In case you missed my announcement on Instagram, Matt and I are officially bi-coastal. We purchased an apartment in New York City and closed just before Christmas. The first question people asked was, “Are you moving?” and the second was, “How was that during the pandemic?” Read on for our experience and my advice on buying a home during the pandemic, across the country no less.
For starters, no, we are not moving to New York City full-time. Prior to 2020, I was traveling to the big apple almost every other month for work. Matt and I also love the city and vacationing there together, so purchasing a home there made sense for us. We’ll still be based in Los Angeles; this New York City studio apartment will be our home away from home.
Matt and I made the decision a couple of years back to start saving for a second home. While NYC has always been a dream of ours, and we fully expected to make this purchase closer to 2025. Despite a pretty an emotional, stressful, and anxiety-filled year, we were given the opportunity to own a little slice of Manhattan thanks to extraordinarily low NYC real estate prices combined with our previous savings trajectory. I know we are lucky to be in this position, so it is not lost on me how fortunate we are.
Buying a Home During the Pandemic
Now more than ever, it’s important to do as much research as you can online when buying a home during the pandemic. After looking online, we narrowed down our search to only two apartments before going to see them in person. We did so much heavy lifting online prior to our one in-person visit, that there really weren’t any surprises once upon move-in.
Use Your Digital Resources
One day, I half-joked to Matt that we should look at NYC apartments since the prices were so low. I pulled up StreetEasy, a real estate app specifically for NYC, and started picking some favorites. We realized we actually could afford something and started taking our search much more seriously almost immediately.
Use whatever online real estate resource is available to you. If you’re seriously thinking of making a home purchase, sign up for an account on whichever platforms you use so you can save your favorite homes and watch them for price drops. This can be anything from Redfin or Zillow to real estate agencies in the place you’re looking. While it can be a little annoying creating multiple accounts, it’s worth it to save your favorites.
Make a Non-Negotiable “Must” List
We had our apartment saved as a favorite back in September. Every day, multiple times a day, I would check to see if it was still available. I did this for almost 3 weeks.
I knew this was our apartment. Scoping out real estate in NYC is a guilty pleasure of ours and Matt and I have looked at many places online over the years. I knew in my bones after looking at many apartments in the same price range, that this was IT because it had absolutely everything on the “must” list.
Make a list of what it is you’re looking for and absolute “must-have” items. You should do this whenever you purchase a home, but especially in a pandemic when you may have to rely on virtual tours and not have the luxury of in-person open house touring.
We also made sure every apartment we looked at was within our budget. Often times if you’re able to see a home in person, you may be willing to stretch your budget if something is absolutely perfect. Since we weren’t sure how much time we’d have for house-hunting if we flew to NYC (or if we’d even be able to do it), we made sure nothing was above a set number.
Here’s what we knew we wanted in our apartment:
- In our price range, inclusive of maintenance (HOA) fees
- Since this would not be our permanent home, we were okay with a 1 bedroom or studio apartment IF it had the right layout
- If it was a studio apartment, it needed to be an alcove studio, so the bed wouldn’t be directly next to the kitchen
- We were okay forgoing a washer and dryer in this second home
- The building needed to have an elevator
- The kitchen needed to be somewhat newer, with a small space for prepping, because we like to cook
- A walkable neighborhood, since ours in LA isn’t very walkable
Google Maps is Your BFF When Buying a Home During the Pandemic
Our apartment is located in West Village. Although I’ve been to that neighborhood many times, it was always through the eyes of a tourist, not a resident.
Google Maps is your friend. You can use the Street View feature to virtually walk up and down anywhere. I’m not sure how often Google updates these, but when we searched West Village, we noticed people in the photos wearing masks, so it was somewhat up to date. This is a great way to “walk the neighborhood” even when you can’t – a must for buying a home during the pandemic, in my opinion.
We looked at locations of grocery stores, drug stores, laundromats, post offices, police stations, Targets, etc. It’s worth taking a look at your current lifestyle and noting your daily habits, so you have those essential spots nearby at your new home. Ex. Since the apartment didn’t have a washer or dryer, was there a laundromat or laundry service nearby?
We did so much research via Google Maps and Street View, that we narrowed our search down to one apartment. Okay, we had two, because I didn’t want to jinx “the one” by putting all of our eggs in one basket.
Virtually Tour As Much As You Need
We ultimately decided that we really wanted to focus on the apartment we loved online (our apartment now) with an initial virtual tour before spending any money in the middle of a pandemic on flying across the country. We are not traveling right now for any type of vacation and did not want to get on a plane unless we needed to.
Virtual tours were a lifesaver for us. I feel like in normal times when buying a home, people tour them once or twice, maybe three times. That’s because it’s a lot easier to spot something that needs fixing or may not work for you in person than it is through a screen. When buying a home during the pandemic, take as many virtual tours as want, as long as you need.
Finding a realtor you can trust is so important, but especially for this. Our realtor, Jill Carmac, was so patient with us and never rushed us through our virtual tours. Since we couldn’t initially be there in person, we had her opening cabinets, turning on ovens, and giving us close ups of hardwood floors. If you’re reading this and happen to be looking to purchase in NYC, we can’t recommend Jill enough!
At the time, we weren’t really sure if we’d be able to see the home in person. So, virtual touring was really our only option for a bit. I want to say we maybe did two virtual tours before putting in an offer, at least an hour long each time.
Visit The Property Safely, If You Can
This is obviously a no-brainer, but we really weren’t sure we’d be able to see the apartment before purchasing. SCARY. Buying a home is a REALLY big decision. That’s why you need to take all of the virtual tours you can AND have a realtor you trust. Plan B, could we not get to NYC, was to have friends in the city tour the apartment for us and report back.
Luckily, we did not have to resort to plan B. CA was lifted from the 14-day quarantine list just as we put in a verbal offer. (This is a non-binding offer in NYC, so we felt okay doing it, but check local real estate laws.) Matt flew to NYC because I had work. We did another virtual tour with Matt at the apartment. A week later, I went to NYC for 24 hours to look at the apartment and after I came home, we signed the contract. When we visited, we both walked around the area and visiting the spots we saw on Google Maps just to “test” for accuracy in real life.
While purchasing a home during a pandemic (across the country!) was a bit tricky, it’s definitely doable. Street View on Google Maps gave us an in-person feel to the neighborhood before we saw it. FaceTime house tours and virtual maps definitely haven’t been the “norm” when buying a home. However, when buying a home during the pandemic it’s definitely the new normal. To our delight, both were much more accurate than we anticipated, just take your time.
Stay tuned for an apartment tour!