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Coronavirus Complicates Home Buying and Mortgage Refinancing

And it’s happening at a really bad time.

The last few weeks saw a surge in mortgage applications, especially from borrowers seeking to refinance in the face of low interest rates, and many of those loan closings are scheduled now. Most lenders require a title search for refinancing. “It’s one of those perfect-storm type of scenarios,” Mr. Jennings said.

All told, as of Friday, about 1,000 of the country’s 3,600 recording offices had shut down or curtailed their hours, according to the American Land Title Association, a trade group crowdsourcing a closures list.

The New York City area seems representative of the country as a whole. While the recording offices in all five of New York City’s boroughs were still open on Friday, many expect them to be closed on Monday.

And in the suburbs on Friday, recording offices in New Jersey counties like Bergen, Hudson, Passaic and Essex were dark, like those in Nassau and Suffolk Counties, which have been hit hard by the virus. In Connecticut, similar locations in towns and cities like Fairfield, New Canaan and Bridgeport, were shuttered, but Westchester County, another heavily infected area, was open.

A lack of staff doesn’t totally derail business. About 2,100 of the 3,600 offices allow electronic filings. But a human being ultimately has to process those filings, known as e-recordings, “so if no one’s there, the pipeline is still blocked at the end,” said Steve Gottheim, a senior counsel with the title association, which is urging officials to leave at least skeleton crews in the offices.

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