Getting the keys to a new home during COVID-19

Chris Reece, a meteorologist moonlighting as a real estate agent, is ready to help first-time homebuyers — especially now that he is one himself.
Chris Reece in front of his new home
Photo by Claire Ogunsola

COVID-19 has sent mortgage rates and home prices in opposite directions — the former dipping to the lowest level in history, and the latter climbing to record highs.

It’s made for an interesting time for Chris Reece, who is both a Realtor and a recent first-time homebuyer. As a part-time Realtor who got his license in 2019, he’s had to adjust to unusual circumstances, but overall he’s seen an influx in interest among young clients looking to buy homes.

At the same time, the 26-year-old full-time meteorologist, who renewed his contract with News 3 Now, decided it was the time for him to buy his first home.

“Young folks like me, my friends and people who have been wanting to buy a house are seizing the opportunity,” says Reece, who closed on his home on Nov. 16.

Like many first-time homebuyers, Reece took his time finding the right fit. “I feel like I looked at at least 30 to 40 houses,” he says. In the end, he decided to go with a new build on Madison’s west side.

Going through his own homebuying experience has given Reece invaluable insight, he says. “I am going to be able to guide them through it and say, ‘Hey, here’s what I went through; don’t worry, you’re not alone in this.’ That’s the biggest thing,” he says. “I always compare weather and real estate in that regard. Saying, it’s my job to guide people through stormy days and real estate is nothing short of that. There are hiccups, there are bumps. Very few real estate transactions are perfectly smooth.”

Chris Reese's living room

Photo by Claire Ogunsola

Pre-pandemic, the U.S. residential housing market was strong, particularly in Wisconsin, Mark Eppli says in a June 2020 article written by the Wisconsin School of Business. Eppli is the director of the James A. Graaskamp Center for Real Estate and a faculty associate in the Department of Real Estate and Urban Land Economics at the Wisconsin School of Business.

In June, Eppli predicted home sales would decrease, mainly because real estate is an “in-person transaction,” and because potential buyers would have general uncertainty during a pandemic. But the industry is rebounding quickly. Reece, who works with Coldwell Banker, says he’s still doing in-person showings as opposed to virtual. “I’ve seen more buyers come out during COVID-19,” he says.

While renters have been hit harder, the single-family residential market is one of the growing spots in a still struggling economy, Eppli says. “The market has come back strong,” he notes.

Chris Reece's bedroom

Photo by Claire Ogunsola

Nationally, the number of first-time homebuyers, like Reece, has increased from a decade ago. “COVID-19 may be a trigger event for millennials to move into larger spaces and own homes,” Eppli says.

Homebuilders aren’t short of work, either. Data required by the Department of Safety and Professional Services shows that 3,825 permits were issued across the state in the third quarter of 2020 compared to 3,155 in the second quarter.

“Even though we are seeing significant delays in time and supplies, we continue to see healthy homebuilding numbers,” says Wisconsin Builders Association President Jeff Dorner.

Chris Reece's kitchen

Photo by Claire Ogunsola

Reece worked with Veridian Homes to create his new abode, and he was excited to be able to choose the exact house he wanted, down to the finishes.

“As the economy begins to recover from this pandemic, real estate is one of the markets that is expected to lead the way, because people still want houses right now,” Reece says.

First-Time Homebuying Advice

1. You might be closer to buying than you think. “A lot of folks think you have to have 20% down to buy a house. The reality is, you don’t,” Reece says. “There are some loan programs where you don’t have to put any money down.”

2. Hold off on huge purchases in the process. “Once you decide you’re going to buy that home, you have that accepted offer, be very careful on how you spend your money,” he says. “Don’t miss any payments on a credit card or anything like that. Don’t make any large purchases, because that can derail your process. It could derail it in a hurry. Oftentimes deals will fall through on financing because someone made a large purchase.”

3. Simply hang in there. “Yes, it’s a little scary, it’s a little nerve-wracking. It’s also exciting,” Reece says. “Stay steadfast, work with your lender. If something comes up, they’re typically going to bring you options to remedy whatever came up. Hang in there and be willing to go on the ride. It’s a lot of fun. And yes, there are moments of suspense, but that’s also what makes it fun.”

Andrea Behling is the editor of Madison Magazine.