We got the inside scoop on how homebuying in Birmingham is different now


Michael Murphree of ARC Realty in front of a house for sale
Michael Murphree of ARC Realty. Photo via Matthew Niblett for Bham Now

Buying a home in the Greater Birmingham area in the time of COVID has changed a lot. We reached out to Michael Murphree and Scott Heath, both Realtors at ARC Realty’s Vestavia office in Cahaba Heights, to get the inside scoop on what you need to know if you’re in the market for some new digs. 

Picture of Morris Avenue in downtown Birmingham
Morris Avenue in downtown Birmingham. Photo via Jacob Blankenship for Bham Now

We’ve been hearing rumblings for a while about COVID-related changes to the housing market in the Greater Birmingham area and around the country. 

Curious to hear from people who are intimately involved in residential home sales on the daily, we reached out to two expert Realtors at ARC Realty’s Vestavia office in Cahaba Heights to find out more.

We were interested in three key questions: 

  1. What is buying a home really like now? 
  2. Are there any changes to the process, such as viewing, making offers or closing? 
  3. What advice do they have for prospective home buyers? 

Here’s what they had to say.

1. What is buying a home in the Birmingham area like now? 

Home with for sale sign in front to illustrate how Homebuying in Birmingham is different now
Big trees, big porch and even a porch swing. What’s not to love? Photo via Matthew Niblett for Bham Now

Michael Murphree: Normally, the season for home buying + selling is January-July, but COVID really pushed the timing out for a couple of months.

In March, when we began to social distance and the stock market dropped, a lot of people who were planning on making a move but didn’t *have* to, took themselves out of the market. This meant that the only houses on the market were situations where people *had* to move, whether there was a divorce, a death in the family, an estate or bankruptcy. 

Low inventory has created significant competition around listings. This is probably the biggest seller’s market that I can remember—and all signs point to it remaining hot for at least another month or two.

Scott Heath: Right now is a great time to buy. With interest rates at historic lows as long as people have jobs and their income isn’t affected, it’s a great opportunity to buy. I’ve seen 30-year fixed mortgages in the upper 2s and had one buyer quoted 2.125 on a 15-year mortgage, which is insane.

You can afford more house now because of low interest rates. The downside? Because of low inventory, it’s more expensive, and buyers have no control over sales or going prices. Still, there are things you can do to make your offer competitive. 

Know you want to start looking at homes now? Give ARC Realty’s Vestavia office a call at (205) 969-8990 today.

2. How is the home viewing process for homebuying in Birmingham different now?

a pristine white kitchen
Doesn’t that kitchen look inviting? Photo via Matthew Niblett for Bham Now

Michael Murphy: COVID has really pushed our industry to evolve. For years now, Realtors have driven with our clients to help them get a feel for neighborhoods, home value and to answer questions. Buyers now prefer to drive themselves and prefer not to enter a house unless they are fairly confident it is on they might make an offer on. This has required Realtors to provide significantly more information on the front end. We are constantly talking to the listing agents to learn as much as we can, and utilizing tools like virtual tours to provide a better understanding of the house’s details and flow than you can get from pictures alone.

I sold two listings this year sight unseen. The first time the buyers entered their new home was with the home inspector after the contract had been written. Both times, everything worked out great.

Scott Heath: Back in March and April, we saw a minority of sellers take their house off the market temporarily, and there were a lot of precautions like slip-on foot covers, gloves, etc. Open houses went away for a bit and we had virtual showings in their place. 

The process has started to really normalize but it’s really about being smart and respectful.  We all wear masks, use hand sanitizer, and limit the surfaces we touch, which has made sellers much more comfortable with having people in their house for showings.

3. How has making an offer changed?

Man signing a contract
Sign right here, please. Photo via Unsplash

Michael Murphree: There are still old-school agents who will sit down with you in person, and all of us keep contracts in our trunks. But more and more people are electing to sign offers electronically. You definitely have to be quick to keep up with how quickly homes are selling.

Scott Heath: Because of the low inventory, we’re seeing multiple offers on quality houses in some of the more desirable areas as long as they’re reasonably priced. Some buyers are waiving inspection repairs or bringing cash offers so their offers will be competitive.

4. What about closing on a home?

photo of a home with a for sale sign out front
How would you decorate this home? Photo via Matthew Niblett for Bham Now

Michael Murphree: Attorneys invested a lot to set up virtual closings with electronic signings. However, most people still want to come in and sign for such a big transaction. Some closing attorneys utilize “drive in” closings, where the documents are brought to the cars so clients can sign in the parking lot. It is really about catering to the comfort levels, wants and needs of our clients. There are more options available, and we work to make sure everyone s comfortable.

Scott Heath: Since COVID, lenders check employment verification multiple times throughout the process, including sometimes on the day of closing. This is a pretty big deal in this environment, and important for buyers to be aware of going into the process.

5. What message do you have for prospective buyers?

a front door with a welcome mat out front
Welcome. Photo via Matthew Niblett for Bham Now

Michael Murphree: Interest rates are at historic lows, so you can actually buy a more expensive home for a similar mortgage payment. If you’re considering making a move, I encourage you to contact a Realtor.

Also, it’s a good idea to get pre-approved. We’re seeing a lot of multiple offers and competing bids, so you want the seller to know you’re ready to purchase and have everything squared away with the lender. This can be the edge that gets your offer accepted.

Scott Heath: Try to take advantage of low interest rates in a market where some people are hesitant due to COVID or an uncertain future. This is an opportunity for those who want to be in a home and have reason to believe their job is secure. Right now, you can land a quality house in a quality area with every reason to believe appreciation will be there over the long term. 

Curious about buying a home in the Greater Birmingham area now? Give ARC Realty’s Vestavia office a call at (205) 969-8990 or stop by to see them at 4274 Cahaba Heights Ct, Ste. 200, Birmingham, AL 35243.

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Sharron Swain
Sharron Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference

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