Buying A House Sight Unseen: A Complete Guide

9 Min Read
Updated March 9, 2024
Written By
Victoria Araj
couple sitting looking at their laptops together

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Americans have had to rethink their living situations. Lockdowns encouraged some occupants of major cities to seek housing that is spacious and located in areas that are not as crowded. The current supply of homes is not sufficient for demand, and new construction cannot keep up. This is urging home buyers to waste little time on closing, or e-closing. In fact, according to a past Zillow survey, 36% of Americans would be more likely to try to buy a home completely online during the outbreak.

Buying a house sight unseen was once a jaw-dropper. Today, remote home buying has become more common. We have the complete guide to regret-free homeownership.

What To Consider Before Buying A Home Sight Unseen

With the help of modern technology, REALTORS® and agents have adapted to a new way of showing houses. Below are key considerations to keep in mind for buying a house sight unseen.

  • Home staging is an effective way for real estate agents to make a good first impression on home buyers. With the help of online real estate websites, virtual staging and touring technology have created a strong access point for remote home buyers. Virtual staging is also cost-effective and provides a more detailed visual than pictures and videos.
  • In 2020, two-thirds of people who made an offer on a home had only seen it virtually and not in person. However, there are many things that a virtual tour cannot capture beneath the surface, such as mold, infestation and more. With houses rapidly leaving the housing market, potential buyers are going to be quick to make an offer.

Should You Buy A Home Sight Unseen?

Whether you should buy a home sight unseen depends on a number of factors. It’s important to look at all variables to determine if this is the right option for you. If you live out of state and need a home in a new state, buying sight unseen might be your only option – or you might need to rush to put in an offer depending on the housing market. Whatever your case may be, consider the following:

  • Look beyond the surface. A virtual tour can be an effective way to visualize your new home or investment property. Yet, if you’re purchasing a home long-distance, it will be difficult to detect possible mold and water damage. Keep in mind pictures of the home can be altered, may not include all the rooms within the home and may hide damages. Consider having someone view the home for you to reduce potential risk. If you don’t have a family member or friend near the home you’re considering, it would be ideal to contact a local real estate agent in that area to tour the house and environment for you. You can use applications such as FaceTime, Skype and Zoom to view your future home.
  • Incorporate contingencies when you make an offer on a home. Adding a contingency in a contract means a certain condition of the home or specific action must be met for the purchase contract to become binding.

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Advantages And Disadvantages Of A Sight Unseen Offer

When you’re buying a house sight unseen, there will always be advantages and disadvantages to weigh. You might not be able to step foot in the house and see yourself living there, but you might avoid a bidding war by putting in a quick offer. Let’s look at a few of the pros and cons of putting in an offer on a house sight unseen.

Pros Of Buying A House Unseen

Buying a house is a huge investment – you want to make sure it’s worth it, especially if you don’t get to see the house in person. Consider these pros of buying sight unseen:

  • You can move quickly. If you need to move fast, chances are you’re putting an offer in as quickly as possible. Other potential buyers might be scheduling a tour while you already have your offer in.
  • You can avoid in-person tours. Since the start of COVID-19, many people prefer to stay home. Even though we’re starting to go back to somewhat of a pre-COVID lifestyle, some would still rather do virtual tours, especially if they’re buying a home out of state.
  • You could save money. Odds are you won’t be getting into a bidding war if you’re making an offer sight unseen. You also will save time and money because you won’t be traveling to and from the house as often.

Cons Of Buying A House Unseen

Although there are many advantages to buying a house sight unseen, you’re also going to face disadvantages. If you’re putting an offer in on a house you’ve never seen before, think about these factors:

  • You won’t get a sense of the lighting. Although you can tell through a video if a light switch works or not, you won’t be able to see when the sun shines through your windows at different times throughout the day.
  • Dimensions and size are hard to gauge. You won’t fully understand how spacious a room is or how high the ceilings are if you’re doing a virtual tour.
  • Virtual tours don’t capture sounds and smells. You won’t know if you have noisy neighbors or if you live next to a busy road through photos. Also, looking at a house through photos and videos doesn’t come with a scratch-and-sniff.

Steps To Take As A Virtual Home Buyer

Although the online home buying experience is relatively new, if you go this route, you’ll take many of the same steps as an in-person home buyer. However, knowing the differences between these two experiences will help ensure that you find the best home for your needs. Below are a few tips to ensure you have a positive home buying experience.

