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Buying a home, sight unseen

In many areas of the country, homes continue to sell even as rising mortgage rates, high prices, and recessionary concerns filter through the economy. During the recent real estate boom, the urgency many would-be buyers have felt to act means making an offer sight unseen.

Nearly half of homebuyers — 47% — made an offer in the past two years without physically touring the property, according to LendingTree.

While the housing market is cooling, to date it’s still a seller’s market, and buying sight unseen can be a viable strategy. Here are four caveats.

1. Don’t make snap decisions

It’s a challenge when you’ve lost out on several homes and are starting to feel desperate. And it can be even more frustrating when others are willing to plunk down cash with few or no conditions.

Notably, all-cash sales accounted for 25% of transactions in May, according to the National Association of Realtors. That’s down from 26% in April, but up from 23% in May 2021.

However, just because others are “throwing caution to the wind” doesn’t make it a good idea, said Connor Daniels, a realtor in Olathe, Kansas. He tells clients to plan to miss out on at least five to 10 houses and strongly advises them not to buy a property sight unseen, even to clinch a deal. “To say it nicely, pictures can make a rough home look really nice,” he said.

If you do plan to buy sight unseen, you should at least mitigate the risk by having someone else do a walk-through on your behalf, said Andy Hart, chief executive of financial planning firm Delegate Advisors. Insisting on an inspection and making sure adequate contingencies are in place in case you need, or want, to back out are also advisable.

2. Know what you are getting into

Home prices and interest rates causing buyers to pause and reconsider: Lennar CEO

The calculations may be different depending on the property you’re considering.

“It would be one thing if you were buying a rental or flip for $50,000 and you had that money,” said Daniels. But it would be “crazy” to spend several hundred thousand on a home that you are planning to live in without doing your homework, he said.

Another exception could be if you’re in the market for new construction. “The cities are really strict with permits on new construction. They go in and inspect absolutely everything,” said Cameron Burskey, managing director of retirement security at Cornerstone Financial Services in Southfield, Mich.

3. Send a trusted professional, family member or friend as your proxy

“Someone you trust should see the house before you buy it,” Burskey said. This could be a friend, family member, contractor, inspector, or even a real estate agent.

Daniels has done this several times for clients. One couple he worked with recently didn’t see their new home in person until several weeks after the closing. But to give the couple a real-life sense of what the home looked like before they made an offer, he FaceTimed with them while doing a thorough walk-through. In this way, they felt comfortable about not being there in person and were able to act quickly, he said.

4. Don’t pass up the inspection

Many would-be buyers are opting to forgo the inspection to move deals along. As tempting as that may sound, don’t do it.

Inspections can identify issues that can prove costly later on, such as the need for a new roof, leaks or mold. Buyers should at least know these things before they plunk down hard-earned cash on what could be the largest purchase they’ll make in their lives.

“A good inspector is worth a lot,” said Lampe of Mint Wealth.

An inspection gave Hart the confidence he needed to purchase a 1920s bungalow sight unseen. He made the sale contingent on inspection. Good thing, too, because the house’s foundation was in complete disarray, necessitating a fix by the seller before the deal closed.

Hart also made an offer on a four-year-old townhouse based only on internet pictures. That purchase was also subject to inspection and included a 10-day back-out window. He didn’t expect problems, but the added protection was his “get of jail free card,” something everyone should have, especially in a sight-unseen deal, he said.

“You should absolutely have protections in the contract always,” Hart said. “It’s better to walk away from a potentially bad situation than to put yourself in one.”

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During the pandemic, there were millions of people who suddenly needed more space, no longer wanted to be “stuck” in cities they had moved to for work or school, or finally had an opportunity to get their dream home at a great price and with a crazy-low mortgage rate. But there was just one, small snag: A pandemic that made in-person meetings a no-go. Boston real estate showings and open houses were replaced with lockdowns.

Boston Real Estate Technology Is Here

Boston real estate listings are more detailed than ever before. For several years, agents have been leaning into technology to give clients an accurate impression of the downtown Boston condo before they even walk through the door. Instead of clicking through a few photos and needing to “go see it in person” to know for sure, prospective buyers have Google Maps street view and exterior shots, HD and 3-D listing photos, 360-degree drag-and-move panoramic room tours, and full-home video tours. Many agents were offering these features long before Covid, simply to give their clients a better service. As a result, people were already getting used to seeing homes through their phones and computer screens—not just in person.

