What does it mean?
Buying a house sight-unseen is the act of putting an offer on a home that one has not physically toured or seen in person. While this practice is still relatively rare, it tends to occur in situations where the housing market is highly competitive. Unfortunately, in a cutthroat market, sometimes an individual’s hand is forced to make this kind of offer, especially in instances where the buyer is relocating to a new state and trying to secure housing.
Why it’s becoming more popular
Buying a house sight unseen is becoming an increasingly common practice these days. This has become more of a trend due to circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. People still needed to purchase homes throughout the pandemic, and showing homes in person was actively discouraged and became more of a virtual experience in efforts to curb the spread of the virus.
During the pandemic, one in every 20 homebuyers purchased a home sight-unseen. Part of this new trend is also a byproduct of how demand was and continues to be high for fresh housing inventory, but supply remains low. Combining that factor with the housing market’s low-interest rates in 2020 and 2021 created the perfect storm we now find ourselves in.
Competition is fierce because of the low housing inventory, and it’s not uncommon for bidding wars to begin even as soon as a new home hits the market. As a result, to remain competitive, many have to put in offers on homes without ever seeing them in person. It can be nerve-wracking to bid on a home you have only virtually toured. So this approach might not be one you want to consider unless it’s your only option.
Tips for buying a house sight unseen
While it may be hard to imagine making an offer on a home you’ve not physically toured, it is a choice many have to make. You may have to make this kind of decision if you fall under the following scenarios:
- You’re looking to buy a home out of state
- You’re out of town when the house of your dreams pops up on the market
- There is an exceptionally tight offer deadline you must meet, even if it means not seeing the house in person first
- The housing market is so competitive that you have to put in an offer before viewing it or risk getting outbid or submitting your bid too late
You may still be hesitant to bid for a home without inspecting it first. In that case, consider requesting a trusted family member or friend to act as your eyes and ears to tour the house on your behalf. If you don’t have anyone you trust in the vicinity of where you are looking to buy, you could hire a buyer’s agent to go into the home to spot any problems in advance.
Steps a buyer should take
Regardless, below is a series of steps you will need to take as a buyer:
- View the home by taking a virtual tour or by viewing photos of the property
- Reach out to a lender and get pre-approved for a mortgage
- Make an offer on the house to the seller
- If the seller accepts your offer, a contract can be drawn up
- Read the paragraph in this article regarding contingencies and add to the contract if the seller agrees
- Sign contract paperwork
- Make a cash deposit or ‘good faith money’ to the seller
- Have an inspection be conducted, and if you are satisfied with the results, you can continue with the purchase
- Order a title report to ensure that the title is clear for closing
- Finalize the home loan terms and interest rate with your lender
- Schedule a closing date
- Sign documents finalizing your loan
Sight Unseen Pros and Cons
If you have to put an offer on a home sight-unseen for some reason or another, there are some crucial factors to consider before doing so.
In a cutthroat housing market, you can get ahead of the game by getting your offer in right away. Since homes have been known to sell almost as soon as the listing even appears, putting a bid in before seeing the home may, in fact, be your best option for landing that house.
Saving time and energy is another byproduct of purchasing before touring. Your schedule may not allow for you to fit multiple viewings in during any given week. Instead of letting that hinder you in your search for your new home, a virtual tour may tell you all you need to know without leaving work early, driving to the location, or coordinating with your realtor.
You may be able to avoid a bidding war and get the home for less if you move quickly and your offer is compelling enough for the seller to say yes to you.
There is an increased chance of undisclosed defects in the home. Especially if you don’t line up a home inspection before you proceed. So our recommendation is to just pay for an inspection. Then, you will at least have peace of mind after it has been performed and have the reassurance that there won’t be any unwanted surprises that you run into as soon as you move in.
It can be challenging to get a sense of the dimensions of the space from photographs or the virtual tour. This can make it tough to ascertain whether a large piece of furniture will fit into a particular space. You also won’t know how loud the street noise or neighborhood is. That is, unless you have your agent or trusted friend pay attention and report back on these factors. That’s why having someone, a friend, family, or agent, acting on your behalf is necessary for this endeavor.
Sight unseen addendum
It’d be in your best interest to learn about contingency clauses which might save you in the long run. These contingencies allow you to back out of the purchase even after a purchase agreement has been made. Two contingencies will go a long way in protecting you and your interests.
First, an inspection contingency would allow you to negotiate for more time, request repairs, or back out of the agreement if the inspector uncovers too many issues. Second, a walkthrough contingency means you have the right to a walkthrough and the option to walk away before closing.
Depending on what state you are purchasing the home, you may or may not be required to be physically present for the closing. In certain states, they require in-person signing. In other places, you might be required to sign the paperwork in the presence of a notary. Still, in other areas, if you choose to ‘e-close’ with your lender and you’re located out of state, you may not have to be there in person to complete closing. Additionally, if you’re purchasing the home with cash, all transactions can be completed through the mail, wire transfer, and email.
Mistakes to avoid when buying sight unseen
‘Is it a bad idea to buy a home sight-unseen?’ you may still be wondering. Unfortunately, it can be if you do not take the proper steps to protect yourself during the process. Even though this may not be an ideal situation to be in, you may not have a choice. In hot housing markets like Colorado, time is of the essence. Be prepared to put in an offer within minutes or hours of the listing as opposed to days.
Find an Agent
We strongly advise that you find the right agent to act on your behalf. Choosing an agent might be one of the most essential factors in making a sight-unseen home purchase go off without a hitch. Take the time to interview agents and pay attention to referrals made by friends and family. You want an agent who knows what you’re looking for. Someone who will make sure everything is in order and act on your behalf.
Even if not certified, many agents are trained to know what to look for regarding potential issues in a home. Having an agent who has sharp eyes during a house tour is a great resource to have. When you’re ready to find an agent to represent you and your interests, reach out to one of our skilled American Home Agents to get the ball rolling.
Don’t bypass a home inspection or contingencies
Even when you find the perfect agent, we still recommend that you still pay for a home inspection. The home inspection acts as an extra layer of protection to the buying process.
Particularly in the scenario where you are doing all of the buying steps from another state, don’t forget that adding contingencies is vital if you want the option to back out of the purchase. For example, if big-ticket repairs and concerning issues are found during the home inspection, and you want the chance to walk away, contingencies should not be left out of the contract.
Talk with a real estate agent and make sure you have the right person to act on your behalf. Whether you end up having to purchase a home sight-unseen, you’ll have a guide to make the process go smoothly.