Find A Good Real Estate Agent

An important step in buying a house sight unseen is choosing the right REALTOR®. This will impact how smooth the process will go when purchasing. Real estate agents need to be well-rounded in several areas such as negotiation, communication and proficiency in the current housing market. While it’s possible to buy a home without a real estate agent, buying a home virtually often calls for another set of professional eyes. We’ve listed some tips below that will give insight on what makes a real estate agent stand out, and what to avoid during your search.

Qualities Of A Good Real Estate Agent

  • You’ll want a real estate agent who’s knowledgeable of the market you’re interested in. Since your agent will know your price range and priorities for your home, they should be able to show you homes for sale with ease. However, there’s more to the home buying process. Your REALTOR® needs to be able to inform you on local schools, the pros/cons of the overall area as a place to live, and any other questions that you may have.
  • A REALTOR® must be capable of negotiating the price of the home with the seller. Often, homes can be overpriced and still require improvements, making the home not worth the price. Seek a REALTOR® who will advocate for you, to ensure you’re getting your dream home at a reasonable price. One of the main ways agents do this is knowing a standard selling price per square foot of similar properties to the one you want to buy.
  • Besides expertise and communication skills, your agent must have credentials. There’s a difference between a real estate agent and a REALTOR®. To be a real estate agent requires only a state license, while a REALTOR® is a real estate professional who is an active member of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR); they follow a strict code of ethics.

Get Preapproved

Getting preapproved will increase the chances of getting your offer accepted and help you remain competitive in the housing market.

There are several advantages to providing a preapproval letter to your real estate agent or REALTOR®. Doing this ahead of time will increase both the agent’s and your confidence that you can afford the home. Currently, the housing market is extremely competitive. Therefore, getting preapproved can help you stand out from the crowd of those who are prequalified.

Take A Virtual Tour

Showings have become more convenient since home sellers are increasingly offering virtual tours due to social distancing guidelines.

Home buyers should take advantage of 3-D virtual tours on a listing page, as well as any other virtual walkthrough opportunities. It’s important to look at the focal points of the home, including the kitchen, bathrooms and bedrooms. However, you shouldn’t overlook the smaller parts of the home like fixtures, the laundry room and storage space. In addition to quality pictures and videos, you should request a digital floor plan to get a sense of the space.

Get A Home Inspection

A home inspection is fundamental if you’re purchasing real estate you’ve never seen. This will entail a real estate professional looking for possible problems in the home that you might need to address later down the line, which will be included in a report once the inspection is finished. Home inspections are necessary to prevent you from spending thousands of dollars on a house with structural issues. If the inspection unveils extensive damage, a price adjustment might be in order.

During the inspection, home inspectors will examine several components of a house, including:

  • Home structure: Structural elements of the home include the foundation, roof, basement, walls and frames. Common problems include joists being cut too short during construction, natural disasters and settling. Additionally, roofing that has issues can indicate water Inspectors should look for dry-rotted materials and exposed nail heads.
  • Electrical: Older homes can have outdated wiring.
  • Water damage: Water can affect all parts of the home and lead to expensive repairs. Water damage can originate from poor exterior construction, plumbing or roofing. This can promote the growth of mold and make wood rot.

Ask Local Friends And Family To Take A Look

Consider asking a friend or trusted relative to give a FaceTime or other personal video tour of the property to communicate sights, smells and sounds that otherwise might not be conveyed during a virtual tour.

Make A Sight Unseen Offer

It’s simple: The key to keeping up with a fast-paced housing market is to move fast yourself. Making a sight unseen offer will aid in the process of beating your competition.

To prevent the process from slowing down, consider dropping low-risk contingencies like unappealing flooring – but keep high-risk ones in place in order to keep the offer competitive.

Attend E-Closing

An electronic mortgage closing, commonly known as an e-closing, is a client-friendly and safe option that can be completed in a few steps. E-closings are conducted on a secure online portal, and grant access to the lender and the borrower to sign off on real estate dealings. There are various ways to leave your signature; you have the option of using a stylus, signing with your finger, uploading a picture of your signature or simply typing your name.

The Bottom Line: The Sight Unseen Offer Is Opening More Doors

To recap: Improve your chances of having your offer accepted by getting preapproved and securing a mortgage commitment letter. During this step, the lender will check your credit score and view your bank statements and other necessary documents before issuing a preapproval. This is important for not only your real estate agent, but for the seller to know that you have adequate funds to purchase the home.

Other key considerations include finding a REALTOR® you trust. It’s also advised to involve an extra set of eyes to visit the property, such as a family member or friend, to make sure the home has minimal damage to reduce contingencies. The final step is e-closing, which requires your signature on a secure online platform.

Buying a house sight unseen is not uncommon and can be done safely. If you’re interested in shopping for homes virtually, .

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