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Buying a Home, Sight Unseen

From grocery shopping to buying a home it seems like anything can be done online nowadays. The idea of buying a home without seeing it (in person) is less daunting these days with all the new technologies and ways to buy a home virtually. It's becoming more common. Not to mention the state of the market, where a home can be posted Saturday morning and have 8+ offers on it by 9:00 am. This happened to a buyer of mine. In fact, 20% of homebuyers recently made an offer sight unseen. Meaning they hadn't even seen the home in person. I could see this becoming much more popular with the way our economy is going.

Normally most buyers want to see the place in person at least once before committing. A home after all is usually a very emotional purchase and for most the largest purchase they have and will ever make. Buying a home is more than just seeing it. The sound, smell, and feel of a house are almost just as important as the visual aspect. Virtual tours have really helped in getting a real feel for a home without having to walk through it. If you don't have the time to drive to a home, or maybe you are looking out of state having a realtor that can use apps such as FaceTime can give you some sort of ability to "see" the house without being physically present. So what do you do when you have to make a decision quickly so you don't miss out?

Here are some helpful tips.

  1. Don't use the first real estate professional you meet online

While you may be in a time-crunch or just want to make a quick/competitive offer you should still take the time to choose a realtor that is right for you. Since you won't be seeing the home in person, it's important you find a realtor that you trust. One that knows the market and the area you're buying in. Reading online reviews is a good start but be sure to talk to the realtor. Remember, you are hiring them for a job so be sure to ask about their business and tell them what expectations you have for them in the process. Buying a home is not just making the offer, you will be working with this person for at least 30 to 45 days. They will be walking you through the complicated process of buying a home. It's very important you find someone that will not only help you through the process but set up good (realistic) expectations and educate you about what is going on so you can make informed decisions. There is nothing worse than being in the middle of a very stressful situation like buying a home and having no idea whats going on.

The best way to find a real estate professional is to ask a friend or family member. If you are moving out of state ask a real estate professional you trust to help you locate the right home for you. Always interview realtors in your desired area.

2. Don't skip out on virtual tours.

Seeing is believing. It is especially important when it comes to buying a home. That's why you shouldn't make an offer on a home, based only on those wonderful listing photos that instantly caught your eye. Remember it's a real estate photographer's job to make the home look as good as possible. Just like you probably shouldn't marry someone after just seeing a few photos of them on Instagram. You should not buy a home after seeing a few of the best photos on the internet. The same idea goes for the opposite outcome as well. Sometimes a house might not have what you wanted based on the pictures alone. But if you see it virtually, you might be able to see the potential the house has that you hadn't even given thought before. Just remember pictures can be touched up, videos or tours are much harder to hide stuff in.

3. Ask about things you would normally see, smell, and hear.

When you're house hunting in person, you're able to use all of your senses. You can see the wonderful natural light coming in through the living areas. You can hear the noisy garage door. You can smell all the pet odors that are lingering in the home. But when you're buying a house without seeing it you're limited, to only what you see online. Before your virtual tour with your realtor, write down questions including concerns. Like what you would normally be able to see, smell, or hear while being in the home.

Here are a few examples:

- What can you smell in and out of the house? Maybe there is a farm or some kind of factory nearby. another example would be like the cereal factory in Albuquerque, that might not be such a bad thing. Unless you don't want to have a bad case of the muchies all day long.

- What can you hear in and out of the house? There could be a train station or firehouse nearby. Are the neighbors noisy? Does someone own a pool right behind you or around the house? This could be a party house that might like to wake up your baby or kids on the weekends.

-Do any appliances or features look outdated? The lighting in the photos may have made the cabinets look brand new, but they could just be painted which if not done correctly, can chip. Make sure to check the light fixtures as well, as most pictures don't show that and are very particular to some people's preference.

-What is the internet/cell service like in the area? This is very important nowadays with many people working from home.

-Is there anything that stands out that wouldn't have shown up in the 3D tour or photos? Be sure to check the ceiling for water stains. Are the windows in good condition or will your AC and heating bill be above average because the windows were installed 40 years ago.

If you're looking into moving to a home in a more remote location consider asking what wildlife is like or if extreme weather conditions are something you may need to worry about. If you're moving into a city or suburb be sure to ask about traffic conditions. A quick google map search to work or social events never hurts.

4. Be sure to research the area.

Whether you're excited or you need to make a quick decision, people often forget to look into the neighborhood and surrounding area. I always recommend to my buyers that they drive or walk through the area at different times during the day. If you don't have that luxury, have a friend or family member do it for you. If that isn't an option, a quick internet search of the area will do. Never feel bad for asking your real estate professional either, they should know the area they are selling to you. Websites like Facebook or NextDoor are a good way to gain local incite.

It's also important to look into schools especially if you have kiddos in the house or plan on having them eventually. It would be a bummer to move across town to get your kids into a better school, buy a home and find out you're a block out of the school district. Or your brand new home is 5 min away from a high crime area.

It can be hard when the market is pressuring you to make quick decisions so do all the due diligence you can upfront. Remember there are a lot of contingencies in the purchase agreement for you so inspect the home area before you're under contract. (Be sure to consult your LOCAL real estate professional. Rules and contracts vary by state)

5. Chose a high-quality home inspector.

A good realtor should have a few good inspectors on hand to recommend to you but be sure to do your own research. A home inspection is one of the most important things you can do when buying a home and having a good home inspector is crucial to that. A good or bad home inspector can make or break a transaction. They can either find all the wrong things in the house or make it look like the house is perfect just to get a paycheck.

6. Waving contingencies.

If you thinking of waiving contingencies in order to beat out another buyer, think twice! If it's a competitive market and you want your offer to stand out there and many other ways to do so without waving your right to object on inspections or the appraisal. That can be a very risky game to play and you need to make sure you've gone over exactly what you are giving up with your real estate professional before making that decision.

7. Expecting the process to go according to plan.

"There are about a million things that can go wrong in a real estate transaction so on a day where only 3 things go wrong it a pretty good day." -Josh Waters.

This is real estate. A world of moving parts, lots of people playing different roles and it's full of emotions. A common mistake I see buyers, sellers, and other realtors make is expecting everything to go according to plan. Add on buying a home sight unseen and you'll likely find yourself navigating the process differently. It's important to set a realistic timeline, with a buffer in case there are any hiccups along the way. (You're going to want a real estate professional that sets good expectations and makes a game plan when things go wrong very strategically). For example, there's a chance that the loan-approval process can take longer than expected. This is especially true of MFA loans that need to go out for MFA approval after underwriting. Or that the needed repairs to the home are going to take a few weeks.

Having realistic expectations and being educated about the process and planning for a few bumps along the way will help you feel at ease in case anything doesn't go according to plan.

Preparing all your documents in advance and getting everything to the lender when they ask for it is one of the best ways to ensure a smooth and less stressful transaction.

8. Make the offer contingent on viewing the property.

If this is possible it is always the next best thing to previewing the home before making the offer. It is a bit more of a risk to the seller and they will probably want to continue to market the property until the contingency is waived but that little extra protection is never a bad thing.

It is always best to see the home before signing a purchase agreement remember if the seller accepts the offer you are legally obligated to proceed with the process in good faith. Always consult a trusted real estate professional before making any offers on a home. We are here to protect you and it is our job to help you navigate the somewhat complicated process of buying a home.

If you or anyone you know is looking to buy or sell, I always appreciate your referrals and I'm NEVER too busy to help your friends and family.


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