Buying a house sight unseen seems like a radical idea with real estate being such a big investment, yet more and more buyers are doing it, especially since the beginning of the current pandemic crisis. Inventory is low in most higher-priced markets and buyers want to take advantage of low mortgage rates, less competition, and motivated sellers. Some buyers are also motivated to relocate from dense urban areas to more suburban areas with more living space and room to work at home more comfortably. Remote or socially distanced closings are also happening now to keep everyone involved safe. If you think you could be a candidate for buying a house sight unseen, here are some things to consider that will help make your effort successful.
Choose The Right Agent
To keep transactions moving, tech-savvy agents have been adapting and adjusting to the new norm brought about by the crisis. An agent who is technically savvy with the right can-do attitude is instrumental in helping you with buying a house sight unseen. Look for an agent who’s not afraid of technology and prepared to take advantage of tools such as FaceTime, Facebook Live, and Zoom to communicate effectively and help you explore properties virtually.
Local Process And Protocols
Agents in your area should also be able to tell you how much remote closing is happening in the local market and what you can expect with the process. They’ll also have insights on the protocol in your area for home inspections and special contingencies that would allow you to back out of a transaction if needed.
Make Your Virtual Search Productive
Before asking your agent to start scheduling virtual tours with you, make sure you’ve done your homework so you aren’t wasting your time on listings that aren’t the right match. You can uncover a lot on your own with just a little effort.
Photos And Videos
You obviously want to thoroughly review the listing photos and any videos that may be provided with a property. This should be your first step to collect listing candidates that meet your criteria. If you see a listing you like and a video is provided, ask if there are more videos. Often times more video was recorded but it wasn’t all included in the final listing video to keep it shorter. Just the listing photos and listing description can provide clues about whether a seller might be trying to hide something. Things like lots of very stretched out photos can indicate spaces are a lot smaller than they appear and a lack of exterior photos could be a clue there may be problems lurking outside that you’ll need to look into.
Explore The Neighborhood
If aerial views aren’t provided with the listing, use Google Earth and Street View to explore the area. Are there hills that could become unstable or cause drainage problems during storms? Are there creeks nearby that could flood? Are there any large trees that could present problems with debris or falling limbs?
Instead of exploring just the property you’re considering, make sure you check out the curb appeal of the surrounding homes in the neighborhood. You want to get a sense of what the neighborhood is like and how the owners of surrounding homes are caring for their properties. You don’t want to bother exploring properties any further if the overall standards for upkeep and care aren’t aligned with what you’re seeking in your new neighborhood.
If you like a property enough to explore it more beyond the listing photos and videos, ask your agent to get the seller disclosure. This can help you determine quickly if it should be ruled out or if it’s a candidate for spending more time to explore in more detail. Big ticket repairs could dissuade you if the price is already approaching the top end of your budget.
The Virtual Onsite Tour
When a property has checked all the boxes and remains a candidate, it’s time to see what your agent can do about walking you through a live virtual tour. It’s possible there may be scheduled live virtual tours which you should check out as well which will be helpful, but your agent can hopefully negotiate an onsite visit on your behalf so you can explore more thoroughly with your agent as they walk through the property.
An experienced agent should know what to look for to understand what kind of shape a property is in. This would normally include things like doors and windows, signs of flooding or roof leaks, and any visible signs of unstable foundations. It would be a good idea to create a list of anything specific you want your agent to look at closely with you while they walk through a property.
This should be on your agent’s list already but make sure they take note of any smells that may notice from common culprits like moisture, mildew, pets, or smoking. A mild sulfur smell from drains can be due to a sewage issue if it’s noticed throughout all drains.
Kitchens can be costly to upgrade, so you want to thoroughly explore what’s in the kitchen to make sure you know what you’re getting and what might need upgrading. Ask your agent to show you the sink fixtures, cabinets and appliances closely and look for signs of wear and aging. If you’re not planning on doing a remodel, you want to walk away from the virtual tour with a good idea of what you might need to replace.
Heating & Cooling Systems
Ask your agent to find out about the age and shape of the heating and cooling system in the home. Is it new or approaching end of life? Like the kitchen, this is another area that could be costly. A thorough home inspection should be part of your process which should include an evaluation of these systems to help you understand their condition and any possible expenses they may require.
For more resources on buying a house during the pandemic crisis, check out this guide on realtor.com.