.
During your move, make sure there are soap and paper towels by sinks and hand sanitizers by the door. Before and after the move out, use disinfectant on any surface or object that is touched often, such as door knobs and handles. Clean and disinfect the common areas in your home. You will also want to do the same in your new home after the movers leave. In an apartment or condo building, be sure to disinfect commonly touched surfaces, such as elevator buttons.
5. Consider Making Donations
Rather than moving all the non-perishable food you’ve accumulated, consider donating it during this time of increased need for many people. Even before the pandemic began, about 40 million Americans struggled to pay for groceries. Covid-19 has caused closures of schools and soup kitchens as well as massive layoffs, meaning that more people than ever are in need of food.
You can donate to a local food bank or to Move for Hunger, an organization that makes it easy to donate extra food when moving. Also consider donating household items. Call around to different charities in your area to see if they are accepting donations at this time. Some charities are still in operation and open to receiving donations.
6. Postpone Your Move if Anyone Gets Sick
If anyone in your household comes down with an illness or shows symptoms related to Covid-19, it’s best to postpone the move until a health professional gives you the green light.
Make sure to communicate with your moving company about their cancellation policy. Under the circumstances, it’s reasonable to expect most companies to be flexible and not charge anything for cancellation due to illness.
As you plan your move, it’s a good idea to check out online resources that will keep you updated on health and safety guidelines. The following resources may be helpful:
The rapid spread of COVID-19 has lead to a world-wide and state-mandated move to shelter in place. For now, our homes are not just emotional sanctuaries, but also provide physical protection from the virus. But many of us must venture out from time to time, whether we are essential workers or just picking up the essentials from the grocery store. How do we keep our homes safe and secure from this invisible invader? Here is a compilation of the latest information on how to keep a clean and virus-free household, drawn largely from the Centers for Disease Control’s website.
COVID-19 is short for coronavirus disease 2019. It is usually spread from one person to another person by close contact, which occurs when people are within 6 feet of each other. In this situation the virus is usually spread by respiratory droplets, such as when someone coughs or sneezes. People who are infected by the virus may not have symptoms and may still spread it to others. There are no documented cases of anyone getting COVID-19 from a surface with the virus remaining on it. However, the virus may survive on various surfaces for time periods ranging from hours to days. An unpublished study by the CDC says it can remain on plastic and stainless steel for 2-3 days and on cardboard for up to 24 hours. There is no evidence that it can be transmitted through water.
The CDC recommends cleaning and disinfecting surfaces in your home as a best practice to prevent the spread of COVID-19, or any other viral respiratory illness. It is unknown how long the virus stays in the air of a room where there has been an infected person. Both the size of room and the type of ventilation system are factors that have to be considered. Still, it’s always a good practice to ventilate a room where a known or suspected COVID-19 patient has been. The CDC makes recommendations for cleaning in a household where a member may have or has a confirmed case of COVID-19. These practices can be used by anyone who is concerned about the virus in general. The CDC makes a distinction between cleaning and disinfecting. You will want to go through both steps to keeping your home both clean and disinfected.
Cleaning and Disinfecting Different Types of Surfaces
Hard (Non-porous) Surfaces
If possible, wear disposable gloves to clean and disinfect, and throw the gloves away after cleaning. It’s ok to use reusable gloves, as long as you don’t use them for any purpose other than cleaning/disinfecting for COVID-19. Be sure to clean your hands right away after you finish cleaning and remove your gloves.
To clean hard surfaces, first use a detergent or soap and water to remove any dirt. Then, disinfect the surface with an EPA-registered disinfectant. For a list of these disinfectants that are approved for helping to fight COVID-19, click here.
You can also make an effective disinfectant by diluting household bleach, as long as it hasn’t expired. Make sure the bleach solution has contact with the surface you’re cleaning for at least one minute. Also ensure the area you are cleaning has adequate ventilation while you’re using the bleach solution. You can make a bleach solution by adding 5 tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water, or 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water.
Soft (Porous) Surfaces
Common porous surfaces that may become contaminated and need to be cleaned include carpeted flooring, rugs, and drapes. First use a cleaner that is indicated for use on these types of surfaces. If possible, put the item in the laundry and wash it on the highest heat setting, then dry it completely. You can check the list of EPA-approved cleaners for use against COVID-19 to find one that’s appropriate for the item or surface that you’re cleaning.
When laundering items that may be contaminated, use disposable gloves or a pair of reusable gloves set aside for that purpose. Clean your hands after you finish the laundry and remove your gloves. Don’t shake your dirty laundry, as that could release the virus into the air. Use the highest heat setting on your washing machine and make sure to dry the items thoroughly. Also be sure to clean and disinfect your hamper regularly. If possible, use a liner bag that is either disposable or washable.
Keeping Your Hands Clean
To stop the spread of COVID-19, it’s very important to keep your hands clean. Always clean your hands when you are done cleaning and disinfecting other surfaces, and after coming in contact with someone who is sick with the virus. Spend 20 seconds washing your hands with soap and water. Warm and cold water are equally effective. If these are not available and your hands aren’t visibly dirty, you can use a hand sanitizer that’s at least 60% alcohol. Rub your hands together for 20 seconds.If you hands are visibly dirty, it’s important to use soap and water, not just a hand sanitizer.
Wash or sanitize your hands before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Also clean your hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose, and after going to the bathroom, or interacting with animals. In addition, clean your hands before eating or preparing food, and before and after providing care for another person.
With these tips in mind, you can keep your household clean and feel secure that your home is still a place of safety.
Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae both announced on March 25th, 2020 that a two month deferral option is available for some borrowers who are facing a short term hardship (such as being laid off from a job because of COVID-19). If the borrower is able to resolve the hardship within that two month time period and can resume paying their mortgage payments in full, they will be eligible to defer those two months of payments to the end of their mortgage without needing to significantly modify the loan. The deferred payment and interest is due either on the mortgage maturity date, the pay-off date or upon the sale of the property, whichever comes first. Mortgage servicers will be able to start evaluating borrowers to see if they are eligible for payment deferrals beginning on July 1.
Original blog post regarding forbearance plans can be found here.
There is a lot of uncertainty as the number of COVID-19 cases rise in the United States. Schools have closed for the rest of the school year in Virginia and many businesses have had to close or scale back temporarily, meaning that some people have found themselves unemployed. In light of this crisis, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are suspending all foreclosures and evictions until May 17th, 2020. Similarly, the Supreme Court of Virginia has ruled to suspend all evictions for tenants who are unable to pay their rent now until April 6th. As events continue to unfold, these dates could be extended.
Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae both have forbearance plans for homeowners who are impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. The forbearance plan reduces or suspends mortgage payments for 12 months. Borrowers in a forbearance plan will not incur late charges during that time. Additionally, the forbearance plan will suspend reporting to the credit bureau for past due payments. Keep in mind that a loan forbearance plan is best used for situations of temporary hardship since the interest continues to accrue even during the forbearance period.
Any homeowners who need mortgage assistance are strongly urged to reach out to their mortgage servicer at this time. It's important to note that some lenders may expect a lump-sum payment at the end of the 12 months while others may offer a repayment plan. Loan modifications may also be available.
The vast majority of borrowers have loans under Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or HUD. To see if your mortgage is owned by Freddie Mac, click here. To see if your mortgage is owned by Fannie Mae, click here.
Sources/ Additional Reading: