Moving is stressful. Moving with young children is a headache. Moving with young children during a global pandemic is…possible!
Just because we’re in the middle of a terrifying health crisis, you’re most likely juggling some form of virtual school and working from home, and the real estate market is so on fire that houses are selling in one day, doesn’t mean that your dreams of moving need to be delayed another year.
It is possible to move with children during the pandemic and score your dream house in a competitive market, but you must have a strategy in place and a few secret weapons to give you an edge above your competition. I’m sharing tips from both the selling and buying perspectives the helped my husband and I get our dream house when all odds were against us.
Learn how to keep your sanity when your house is for sale, and act to stand out as buyers using the creative strategies we implemented during our journey.
(Our front porch, socially distant photoshoot during quarantine. Photo by Mike Stella Photography.)
Tip #1: Pack up 60 percent of your belongings—including toys.
We planned on putting our starter house up for sale in Spring 2020. In February, we started decluttering. Our real estate agent advised us to clear our house of 60 percent of our belongings. He said, “even when you think you’re done, throw away more.” I got bins and storage bags and started with the toys. When my kids weren’t looking, I donated, threw out, and packed away as much as I could—especially the big toys that took up a lot of space. But decluttering went beyond visible space. I also took to the closets. Because we had a small house, the closets were packed and I didn’t want to give the impression when potential buyers opened them that this house didn’t have enough space. So, I donated and packed clothes, threw out old towels, and even sheets I would still use, just to make our closets appear super organized.
Tip #2: Tap into the DIY market.
Right before we were ready to post the “For Sale” sign on our house, COVID hit. Our family (including two kids, now ages 3 and 6, and two rescue dogs) found ourselves suddenly quarantined in our tiny bungalow surrounded by cardboard boxes. Our dreams were being put on hold and we had no idea how long it would last. It was devastating because we worked so hard to get to the financial spot where we could move, but there were bigger issues in the world.
We came to terms with the fact that we weren’t going to be moving anytime soon. But that didn’t stop us from keeping things in motion.
We monitored new MLS listings from our real estate agents, but we also signed up for Zillow alerts in our most-wanted towns to get notified of new “For Sale by Owner” listings as they hit the market. Those are hidden gems that agents don’t typically cover. Since we had been watching the local markets for months, we knew that homes were selling fast and if we wanted to win the bidding wars, we would have to be one of the first to make an appointment to see the houses.
Tip #3: Act quickly with a “Seek and Story-tell” strategy.
When we set our sights on the first “For Sale by Owner” listing on Zillow, I connected with the home owner on Facebook and also messaged her work email. It seems extreme, but that’s what it takes to get a house in a middle-class price range and highly-desired town with limited inventory where you’re easily going up against 50 or more families—and many of them might not be current homeowners and tied to a contingent offer. Forming a personal connection might be key to unlocking your deal.
Share your story. Show your vulnerability. Tell them what you’ve overcome and how much it would mean to you if they would accept your offer. Or, in this first case for us—we were simply begging for the opportunity to see the house before public showings began.
Our seek and story-tell strategy only halfway worked. We established a great relationship with the homeowner, thanks to so many commonalities between our families and a mutual love of the town. But she also happened to be a real estate agent and already had 20 potential buyers lined up, so she wasn’t willing to let us make an advance offer on the house. It makes sense: she knew that houses are getting multiple offers well over asking price.
By the time we went to see the house, the owner and I were already texting about the trials and tribulations of getting our toddlers to bed at night. We had formed a friendship!
(This sign from our wedding became home decor and inspiration for our offer letter).
Tip #4: Share your story in an emotional offer letter and include photos of your family.
We arrived at our allotted showing time—with face masks, shoe booties, sanitizer and our mortgage approval letter in hand. And, I even had a heart-wrenching offer letter printed out.
Our offer letter was gold. I introduced our family, discussed our love of the town and why we wanted to raise our family there. We shared how my husband and I both faced obstacles growing up and want to provide our children with things we didn’t always have. We dug deep but we had to because everything we went through in life lead up to why getting our dream house was so important. Sometimes, selling your house is about finding the people who will love your home as much as you and yet, making it a home for that family, and we wanted to ensure that we were that family.
We made a bullet point list of all the features we were looking for in a house and then all the bonuses that made this house meant for us.
We shared photos of the wooden stake “Welcome to our Love Story” sign that was on display outside our wedding and then posted in front of our house. We take photos next to that sign for every momentous occasion- pregnancies, birthdays, dance recitals- and I showed that in my letter. And then—are you ready for this ultimate creativity that I hoped would knock out every other offer? I Photoshopped that sign in front of the house we wanted to put the offer in on and included that in the letter! Surely no other offers would put that much detail into an offer!
But, we never submitted an offer. It was a major bummer walking out of that house because we put so much hope into it, but in the end, the space didn’t work for our family.
A few good things came from that experience. One: I made a new friend. Two: we had a template for our offer letter written and ready to be edited for the next house. Three: It kicked our butts into gear to finally list our house for sale!
