Buying a House Sight Unseen? Avoid These 8 Mistakes
From grocery shopping to home buying, it seems like almost everything can be done completely online now. The idea of buying a house without seeing it is less daunting these days with all the new technologies and ways to buy a home virtually, and it’s becoming more common. In fact, 20% of homebuyers recently made an offer sight unseen, meaning they made an offer on a home without ever seeing it in person.
Maybe you’re currently living in a condo in Chicago, but have to relocate to a new home in Austin, TX for work. Or, maybe your family is growing and you’re in a time-crunch to move into a bigger house with a yard. Whatever the reason may be, you’re likely going to be buying a home in the near future without seeing it first in person. And while it may seem risky, don’t worry. A completely remote homebuying process can still go just as smooth as it would in person, as long as you avoid these common mistakes made when buying a house sight unseen.
1. Using the first real estate agent you meet
While you might be in a time-crunch or just want to make a quick, competitive offer, you should still take the time to find the right real estate agent for you. Since you won’t be seeing the home in person, it’s important you find an agent that you trust, and knows the market and the area you’re buying in like the back of their hand.
Start by reading online reviews of real estate agents in the city you’re looking to buy, and then interview your top picks. Ask a variety of questions to determine if they’ll be a good fit for you, such as asking how many sales they’ve handled in your target neighborhoods.
2. Skipping out on a virtual tour
Seeing is believing, especially when it comes to buying a home. That’s why you shouldn’t make an offer on a home based on just those wonderful listing photos that initially caught your eye. Even if you love what you see, don’t make the mistake of not taking a virtual tour of the listing -- photos can only show you so much.
If the listing has a 3D virtual walkthrough tour, you can easily see every nook and cranny of the home as if you were touring it in person. This is a great tool to use as you’re house hunting to help narrow down your top choices. However, to make sure you’re not submitting an offer unaware of the creaky floors or the lingering pet odor, it’s important to schedule a live video-chat tour with your agent. Even though you can’t be there in person, they can. And they’ll be able to answer those questions that listing photos alone cannot.
3. Forgetting to ask things that you’d normally see for yourself
When you’re house hunting in person, you’re able to use all of your senses. You can see the wonderful natural light coming into the living room, you can hear the noisy garage door, and you can smell the pet odors that are still lingering throughout the home. But when you’re buying a house without seeing it, you’re limited to only what is shown digitally.
Before you virtually tour the home with your agent, write out a list of as many questions or concerns you’d normally be able to see or check out for yourself. Be sure to include some of these questions during the video tour:
What can you smell in and outside the house? Maybe there’s a paper mill nearby.
What can you hear from the house? There could be a hospital close by or train tracks behind the home.
Do any appliances or features look outdated? The cabinets might’ve looked brand new because of a fresh coat of paint, but need to be replaced in the near future.
What is the internet and cell-phone service like? There could be a few carriers that don’t offer good coverage in that neighborhood.
Is there anything that stands out to you as a concern that wasn’t shown in the listing photos or 3D walkthrough?
If you’re moving to a home further out from the city and suburbs, consider asking what the wildlife situation is like or if the nearby river has ever caused flooding. Or, if you’re moving into a bustling downtown area, ask how the traffic is or what the public transportation options are like.
4. Not researching the neighborhood and surrounding area
Whether it’s because they’re excited for the house they’ve found, or they need to relocate as soon as possible, people often forget to look into the neighborhood and its surroundings. For example, the last thing you want is to move your family across Dallas for a great school, and then discover later on that your new house isn't actually in the school district’s boundaries; or move into a new-construction home without realizing it’s a 5 minute walk from a high-crime area. If you’re moving to a neighborhood you’re already familiar with then this isn’t a big concern. However, for most people buying a house sight unseen, it's likely that you're not as familiar with the area.
Do your due diligence and use Google Maps to virtually walk through the neighborhood to see what the surrounding homes look like and what’s nearby. If your agent is up for it, see if they can take you on a video tour around the block. There could be new construction underway or other potential concerns that you aren’t able to see for yourself on Google Maps. Also consider joining online community groups, such as those on Facebook or Nextdoor, to gain local insights into the specific neighborhoods and communities from those actually living there.
5. Not vetting a high-quality home inspector
Whether you’re buying a house sight unseen or not, a home inspection is a crucial step in the homebuying process. It’s even more important to have this extra set of eyes from a professional when you aren’t able to see the home in person. Just as it was important to vet out your real estate agent, the same goes for choosing a home inspector. Don’t make the mistake of just hiring the first one you stumble across online. Be sure you do your research to find a reputable, qualified home inspector in the area of your new home.
6. Forgoing additional inspections
You’ll want to have a general home inspection to cover your grounds and make sure you’re aware of any problems with the home. For most, a general inspection is sufficient. However, depending on the age of the home or if there’s outside structures and features, like a pool, there’s some additional inspections you shouldn’t forgo. For example, if the home was built before 1980 (and in some cases, after that) you should consider having it checked for asbestos. Rather than showing up to your new home with unexpected surprises and issues, take the time to have it thoroughly inspected.
7. Waiving contingencies
If you’re thinking of waiving contingencies in hopes to beat out other buyers and score the home, you should think twice about that decision. If it’s a seller’s market and you want the offer to be competitive and enticing, maybe you can get by with waiving some less risky contingencies like an early move in. However, it can be a huge gamble and mistake to waive higher-risk contingencies, like a home inspection contingency or financing contingency. To protect yourself in an already tricky situation, be wary of waiving certain contingencies.
8. Expecting the process to go according to plan
A common mistake in any homebuying process is expecting it to go exactly as planned. Add in buying a house sight unseen and you’ll likely find yourself navigating the process differently. It’s important to set a realistic timeline with a buffer in case there are any hiccups along the way. For example, there’s a chance that the loan-approval process could take longer than expected or that the needed repairs to the home you made an offer on are going to take a few weeks longer.
Having a realistic expectation and planning for a few bumps along the way will help you feel at ease in case anything does stray away from the plan. Prepare all of your documents well in advance so you have all the needed information for the loan approval process. Confirm if you’re able to have a fully digital closing rather than needing to be there in person, and periodically check in with your agent to see if there’s anything needed on your end to keep the process going smoothly.
Originally published on Redfin