Surveys reveal enthusiastic buyers, underinformed homeowners

The results of a pair of new surveys revealed that, while current homeowners still appear to be underinformed about their financial assistance resources relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, America appears ready and willing to jump back into the purchase market.

Sixty-five percent of people who attended an open house within the last year would do so now without hesitation, according to new data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Another 20% said that they would be willing to resume open house visits with assurances of safety from medical authorities and government officials.

To derive its figures, the organization collected responses through a series of biweekly surveys conducted by research firm Engagious, gauging consumer attitudes as National Homeownership Month kicks off.

“The real estate industry – and our country – has endured some very challenging times for several months, but we’re seeing signs of progress and we are earnestly hoping the worst is behind us,” said NAR President Vince Malta, who added that “for prospective buyers, the desire to own a home remains strong.”

Nearly six out of 10 buyers and sellers — 59% and 58%, respectively — responded that buying and selling real estate is an “essential service.”

But despite the enthusiasm on potential buyers’ part to resume house hunting, a different survey suggested people who are presently homeowners remain cloudy on their assistance options should coronavirus-related hardship rear its head. A late April survey from mortgage advisory firm Stratmor Group found that 44% of homeowners were either “somewhat concerned” or “very concerned” about making their mortgage payments in the next 90 days. Sixty-one percent of respondents, however, had either no knowledge of COVID-19 assistance programs or were unsure if the available assistance applied to them.

Perhaps even more distressing is that 13% of respondents believed that either the government would be making payments for them or they would be able to skip making their payments altogether during the pandemic.

“This should be a wake-up call to services to ramp up communication efforts to help borrowers understand their available payment options,” said Stratmor’s COVID Homeowner Experience Report, which detailed the survey’s results.

Stratmor’s survey also pointed to a shift in the number of people per household contributing to mortgage payments. Before the pandemic, 53% of households reported having two people contributing to loan payments; currently, that number has fallen to 41%. The number of households with a single person handling the mortgage bill, on the other hand, has jumped from 42% pre-pandemic to 56% currently.

Taken together, the two surveys, while directly unrelated, appear to paint a picture of a public that is clamoring to return to homebuying activities but potentially unclear and unprepared should troubles arise post-homeownership. The takeaway, as Stratmor suggests, is perhaps a need for enhanced communication throughout the mortgage process, both to take care of borrowers during a confusing time while building foundational loyalty with purchasers and emotional equity with current customers.

“Crisis events have a way of pulling people together,” said Mike Seminari, director of Stratmor’s MortgageSAT division, in the company’s latest Insights report. “For the mortgage industry, this pandemic has meant ramping up borrower communications, finding creative ways to ‘virtually’ attend closings, and tapping into the emotional needs of borrowers.

“Even though these practices have in some ways been forced upon the industry out of necessity, lenders should do everything possible to make them permanent habits. They are not only good for the customer — they also build loyalty that will last through any storm, pandemic or otherwise.”


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