(The Photoshop edit of what we thought was our dream home)
Tip #5: Remember you are in control of showings for your house, not prospective buyers.
This is so important to remember when moving with kids because there are so many moving parts and it’s so easy to become very stressed.
The first day of showings, we feverishly cleaned and left our house every time someone requested to come. We had to tidy toys, vacuum, prepare snacks, get the dogs leashed up, and then ride around town. Sometimes, if the weather was nice, we were able to go to the park and social distance. But even that didn’t help us when my daughter had to use the potty and I refused to take her to a public bathroom during the pandemic.
Our second day on the market was much better.
Lesson learned: Block off two hours per night for showings. It’s overwhelming to accommodate every agent when their clients want to come. If you’re working from home and home schooling, you need to put your needs first and have the potential buyers cater to you. By blocking off hours, you have dedicated time to tidy up your house before showings and disinfect after showings. Sanitizing after every showing is exhausting, so this way you only have to do it once.
And, it might even make your home look more in-demand if you say there’s no availability during the suggested showing time and ask the agent to reschedule.
(One of our family photos outside our first home, a little red cabin. Photo by Mike Stella Photography.)
Tip #6: Pack for the Apocalypse and use your imagination.
When you leave for showings on your house pack everything: a portable potty, baby wipes, napkins, drinks, crayons and coloring books, tablets, toys, sunblock. Your kids will quickly get bored and you’re going to have to make it fun and be prepared for mishaps. Drive by friend’s houses to wave hello from the car. Or, have a dance party. It helps pass some of the time.
Tip #7: Unleash your inner Germaphobe.
For extra protection against COVID and germs, get a basket and fill it with disposable booties for shoes, gloves, and masks. Post a sign directing visitors to put them on before they enter your house. Open windows to get fresh air circulating. Disinfect floors and doorknobs before you let your kids back in the house. Spray Lysol in the air.
The anxiety about letting strangers walk through our house and the stress of cleaning after each showing became unbearable—and we only did it for two days!
We had over 40 showing requests and had to turn many down because we simply couldn’t handle any more. We got an offer the third day our house was on the market. When our first offer came in over asking price, we took it!
We planned on renting a house in our school zone until we found our forever home and figured it would be an easier option than competing to buy a house. But our rental fell through twice. And there was nothing else to rent that allowed dogs.
Panic set in. The pressure to find a new home was all-consuming and it was even spilling onto the kids, who yelled at us for always being on our phones looking for houses and not playing.
Tip #8: Work with a dedicated realtor in each town.
Desperate times call for creating your own rules. Advocate for yourself, even if you have a realtor.
Who says you can only work with one agent to represent you? If you are exploring options in multiple towns, connect with the agent that “owns” each town. The ones who are experts in their market, have relationships with other realtors who may be representing the sellers of the home you want, and who know what inventory is coming onto the market. We had realtors working for us in three towns.
I used Facebook mommy groups and connected with local realtors who basically ruled their territories. I had them all sending me listings that would be coming soon. I even had them sending out letters about our family to homes in the neighborhood asking if they would consider selling to us.
Tip #9: When you’re walking through a house to buy, observe details that can help connect you to the owners and then mention them in your offer letter.
While looking at a new house we wanted to buy, we observed details that could potentially help connect us to the owners. Did they have dogs like us? What were there interests? Was there anything that stuck out that we could happen to mention in our offer letter?
By this point, desperation sunk in and I had to go to do what I do best—become my own publicist.
Tip #10: Spill everything on social media.
I posted in all the Facebook Mommy groups for our desired towns. I shared our story, told them exactly what we were looking for in a house, our budget and tax range, and then asked if anyone was considering putting their house on the market soon. I noted that with COVID, some families might want to move but are hesitant to list their house and open it up to strangers and germs. I proposed the idea of a private sale and asked to see any houses before they listed them.
And the universe sent me an angel who wrote me and said that her house had everything we were looking for and was located in our dream town! And, she was planning on listing it soon!
We spoke for an hour on the phone and really connected. She invited us come see the house and agreed to give us first dibs on making an offer. From that point on, I manifested that was our house. The day we went to see it, we dressed fancy and went in with the mindset that was going to be our house. It was love at first sight!
But, we did not make an offer!
(Happy in quarantine outside our new house! Photo by Mike Stella Photography.)
Tip #11: Don’t make an offer on a home being privately sold-- let the homeowner tell you their desired end price.
Our realtors (who are like family and understood our need to do anything to find a house), advised us not to make an offer when we went to see this house of our dreams, but rather ask the owners to tell us how much they wanted to make on the house when all is said and done. This way, there is no room for someone else to come in and make a higher offer. They gave us a price, and we accepted!
And just like that, on good faith (no handshakes because of COVID!) and with their lawyer’s contact information in hand, we got our house!
It seems unreal that we scored a gorgeous house that meets all our needs and more, located in the #1 town we want to raise our family, and all during a pandemic and almost impossible real estate market—all from a Facebook post!
Today, as I sit in our new living room, watching our kids video chat with their friends and telling them we are in our “forever house,” we are so happy to be quarantined at home.