Buying Sight Unseen: Top Tips for a Successful Homebuying Experience

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The COVID-19 pandemic has made viewing homes to buy more complicated than before and, in some cases, when perhaps they need to exercise an abundance of caution due to possible health risks, some home buyers are wondering if they could actually buy a home without ever physically setting foot in it until after the closing.

While that is not the ideal option, with the right agent, and some extra due diligence it can be done. In fact people were doing it even before the pandemic hit. Those moving to an area from overseas, or on short notice for work have been going through this process successfully for years.

Just how does this all work? That’s what we are going to take a closer look at here today.

If you don’t have the luxury of a physical tour, there are lots of ways to minimize the unknowns and risks with the sight unseen route. Let’s dive into how you can use the internet, great tools like FaceTime, and an amazing real estate agent to give yourself the best shot at a successful sight unseen home purchase.

Hire an agent who’s well-versed in the area

Having an excellent agent by your side is critical in any home buying situation. But when you buy sight unseen, you’re putting another layer of trust in this person: Your agent is going to be your eyes, so they should know the area intimately.

How many bad decisions have you made as a tourist in a new place because you didn’t know any better? Think of a time when you picked a disappointing restaurant or took a wrong turn. Frustrating, no doubt.

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But now you’ve got hundreds of thousands of dollars and the hassle of a long-distance move on the line. So hire a top local agent ingrained in the community and who knows the market deeply, otherwise you’ll be trying to navigate unknown terrain as an out-of-towner… without a tour guide!

Have your agent walk you through homes using FaceTime or Zoom

Technology is an integral part of buying a house from a distance. Many homes online will have tons of listing photos to look at, plus virtual walkthroughs ) to give you a good sense of whether the home is worth a closer look.

Once you know which homes you’re most interested in, have your agent book some showings and take you along on the tour using FaceTime or Zoom. Sounds simple, but what’s great about these kinds of tours is that you can get a better idea of the flow of the house and ask your agent questions in real time as they walk through each room to really get a feel for a property.

Get measurements of the home

Many real estate photographers use wide-angle lenses, so what may appear spacious in a photo could be much smaller in person. Your agent can help you take measurements to see if your furniture would fit and determine how big a room really is.

Scope out the area with Google Earth and other online tools

Google Earth can be an invaluable tool in your sight-unseen home purchase. Simply input the address of the home, scope out the neighborhood from an aerial view, and zoom in to see details of the area. Pretty cool! And while you’re at it, see how long your commute would be using Google Maps. If you’re stuck in traffic and spending hours getting to work, the home may not work for your needs.

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Other helpful online resources include Walk Score (which also shows an area’s Bike Score and Transit Score) and Neighborhood Scout to look up crime rates, school ratings and more.

Check out the quality of the schools

If you are the parent of a school aged child be sure to check out the quality and location of the schools your kids would attend.

GreatSchools is an excellent place to start. It provides information on academics, student population, and equity. When researching schools, look at school ratings, but also proximity compared to your commute. If you don’t have children, the local school ratings can also affect home values, so check this out regardless of whether you have a family.

Go for the extra inspections

No one should have to tell you to inspect a home that you buy sight unseen (that should be a no-brainer) but you should also opt for any specialized home inspections that your agent recommends to check for and sign of pests or issues with the roof, electrical, or plumbing. If you do find a major issue during the inspection process, you can use this information to negotiate or walk away from the purchase if you have to.

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