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In this era of ongoing pandemic precautions and seller’s markets, you can buy a house without ever stepping foot inside of it. In fact, purchasing homes sight unseen was surprisingly common over the past few years. But its growing popularity doesn’t mean purchasing a home without ever touring the property in person doesn’t have any risks.
If you’re thinking of buying a house sight unseen, we can help you understand what the process involves. We’ll explore the benefits and drawbacks for first-time and seasoned home buyers. And we’ll share some helpful tips and tricks you can use to make your sight-unseen home purchase as smooth as possible.
What Does It Mean To Buy a House Sight Unseen?
In real estate, buying a house sight unseen means you’re buying a house you’ve never checked out in person. And aspiring home buyers might choose to buy a house sight unseen for many reasons.
Maybe you live far away and scheduling an in-person tour isn’t practical. Maybe you don’t want to spend time traveling to see houses (or spend money on gas) and prefer to enjoy a virtual home tour from the comfort of your couch.
Buying a house online has become one of the most convenient ways home buyers purchase properties. It can help eliminate some aspects of the traditional home buying process, like taking time off work to drive around looking at houses or visiting your lender during their office hours.
Buying a house online vs. Buying sight unseen
You can shop for a house online and still make a trip to tour the property in person. But when you’re buying a home sight unseen, buyers typically keep the entire process online, replacing in-person tours with virtual tours or walkthroughs.
While buying a house sight unseen can be much friendlier to your schedule, you shouldn’t walk into the real estate transaction with your eyes closed.
How Do You Buy a House Without Seeing It?
Buying a home sight unseen works a lot like any other home purchase. The key difference is that you’ll attend any walkthroughs and inspections virtually, courtesy of 21st-century tech.
Let’s say you live in L.A., but you need a break from city life, so you start house hunting in Idaho. Fortunately, a few homes have piqued your interest.
That’s the good news.
The not-so-good news is that your employer’s generous time-off policy won’t accommodate catching 2-hour flights every time you see a house you like. One day, one of your co-workers mentions they bought their home without ever touring the property, and you start wondering if you shouldn’t follow their example.
Use these steps to buy a house sight unseen. Each step will help reduce the likelihood of potential roadblocks and curveballs.
1. Vet your real estate agent
If you’re not planning to step foot in the house, you’ll need some boots on the ground – someone trustworthy and reliable who can act as your eyes and ears.
That person can be a real estate agent, a friend or a family member. If you hire an agent, you should feel confident about their ability to walk you through the entire real estate transaction.
Ask family or friends who live in the area if they can offer any agent referrals. If you don’t know anyone where you plan to move, search online for top-rated real estate agents.
Do your due diligence and pore through the online reviews of the agents you’re interested in. It would also be a good idea to call up prospective agents and tell them that you want to buy a house sight unseen. The right real estate agent will understand your situation, be highly communicative and willing to tour the property and coordinate the inspection and appraisal.
2. Get a mortgage preapproval
Unless you’re buying with cash, you’ll likely need a mortgage. If you want a better idea of how much home you can afford, you should consider getting preapproved for a mortgage before you make any offers.
A mortgage preapproval letter is important because it shows that a lender has taken an initial look at your creditworthiness, and you have a good chance of being approved for a loan. Preapprovals can strengthen offers because they show sellers and their real estate agents that you’re a serious buyer and more likely to close.
3. Go on a virtual tour of the home
Since you won’t be touring the home in person, looking at listing photos and watching virtual tours will be your next best option.
Sometimes listings already include a virtual tour, but your real estate agent can also set up a live video tour (via FaceTime or other streaming technology) to walk you through the property. During the video tour, you can ask your agent to walk down the street, which can help you get a feel for the neighborhood.
You should also get a copy of the home’s floor plan and review county records to get as much information on the property as you can.
4. Make a sight-unseen offer
Okay, so you’re ready to make an offer. And, again, it is common practice to put an offer on a house you’ve never seen or toured in person. Your real estate agent can help you put together a sight-unseen offer by having you complete a purchase agreement. Make sure you and your real estate agent discuss the terms of your offer, like your earnest money deposit, the inspection contingency, the closing date and any other terms.
Once you’ve finalized and signed your offer, the seller will decide whether they want to accept your offer, reject it or make a counteroffer.
5. Get a detailed home inspection
If you’re 1,000 miles away from the home you want to buy, that’s all the more reason to get a detailed home inspection. A home inspection can reveal defects or unseen issues that were not apparent during your virtual tour or your real estate agent’s in-person visit.
Before you make your sight-unseen offer, make sure your contract includes a generous inspection period that allows you plenty of time to find an experienced home inspector.
You can try the American Society of Home Inspectors search tool to find a licensed inspector.
6. Remote close on the home
Buying a home remotely wasn’t so easy back in the day. Sure, electronic signatures have been around for a while, but it wasn’t until the housing market experienced a major shift in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that remote home closing became widespread and commonplace.
Since 2020, most states have enacted permanent or temporary laws that allow buyers to close remotely on a home. Every state has its own laws, with many states using in-person e-notarization (IPEN) or remote online notarization (RON) to add electronic signatures and notarization stamps to your closing documents. If you can use either of these options, you won’t have to attend your closing in person.
What Are the Benefits and Disadvantages of Buying a House Sight Unseen?
Buying a house sight unseen has its advantages. One of the primary benefits of buying a house sight unseen is saving yourself the time and potential hassle of traveling to a home for an in-person showing.
But buying a house sight unseen also comes with challenges. Let’s weigh the advantages and the disadvantages.
Finding Your Dream Home May Take a Little Help From Your Friends
Buying a house sight unseen is a perfectly reasonable way to buy a home, especially if you’re purchasing a property out of state. While it’s convenient, purchasing real estate sight unseen does have a few risks – which is why you’ll need a little help from reliable real estate professionals to see you through the process.
The Short Version
- In real estate, buying a house sight unseen means you’re buying a house you’ve never checked out in person
- Your real estate agent can help you put together a sight-unseen offer by having you complete a purchase agreement
- One of the primary benefits of buying a house sight unseen is saving yourself the time and potential hassle of traveling to a home for an in-person showing