Buying a home is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make, but you may have to purchase the home sight unseen, depending on your situation.
This means that you’re dealing with the unknown and need to be prepared and equipped with information and resources so that your purchase goes smoothly and you get the most out of your investment.
What does sight unseen mean?
Sight unseen means that you will be buying the property without seeing it first.
This is different than making an offer on the house without seeing it in person.
An example of this would be bidding on your dream home online or through email based solely on the details the seller or your agent has supplied to you. This could be in the form of high-quality photos or a video tour provided by your agent.
It’s important to note that if you choose to bid sight unseen, there may be some missing details you’ll only notice once you step foot into your home. So, manage your expectations carefully.
What are the benefits of buying sight unseen?
While we would all prefer to see a house and walk through it before submitting an offer, it’s not always possible.
Nevertheless, with the ability to submit a bid and even close on a home remotely, you can buy your dream house from anywhere in the world.
If you’re out of state and purchasing a home, buying sight unseen allows you to own your home before you make the move so you can move in right away once you arrive.
Of course, there are some drawbacks, but at least you’re not living in a hotel for 30-45 days after you arrive in your new hometown.
Considerations for a successful purchase sight unseen
Home buying can be stressful and nerve-racking, but here are some considerations to help put you at ease.
Find a knowledgable realtor experienced in sight unseen transactions
First and foremost, you need a great realtor that knows the area and is excellent at communication.
Your realtor should be able to take the time and send you high-quality photos and video tours of any properties you’re interested in. They should have experience in sight-unseen purchases as they’ll be able o provide you with the best guidance and insight into the home and the surrounding neighborhood.
Be prepared with detailed questions and prioritize your requirements and ensure your real estate agent has a firm understanding of what you’re looking for.
Check and doublecheck the seller’s disclosure
Each property listed on the MLS has what is called a seller’s disclosure. It’s a form that sellers use to record all features and issues the home has or has had in the past.
In the State of Texas, seller’s disclosures are a requirement, so you shouldn’t have any issues obtaining this form.
Keep in mind; sellers complete these forms to the best of the knowledge of the seller. If it’s a rental property, the seller might not have ever lived in the home, so they don’t know the details. However, if the roof had an insurance claim on it at some point, then that should be listed.
Carefully read over the seller’s disclosure and note any problems and features you’re interested in. This is a great starting point for any home purchase, more so with buying sight unseen.
Are floorplans available for the home?
Floorplans can give you a good idea of the flow and feel of the home. These will provide you with a picture of the size of rooms, doorways, windows, how many floors it has. This will help you get a better idea of what to expect when moving day comes around.
How many bathrooms and bedrooms does it have? Or how big is each room?
This can give you an idea of how much space you’ll have when moving in. You might be able to spot any unusual quirks with the layout of the rooms.
Sellers of older homes usually don’t have a floor plan available; however, if the house is newer, they might still have the designs from the builder. If the home is a standard cookie-cutter build by a known builder, you might be able to find the floorplans from their website.
Conduct a video or virtual walkthrough
Video tours or virtual walkthroughs are essential when buying a home sight unseen. They provide you the ability to feel as if you’re personally walking through the home.
There are many different platforms that allow for these to happen. Skype, Facebook Messenger, and FaceTime are all great apps to use. They provide decent video quality and will enable you to have a real-time tour of the home.
If your schedules don’t line up, ask your realtor to record a video tour. They can then upload the video to YouTube, Google Drive or email it over to you. Then, if the property is something you’re seriously interested in, schedule a time to do a real-time walkthrough.
Research the area and neighborhood that the house is in
If you can’t physically drive through the neighborhood, be sure to research it thoroughly. This is essential regardless of whether you’re buying sight unseen or not.
Google Street View is a great way to “drive down the street” and see the neighboring homes and how well they maintain their homes. From the comfort of your couch, you can go up and down the street and adjacent streets, getting the same view as if you were in your own car. You might not want to buy a home next to a boarded-up abandoned house. It is worth noting that Google Street View may be dated, and not all streets have coverage, so keep that in mind.
Also, be sure to check the local school ratings and crime ratings.
GreatSchools provides reviews of nearby schools and objective ratings from parents and students that attended the school. You can find homes near your desired school and see the rating and search to find which schools service an area.
Sites such as SpotCrime can give you insights into recent crimes that were committed. They gather real-time crime data from police stations and verified sources to build an interactive map. They also provide neighborhood analysis, allowing you to look for crime near any address.
Talk to other people for advice
While I have personally bought and sold homes sight unseen, I highly recommend finding someone you know and picking their brain for advice.
Ask them what their pain points were when buying. What tips and tricks do they have for doing the purchase. Also, ask them if they were to do it again, what would be something they would do differently.
Everyone’s experience is different, so it’s essential to get multiple points of view, so you’re armed with the best knowledge.
Get a home inspection!
I can’t stress this enough. You need to get a home inspection whether you’re buying the home in person or sight unseen.
Home inspectors are trained and experienced in finding problems with homes you don’t know about. They’re working for you as the buyer and have your best interest in mind.
They’ll give you a comprehensive inspection report that covers everything from the roof to the foundation and everything in between. They often include detailed descriptions and photos of the deficiencies so you can decide to go through with the purchase.
If you can’t walk through the home yourself, at least you can have the peace of mind that a professional has.
Walkthrough before closing – if possible
And of course, while you might submit an offer sight unseen, that doesn’t mean you still can’t conduct a walkthrough before closing if you are in town before closing.
Contact your agent to schedule a time for you and your family to walk through the home. The in-person walkthrough will confirm or deny your assumptions of the house.
At this point in the process, you might be past the option period. That’s perfectly okay. However, if you walk through the home and realize you’re making a mistake, it might cost you your earnest money. Losing your earnest money might be a small price to pay to avoid buying a home you’re not absolutely in love with.
Buying a home sight unseen is not for the faint of heart. It can be intimidating. However, in 2020 around two out of three buyers purchased their new homes without first visiting them, according to the Redfin. This means that there are plenty of people who have successfully bought properties online or from photos alone. Still, they had done their research beforehand and were well-equipped with information on what to look out for before purchasing a property.
If you’re moving to the Fort Hood area and want to get ahead on your house hunting, give me a call. As a military spouse, I’ve done my fair share of sight unseen moves and can give you tips and share my experiences to make your move that much easier.