Avoid These 5 Mistakes When Buying a Home Sight Unseen.
Buying a home sight unseen might seem a little like playing Russian roulette. But the pandemic saw a spike in the number of such home sales.
Buying a home sight unseen might seem like a massive gamble: plunking down hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of dollars on a property you’ve never set foot in, your fingers crossed it looks just like the photos and doesn’t have major issues! So how lucky do you feel, anyway?
But during the pandemic—when stay-at-home restrictions made touring a property difficult and folks were eager to get out of densely populated cities—greater numbers of buyers than ever before were more game to buy sight unseen.
One of those buyers was Jenny Haiar of Sioux Falls, SD, who recently went through the virtual process of purchasing a new condominium in Scottsdale, AZ. She purchased a one-bedroom, one-bathroom with a view of the mountains.
How have Haiar and other buyers like her successfully bought a home sight unseen? Sure, the process comes with risks and challenges, but, if done right, it’s possible to land a property that checks all your boxes. Just be sure to avoid the following mistakes.
1. Not asking the right questions
Zach Combs at Northrop Realty in Maryland says asking questions is the No. 1 tool in purchasing a home. The simple equation: the more you ask, the more comfortable you will be when it comes time to sign the paperwork—so let the queries fly.
“I ultimately compiled a list of everything I thought of regarding my day-to-day and work-life needs, goals, and expectations,” says Haiar. “This was about eight months of questions and answers to gain a full understanding of the homeowners association, rules, policies, buying process, and more.”
Combs says you can never ask your real estate agent or potential new HOA too many questions, so jot down each and every one.
2. Not hiring the best local agent for the job
A local real estate agent can serve as your eyes and ears when buying a home sight unseen.
Haiar knew exactly what she was looking for, but she didn’t live in Arizona.
“I felt a local agent based in Scottsdale could give me the best overall bird’s-eye view of properties. I never felt pressured to look at anything that didn’t fit my criteria,” says Haiar.
Vet agents by looking at personal testimonies, and don’t be afraid to ask them for a list of references. You can use a real estate site (such as this one!) to uncover more info about how long the agents have been at the job, their sales volume, the areas they specialize in, and client reviews.
3. Not fully using all technology
FaceTime tours, Google Street View, and online property listings are all useful tools you need to take advantage of when buying a house sight unseen.
“Use every bit of technology available for the listings you are interested in,” says Combs. “Not all listing agents or sellers pay for a 3D tour, but if they have one, use it to understand the flow of the house.”
He says at the very least, buyers should always video-chat with their agent to see the house and get a feel of the space.
4. Not demanding a floor plan
While a floor plan may not always be available, it is an important detail buyers should not overlook.
“If you have an open space in your current dwelling, either outside or inside, where you can tape off the actual room sizes, then you can make a mock layout with your furniture. This will help you truly understand if the space really can work for you and your family,” says Combs.
If a floor plan is unavailable, ask if your agent can measure the rooms and give a crude layout of the space. If an agent can get the measurements, Combs recommends buyers use Floorplanner.com, a free tool that can help you visualize your potential new home.
Understanding the floor plan was crucial for Haiar. When coordinating furniture delivery, she says, it was important to know the items fit in her space.
5. Not getting an appraisal and a home inspection
Giving a home a good walk-through is important with any home purchase, but buying sight unseen means calling in the experts.
“If you are purchasing the home with a loan, your lender will require an appraisal for them to be able to close the loan,” says Combs. “If you’re buying with cash, then it would be up to you.”
But regardless of how you’re financing the purchase, Combs says buyers should get a home inspection when buying sight unseen, “so you know exactly how much work the house needs and if you are comfortable handling those repairs.”
Haiar says it’s also important to have an insurance broker review insurance requirements and your HOA policy and coverage (if applicable).
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