By Caroline Abkar, Realtor, B.Sc.Eng.
It used to be that buying a house sight unseen was mainly for out of area buyers who needed to get their hands on a home but didn’t have the ability to be present on site on time. Now, with COVID-19 changing our interactions and the way we do business, there are more and more statistics showing that several buyers successfully buy their house sight unseen. This is even truer in competitive price points when time is of the essence. I personally have had several clients ask if this is the “new” way of purchasing real estate. It’s time to share my honest opinion!
The virtual process
I will start out by saying there is a lot we do virtually since COVID-19 became a part of our reality. We use fully laid out virtual processes and tools for buyers and sellers alike such as the below, and can make some great progress before ever setting foot inside a home:
Things that a virtual tour cannot replace
There is no doubt that to buy a house sight unseen is completely possible because there is so much we can do remotely and virtually, as depicted by the workflows above. However, there is one thing which cannot be replaced, and that is you walking inside a home. As a buyer, there are some details that even the best of photos and virtual tours do not convey which may or may not be important to you. How much natural light is in the home at various times of day? How does it flow when you’re actually walking inside? Do the floors creak? Is there a lingering odor in the home (think pets, strong cooking spices)? Is there noise? How private does it feel when you’re outside in the backyard? How does the street and neighborhood feel? Is it busy? Is there ample parking? Are there amenities nearby?
You should ideally look at your list of important criteria and figure out, for your personal situation, how comfortable you feel foregoing an in-person tour and buy a house sight unseen by relying on third party information to obtain your answers. Are you the type of person who makes decisions intuitively based on your gut and how you feel when inside the space? That can be challenging to replace, as you will need to be very detailed and rational if you buy a house sight unseen.
A virtual tour cannot replace your physical presence and senses, even though it does a pretty good job. This is most likely the biggest investment of your life, so you want to pay attention to the details. If you can send a representative on your behalf, someone who knows your tastes well, then by all means you should.
Choose your agent diligently
You should always take special care when choosing your real estate agent because you want someone who will put your interests first, and advocate for you at all times from start to finish (and beyond!). This becomes crucial if you decide to buy sight unseen as your only option. Your agent should give you a detailed virtual live walk-through with a narrative so that you can get answers to all your questions on the spot, and s/he can zoom in/out however needed for you. Your agent will also give you all the neighborhood resources and data you need so that you can make the most informed decisions possible. Google Maps and Google Streetview will be your friends. You will want to pay close attention to what is important to you, such as grocery stores, restaurants, commute to/from work, schools, green spaces, freeways, attractions, and community services.
Don’t forget your contingencies
Contingencies are what allow you to cancel the contract. They are the conditions which need to be satisfied for you to be able to fulfill your part of the agreement. The contingencies in your contract will allow you to dig deeper when you’re in escrow so that you are not completely unaware of the details of your potential future home. Once again it becomes crucial to work with an inspector who has your interests at heart and who will take the time to virtually walk you through the summary of all findings if you are unable to attend the inspection.
In conclusion, my opinion is that you should consider every single one of your options before buying a home sight unseen. If you do, be sure to understand the risks and have a long conversation with your agent up-front, so that you understand and are fully comfortable with how the process will look like with that agent, should you go that route.
About the author: Caroline Abkar is an established San Diego Realtor and Bay Park resident who is absolutely passionate about the community as well as representing her clients in selling and acquiring the biggest investment of their lives. A former successful engineer & project manager, she is very detail-oriented and will go above and beyond for those who place their trust in her. You can contact her anytime at 619-808-4804.