Real Estate Agents Are Now Global Agents

Technology allows us to share information. It also allows us to share information faster and wider. For that reason, no Boston real estate agent is just a “local” agent anymore—we’re all global agents now, connected to and serving a much broader audience. We have clients who don’t live anywhere near us, and showing to out-of-state and foreign buyers over the phone has become increasingly common, pandemic or not. As agents, we are here to fill in any gaps that technology hasn’t closed; If my client can’t fly in from across the country to see a home, I can be there to see it for her and take her on a tour via FaceTime. If my client wants to buy a home in another country, I can make it happen virtually without requiring him to get on a plane or even leave his home. Serving foreign and out-of-state purchasers is easier than ever before because we can do it without any travel and minimal interruption to the client’s life.

Convenience and Competitive Real Estate Edge

Even when a client can view a home in person, virtual tours can be extremely helpful. By showing them a listing over FaceTime, Zoom, or Google Meet, I can save them a trip (and time, and money). Virtual showings also provide a competitive advantage in a limited-inventory market by allowing clients to quickly “see” a home and make an offer, sometimes before anyone else has a chance to. Example: I can set up a FaceTime viewing for a foreign client on an off-market listing and have their offer in by the end of that day, allowing us to beat out offers from local buyers. During the inspection period, which is when I’d typically return with the buyer for a second showing, I can bring in the buyer for their first showing. Others may opt to not see the property at all, and fly in only for the closing or moving day. This was surprisingly common during Covid, but it could easily become the norm for investment properties, job relocations, and more common situations.

Technology has allowed us to serve more people in more places more quickly. It’s helped people stay safe during the pandemic, relocate out of state (or out of the country) with minimal disruption, and it helps us as agents go the extra mile for our clients. A record number of people relocated in 2020, and a huge portion of those deals involved a virtual component, whether it was “meeting” the agent by phone, watching a video tour, having a FaceTime showing, or opting for a virtual inspection or closing. Making an offer on a home without seeing it first isn’t just a Covid trend; it’s a sign of things to come.

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Original Boston Real Estate Blog Post

Redfin said last week that the trend of “sight unseen” offers is reaching record highs, with 45% of buyers who purchased a home in the last year making an offer without seeing it in person first of all. That compares with just 28% in 2019.

In April, another survey by realtor.com found that 24% of 1,300 consumers it quizzed would be willing to buy a home without seeing it with their own eyes.

The trend in sight-unseen offers is rising due to health concerns around COVID-19, as well as heated competition among buyers for a limited inventory of homes for sale. Real estate agents are increasingly using virtual tours and video walk-throughs to guide buyers during these times.

Redfin’s chief economist Daryl Fairweather said sight-unseen offers will likely become more common in the next few months.

“I predict that by the end of the 2020 homebuying season, the majority of home buyers will have made a sight-unseen offer,” Fairweather said. “The pandemic has changed the way many people view homes, and on top of that, the market is highly competitive. If you aren’t using this strategy, another buyer who is could beat you to the punch.”

Still, most buyers will still go ahead and visit the property in person before they go ahead and complete the sale, experts say.

Deals can prove problematic without an in-person visit. Boston real estate agents say that some buyers don’t stick to agreed timelines and may submit an offer just to stay in the bidding, before eventually backing out after weighing up their decision. As such, some home sellers refuse sight-unseen offers completely, one Redfin agent said.

“FaceTime is pretty good, but it’s typically better for everyone if the buyer can see the Boston condo in person,” said Lindsay Katz, a Redfin real estate pro in the Los Angeles area. “Most people who make sight-unseen offers find a way to visit the home before actually closing the deal, even if it’s just a few days before getting their keys. If the pandemic gets significantly worse, that could change.”

Original Real Estate Blog Post

I had a client once who bought his condo, sight unseen.

It wasn’t totally “buying blind”, however. He had been in the complex, so he was familiar with the building, its style, amenities, etc. And, he was aware of what similar properties sold for since I was a buyer’s agent and could give him that information.

Still, I was very stressed about the deal, because I feared he would come to Boston, and on the first day, hate his new home, and take it out on me (it was a real fear since I live in the building).

For some crazy reason, lots of people do end up buying new homes without ever setting foot in them.

Never, never, never do this.

And, if you must do it, take precautions, although, I suspect if you are the type to buy a house sight unseen, you probably fly by the seat of your pants about most things, and will just send money and hope for the best.

Complete article: Buying home sight unseen? Get an expert’s view – By Steve McLinden, Bankrate.com

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Updated: 2020

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