6 Things Pandemic Buyers Wish You Knew About Purchasing a House Sight Unseen

published Mar 24, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Lumina Images/Getty Images

In a 2021 millennial homebuyer survey conducted by real estate site Clever, a whopping 80 percent of respondents said they’d consider buying a house sight unseen. This is the kind of staggering statistic that shows just how much buyer preferences (and buying methods) have changed since March 2020. 

As this becomes more and more common among homebuyers, the folks who’ve already tried it have some tips to share. Here, find the six things that pandemic buyers wish you knew about buying a house virtually.

Facebook groups are a good on ramp to neighborhood research.

Lauren Wurthmann and her fiancé, Gary Reel, were living in New York City when they purchased a home during the pandemic, sight unseen, in Franklin, Tennessee. From that far away, Wurthmann says she researched everything as thoroughly as possible — especially the neighborhood and realtors in the area. While she started with general Google searches, she found the most helpful insight came from neighborhood Facebook groups run by people who live in Franklin and Nashville. 

Wurthmann credits these groups with providing invaluable information. “They gave candid advice on which realtors were experts on the Franklin market based on previous experiences, along with an honest look inside the neighborhood/area through the lens of the people living there or in the surrounding areas,” she says.

Hiring a rockstar real estate agent is key.

Jo and Lee Lisonbee bought a home in Paauilo, Hawaii, without setting foot inside it first. “We had to rely heavily on an amazing agent on the ground who knew the area very well, who knew what we were looking for, and who would fight for what we needed,” Lisonbee says about their realtor, Nate Gaddis at Corcoran Pacific Properties.

Some people prefer to buy and/or sell their home without a realtor. However, Imani Francies, another pandemic homebuyer, cautions against it — and also warns against using novice agents in these circumstances. “Try your best to not sign a purchase agreement without an experienced agent,” she says. “If you sign a purchase agreement as an independent buyer, the lender or seller is less likely to cover the expense of a real estate agent later on.” She believes an experienced agent is the best person to work with because this individual is better equipped to negotiate on your behalf.

Credit: Hero Images/Getty Images

Don’t ever skip the video walkthrough.

If you can’t view the home in person, you certainly need to see it virtually if you’re planning on purchasing remotely.

“It may seem like a burden to ask for a video walkthrough, but it goes a long way to give a more accurate idea of what the space really feels like — especially because photos can be manipulated with lenses or in post-production to feel more spacious than they really are,” Lisonbee says.

And you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled during these virtual tours. “From the detailed video walkthrough our agent did for us, my wife was able to spot some failed window seals, which we were able to get replaced, under warranty, before closing,” Lisonbee reveals. 

Pay for a quality inspector.

Everyone wants to save money during the homebuying process. But a home inspection is not the place to cut corners. “Thoroughly research the inspector who will evaluate the value of your potential home, especially if the lender or seller is the one choosing the inspector,” Francies advises. “Closing on a home almost always requires an appraisal, but if your real estate transaction doesn’t, it’s in your best interest to demand one if you cannot physically see the property.”

Lisonbee agrees, and says they kept a close eye on the inspection report and the seller disclosures. “We made sure there weren’t any issues that would surprise us in the end.”

Ask a lot of questions — even if it feels like overkill.

It’s always a good idea to ask a lot of questions before you purchase a home. But if you’re buying it sight unseen, you need to ask even more questions. According to Jamie Hickey and his wife Tara, who also purchased their Philadelphia home during the pandemic without seeing it in person, you need to ask out-of-the-box questions.

“You have to remember to ask questions that you wouldn’t normally think of, like what does the house and outside area smell like,” Hickey says. “This may sound weird, but we have a paper mill near us that when the wind is blowing in the wrong direction you can smell a chemical odor.” Regardless of how the home looks, that’s the type of need-to-know information that can cancel a home sale.  

Some of the other types of questions he recommends asking include, “Are the cabinets new or is it just a coat of paint that looks great on a virtual tour but not so great in person?” and “What is the internet and wifi signal like?”

Remember that the reward for taking this risk is high.

Donn Grizzle recently moved into a single-family home in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood. He says the whole process was conducted with a realtor using videos and FaceTime.

Grizzle was actually buying and selling, so he had to conduct both remotely.  

“Buying a home sight unseen was nerve-wracking, but it paid off in the end,” he says. “As long as you have a professional and trustworthy agent, you should have no issues with the home you are buying — if you convey exactly what you’re looking for and conduct your research.”

Grizzle says he has no regrets. “It really seemed to us that the real estate industry was prepared and had made all the necessary adjustments in order to conduct a safe and responsible real estate transaction.”