‘It Was Definitely a Game of Chance’: What You Need to Know Before Buying a Virtual Home


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Nora Vanni and her fiancé have lived in Brooklyn for a few years, but their long-term plan has always been to return to Minneapolis, where they both grew up.

In two weeks they will be moving – to a house they have bought and have never seen in person. “COVID just accelerated everything,” Vanni, 29, told MarketWatch.

The pandemic made rapprochement with family a priority for the couple. Originally, the two of them considered moving to Minneapolis first to find an apartment to rent and then looking for a house to buy in person that fall. But her agent encouraged her to start looking sooner. As in many other parts of the country, there are more homes for sale in the summer than in other parts of the year.

“We decided to look from afar just in case we find something we really like,” said Vanni. Eventually Vanni found the house they ultimately bought when an “Coming Soon” listing for it appeared online.

Vanni let her parents tour the property with their real estate agent – Vanni and her fiancé Hank saw the property via video chat. The couple quickly made an offer, which was accepted.

The couple’s experience of buying a home that has essentially not been seen is not uncommon, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

A Redfin study RDFN,
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published in late July found that 45% of people who bought a home in the past year had made an offer on a home they hadn’t viewed in person. That was 28% of those surveyed around the same time a year ago, and 20% of people when Redfin first conducted a survey on the subject.

Forty-five percent of people who bought a home in the past year had made an offer on a home they hadn’t viewed in person, according to Redfin

This proportion is likely to increase in the coming months. “I expect the majority of home buyers will have made an unseen offer by the end of the 2020 home buying season,” Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather said in the report. “The pandemic has changed the way many people view houses, and the market is also highly competitive. If you don’t use this strategy, another buyer who does might hit you. “

Gabrielle Pinkerton, an event planner who recently moved from California to suburb south of Nashville, also made an offer on a home that her family had not seen in person, even though she was viewing the house during the inspection. While the virtual tour of the Pinkerton home saved money, it was a nerve-wracking experience.

“It was definitely a gamble, and for such a large purchase, I normally wouldn’t buy so blindly,” she said. “Our health was more important, so we decided not to travel during this time because of the virus.”

As more families across the country are likely to buy homes while relying solely on virtual methods to explore the properties, MarketWatch has spoken to real estate experts and home buyers for advice on the process.

It is even more important to choose the right real estate agent

Pinkerton’s top tip for buyers was to choose a trusted broker. “Our agent knew us from our time in California,” she said. “He knew our personalities and was the best person to represent us personally when we couldn’t leave.”

Ultimately, your real estate agent will be your eyes and ears during the tour process.

When evaluating potential realtors, it can be helpful to find someone who has experience helping people with a move, argued Scott Fuller, a real estate agent and founder of LeavingTheBayArea.com, a real estate services company that helps people move in California. Most agents are more used to working with people who move within a community.

Realtors who specialize in moving may understand more of the challenges involved in buying an unseen property. “There are a lot more strangers and hand-holding,” Fuller said.

The best agent will also be one who can act as a “human Rolodex,” said Fuller.

“Can your agent help you plan moving companies and get various moving options and quotes?” He said. “Can your agent help set up utilities and services in your home, or at least provide contact information for water, gas, garbage, and electricity, anything else you might need for the facility?”

Think of the “analysis paralysis”

A lot of people are used to browsing sites like Zillow ZG,
+ 2.65%
or Realtor.com these days to see what homes are available where to buy.

And one of the great things about buying a home virtually is that it’s actually less time consuming. Finally, it’s easier to set up multiple tours if you don’t have to get in the car and drive to see them all.

“We just had to expect that the inspection would reveal anything that could be a trap.”


– Nora Vanni, a homebuyer who bought a property virtually

But too much surfing can make the process even more stressful. “The emotional experience of buying a home and looking at it online is addicting,” said Fuller. “You tend to spend a lot of time focusing on things that you absolutely shouldn’t – it becomes analytical paralysis.”

One way to avoid the information overload is to make a detailed list of your must-haves in your new home. Use these to narrow down your search to avoid getting caught in the weeds.

Request the most comprehensive video tour possible

Before the tour, buyers should request a floor plan of the home, said Kelly Gaitten, an agent for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices BRK.A.
+ 1.18%
in Virginia. “Think about things up to the feeling of space,” she said. “What looks good in a picture of the family room may be far too small. Therefore, the dimensions and floor plans are huge at the moment. “

Ideally, the tour should actually begin before the agent reaches the front door. Ideally, the real estate agent should begin the tour while driving to the house in question, Fuller said. This will give you a better feel for the neighborhood and local amenities. Also, if you are a parent, you might want to ask the agent to drive from home to nearby schools to get a sense of how long it would take the children to get to school each morning.

“If it’s pretty tight and the seller knows that one of the buyers didn’t see it in person, they’ll lean towards the guy who actually saw it.”


– Maggie Wells, an agent for Keller Williams in Lexington, Ky

From there, the real estate agent should show you every part of the house from every possible angle. Don’t hesitate to ask as many questions as you can during the tour – especially about the things you can’t learn just by looking at a house. Does a room smell moldy or like cigarette smoke? Do you hear planes barking overhead or your neighbor’s dog all day?

Real estate agents are happy to answer questions about these aspects of home ownership. But remember, there are other times when an agent cannot give his or her opinion. The national association of realtors Code of ethics prohibits Agents discourage giving subjective opinions about things like nearby schools. “We can’t tell people what is good and what is bad,” said Maggie Wells, an agent at Keller Williams in Lexington, Kentucky.

Do not forego the home inspection

Laws vary from state to state on whether or not home sellers are required to provide prospective buyers with disclosure forms detailing the history and condition of a home. And a video tour can only convey so much to a potential buyer.

Today’s real estate market can be a highly competitive market, which makes doing without a home inspection appealing because it can be attractive to buyers. But this is a very risky endeavor.

Real estate experts and buyers told MarketWatch that the home inspection takes on a new meaning when buying an unseen attraction. Vanni and her fiancé opted for a more expensive – but more thorough – inspection when they bought their new home.

“We just had to rely on the inspection to reveal anything that could be a trap,” said Vanni.

As you review the report, pay particular attention to expensive parts of the home that might be in poor condition, such as the bathroom and kitchenware. B. the roof or the HVAC system.

Sellers can be biased against buyers who have not been viewed in person

Once the time to come forward with an offer, it’s important that a buyer who has not yet visited the home in person does their best in today’s competitive marketplace. “If it’s pretty tight and the seller knows that one of the buyers hasn’t seen it in person, they’ll lean towards the guy who actually saw it in person because the person who saw it virtually might get cold Feet, ”Wells said.

Wells suggested that when shoppers decide to get financing, choose a local mortgage lender rather than an online lender or major bank. In their area, many seller reps are suspicious of larger lenders as people may have difficulty getting in touch with a loan officer or customer service.

And one common tactic that real estate agents encourage taking buyers is to send the seller a personalized letter explaining who you are and what you love about the house. That can be useful in this situation, but Fuller actually recommended going a step further.

“What you really need to do is put that on video so the salesperson can make that emotional connection,” he said.

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