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Home Prices Are Rising, Along With Post-Lockdown Demand

Here are some questions and answers about the spring home-buying market:

What’s happening with mortgage rates?

One bright spot for shoppers is that mortgage interest rates are near historic lows, which is helping buyers afford those pricier homes. The average rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage was 3.18 percent for the week that ended Thursday, up from 3.15 percent the previous week, according to Freddie Mac, the mortgage finance giant. A year ago, the average was 3.82 percent.

The low rates have increased the number of mortgage applications, but some borrowers may find it difficult to qualify for a home loan as banks raise their standards amid the economic turmoil of the pandemic. Borrowers can generally expect banks to require higher minimum credit scores and larger down payments, said Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance, a trade publication.

The situation is particularly challenging for first-time home buyers, who are more likely to use Federal Housing Administration loans that allow lower down payments and credit scores. The F.H.A. insures loans for borrowers who put down as little as 3.5 percent if they have credit scores of at least 580. But lenders may set stricter standards, and some are requiring higher minimum scores and 10 percent or 20 percent down, Mr. Cecala said.

Terms may also be tougher for borrowers at the other end of the spectrum — those seeking “jumbo” loans. While banks sell most mortgages to investors, jumbo loans are typically held by the original lender. With many demands being made on their funds in an uncertain economic environment, banks are being cautious.

“Banks are stretched,” said Mike Fratantoni, chief economist with the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Because many people have lost jobs or been furloughed, lenders are now typically doing a second employment verification just before the closing to be sure the buyer can afford to repay the loan.

  • Updated June 5, 2020

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

“It’s hard to get a handle on someone’s job situation,” Mr. Cecala said.

He advises borrowers to shop around by checking loan terms at traditional banks, finance companies like Quicken Loans and credit unions.

How is being preapproved for a mortgage different from being prequalified?

It’s more important than ever to be preapproved for a home loan — not just prequalified — when shopping in many markets, agents say. Preapproved means you have submitted income information and undergone a credit check, and have been given the green light to borrow a specific amount of money. Being prequalified is more of an estimate.

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