- Don’t buy a house sight unseen unless there is no other option
- Take many precautions so that you get what you’re expecting
- Be sure to do a video walk-through at a minimum
Why Buy a House Without Seeing It?
I’m not talking about investors who buy from the auction at the county steps, legally prohibited from actually touring the properties they’re buying.
I’m talking about traditional buyers who, for one reason or another, can’t be present at all during the entire home buying process.
Especially for military families coming from OCONUS, or even just far flung stations like Forts Drum or Lewis, travelling to Fort Hood just to house hunt may just be impractical. Some in this situation choose to rent first, and then decide about purchasing a home after a year or so in the area.
The bolder, or those inclined to purchase but who don’t fancy moving twice, may choose to buy “sight unseen”.
I, the author, purchased my own fourplex sight unseen while in Afghanistan. I happened to redeploy just in time for the closing, but not before I actually viewed the building or the inside of any of the units. The agent I used at the time (I wasn’t a Realtor, yet, obviously!) had been my agent for my previous house, and I very much trusted her judgment and help.
It’s not just military families. With the improved technology of the last few years, millennials are more likely to buy sight unseen when moving from afar.
Here are tips for doing it correctly
1. Video Tour
With the technology available in just recent years has made purchasing a house sight unseen immensely more manageable. In fact, the younger, tech savvy millennial generation is the most like age cohort to purchase homes without seeing them.
There may be an online video tour already. Zillow is currently trying to encourage agents to upload video tours of their properties with their listings. But these tours don’t compare to having your agent walk through the home while you and your family watch and can communicate, asking your agent to point out details and answer questions about the property.
The following apps can work for this tour, free to use!
Video Messaging Apps and Tools
2. Check Out the Neighborhood
Especially if you haven’t lived in the city before, you may have no idea what to expect of your surroundings. From the landscapes, to the types of architecture, and beyond. Be sure to get some video of the neighborhood. See if the neighborhood has a Facebook group you can investigate. Look up neighborhood videos, stats and information like what I have here for the Fort Hood area.
Use Google Maps Streetview to tour your new neighborhood and get a feel for the layout!
Also be sure to confirm the school districts while you are at it, if that is important to your family. Don’t take the MLSs word for it – it is often wrong.
3. Map It
While checking out the neighborhood on Google Maps, be sure to map out the distance to some important locations. How far is the home from your work? What will the commute be like? Is it walking distance to the park, school or grocery store? How long will the drive be to get to downtown Austin, or other Central Texas weekend attractions? Make sure the home checks off whatever criteria you have with respect to the location.
Moving to Fort Hood?
Download the Ultimate Fort Hood Area Home Buyer Guide!
4. Get a Great Agent
As in my case, I was comfortable buying a home sight unseen because I was using an agent I had used previously and trusted. Using an agent you’ve already worked with once before can be a huge help, but is often not an option.
Many of the things you’re looking for in an agent will be the same whether buying sight unseen or not. But you may want to place a special emphasis on a tech savvy agent who can get you some of the digital videos and walk-throughs you will need to be thoroughly confident in your purchase decision.
5. Phone a Friend
Even if you have a good agent you trust, it won’t compare to having a friend who is already in the area go along to view the home as well. They can give additional insights as someone who already lives in the area. They also probably know you better than your agent and know what is important to you and what is not. Getting their input can be invaluable.
6. Lots of Due Diligence
So you’ve finally selected a home and are under contract!
Now is not the time to skimp on the due diligence. Do an inspection. Check out the roof. Check out the foundation. Because you can’t be there, it is critical to get many expert eyes on the home to ensure you’re not buying a lemon.
7. Don’t Do it At All for Forever Homes
Even with all your precautions, there is still a risk it doesn’t work out. When buying any home, it’s important to have an escape plan. Can you sell it and get your money back? Can you rent it out? Be sure that you review what these options would look like for your home if you get there and realize “oops”.
Also, don’t do it for a home you plan on being forever – ten or more years. If the home doesn’t end up being exactly what you wanted, you might be able to live with it for a few years and then sell/rent. But that may not be an option if you had planned on retiring there. That is a much harder mistake to walk back.
And For Agents…
A buyer purchasing a home sight unseen isn’t just risky for buyers, but risky for their agents as well. Any part that an agent misses, or that leaves their buyer unsatisfied, can blow up the buyer’s trust, and possibly the deal. My worst fear is a buyer finally showing up to their new home a month after purchasing it and realizing “this isn’t what we expected at all”.
Doing the above steps will help prevent that from happening. But we agents protect ourselves somewhat by having our buyers sign the “Buyer’s Walk-Through“, a form where the buyer indicates whether they walked through the property prior to closing, and that they accept the property in its current condition.
Don’t buy sight unseen unless there really isn’t a practical alternative.
Modern technology has made the process more palatable if it’s necessary, so get an agent who has the tools to give you everything possible to evaluate a home from afar.
And happy home hunting!
Brian E Adams, REALTOR®
I am a real estate agent in the Fort Hood area, with StarPointe Realty. Contact me for help buying and selling in Central Texas!