Pandemic leaves buyers and sellers with no place to go

Buying Spring House Hunt

Looking back, the March date that Eliza Peters moved out of her Braintree home did seem a bit ominous.

“I moved out on Friday the 13th,’’ said Peters, 30. “That should have been the red flag, honestly.’’

The next two weeks proved to be a mess of dead-end phone calls and canceled inspection appointments for Peters, who found herself a member of an unlucky club: Boston-area residents caught in real estate limbo as they attempt to move into new homes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

While moving was deemed an essential business in Massachusetts, many residents have found that it’s not the actual process of loading up vans and hauling boxes that’s the most complicated task to complete. Instead, it’s the cycle of inspections and construction that’s thrown a monkey wrench into the process.

When the imminent arrival of the new coronavirus into the Boston area didn’t slow the close of Peters’s house in Braintree, she had to vacate the property for the new owners. But without all the inspections complete on her new condo in Dorchester’s Savin Hill neighborhood, Peters found herself without a place to live.

“I was forced to leave my first home and close on it, but I didn’t have permission yet to move into my new condo because all the inspections kept getting held up by the city,’’ said Peters, who had moved to the Boston area for her job as a cardiology instructor just nine months before. “So for two weeks I didn’t have a home.’’

With no family in the area to stay with, Peters found an Airbnb in Peabody. Her great Dane, Oreo, and two miniature schnauzers, Elvis and Merlot, had to be boarded, which cost $90 per day. All of her belongings were put in storage.

“It was expensive, but I didn’t really have an option,’’ Peters said.

Eliza Peters had to board her great Dane, Oreo, and two miniature schnauzers, Elvis and Merlot, because she didn’t have permission to move into her new condo. —Eliza Peters

Since her building is new construction, everything from the electrical work and plumbing to the elevator required sign-offs. After Governor Charlie Baker announced his stay-at-home order, the city consistently canceled her inspection appointments. Still, Peters continued to work the phones in an attempt to get them completed.

“I said, ‘Look, I’m in an Airbnb, and they’re telling me to stay at home, but I don’t have a home,’ ” Peters said. “I just kept calling them and explaining my situation.

Peters is not alone.

After four years in their condo in the Washington Square section of Brookline, Jess Fracalossi and her husband, Sean, decided they needed more space for their 18-month-old son, along with their cat and 75-pound yellow Lab. They closed on the sale of a 3,362-square-foot carriage house-style home in a community north of Boston on Feb. 20, and had 60 days to stay in their Brookline property while they completed construction on their new home. But the Essex County community isn’t doing inspections, they were told, and the family has only about a week left in the Brookline condo.

“The bathrooms are stopped until they start inspecting again,’’ said Fracalossi, 32. “Luckily, there is a very retro and questionably operational bathroom in the basement, so we can use that until our bathrooms are done, so that’s our plan.’’

In two weeks, they’ll move into a home that’s a partial construction site. They may be giving their son a few baths in the kitchen sink, but Fracalossi said they’ll manage.

“We’re holding our breath that residential construction doesn’t get banned, otherwise we’ll have to move in with my mom in Connecticut, because we can’t stay in Brookline because the other owners are moving in,’’ Fracalossi said. “So as long as the first floor is livable, we’ll be able to comfortably live in the house until the inspectors get back to work and the bathrooms upstairs are done.’’

Making the situation even more complicated is the fact that the couple’s jobs are now in limbo. Their small chain of boutique fitness studios, The Handle Bar, was thriving just a couple months ago. But since they are considered nonessential businesses, the studios had to shutter temporarily in March.

“Our business is out of business right now,’’ said Fracalossi. “We have zero income, so even the decision to buy the home is a scary thing right now.’’

It’s a far cry from just a few months ago, when the couple’s business had never been stronger. Before purchasing the Essex County home, they looked at their cash flow and dividends from over the past six years and saw consistent financial growth. “We made this decision with that in mind, and now all of a sudden cash flow is halted, and the future of our industry is kind of up in the air,’’ said Fracalossi.

Obviously, there’s no blueprint for how to buy a home in a pandemic. Molly Horan, 31, a public affairs consultant who saved for five years to purchase her first home, said the idea of this happening wasn’t something she ever considered.

“It’s certainly a topic that did not come up in my first-time home buyer’s class,’’ said Horan, whose offer on an older property with a big yard in Pembroke was accepted on March 20.

But as she watched Baker’s news conference announcing nonessential-business closures on March 23, Horan realized her home inspection wouldn’t make the cut. In the middle of the conference, she called and rescheduled her inspection for 8 a.m. on the morning of March 24: three hours before the stay-at-home order went into effect.

“The woman was laughing at me. She was like, ‘Sweetheart, he’s still talking,’ ’’ said Horan. “I said, ‘I know, but I figured I would move my appointment up.’ ’’

Since the Pembroke property dates to the 1880s, Horan knew there would probably be issues raised during the inspection. She needed a structural engineer to look at the basement, but when his wife was nervous about him coming into the house during the outbreak, Horan was able to remedy the situation digitally by sending pictures.

“It’s been kind of nightmare between me and the sellers trying to find contractors who are willing to still come in and do the repairs during COVID,’’ Horan said.

Horan signed the purchase and sale agreement digitally. In a twist of fate, her closing date is scheduled for May 4, which (as of press time) happends to be the last day before the governor’s order lifts. Luckily, the previous owners have already moved to Florida, which has allowed Horan to have work done on the property. Still, it’s been a challenge to get certain tasks completed.

“I don’t know if that deadline will hold, and I don’t know if the governor will extend his stay-at-home advisory,’’ Horan said, “so that part’s a little up in the air.’’ Still, she’s well aware that her predicament is a privileged one compared with many others’ amid the pandemic. “The silver lining that I keep trying to remind myself is that I’m incredibly lucky to be able to move forward at this point in time. I’ve been saving money to do this for five years, and I’m fortunate to still have a job. If I lost my job, I wouldn’t be able to do that.’’

As for Eliza Peters, her situation proved to be an example of the squeaky wheel getting the grease. With the help of an attorney, she obtained a use-of-occupancy permit, vacated her Airbnb, and reunited with her three dogs. A full week and a half after she moved in, the purchase of her Savin Hill condo officially closed. They completed the closing at an attorney’s office, where Peters signed using a new pen from an unopened box.

“I’m glad they were able to work their magic somehow, and they got the inspection,’’ Peters said. “Without even closing, they allowed me to move in the next day.’’

She’s the first resident to move into the new building, which is still under construction. But after starting her move on Friday the 13th, Peters said she sees the humor in her closing date: April 1, otherwise known as April Fools’ Day.

Megan Johnson is a writer based in Boston. Send comments to Subscribe to the Globe’s free real estate newsletter — our weekly digest on buying, selling, and design — at Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @globehomes.