Buying a house sight unseen

Source: Dana Bull.

There’s always a rush of excitement when you turn the key to a new home for the first time. Now, imagine how much more intense it would feel if it were the first time you ever laid eyes on a house that cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars.

While it might sound unconventional, buying a house “sight unseen” is actually not as uncommon as it may seem. According to a survey by BusinessWire, one in five buyers made an offer on a home without seeing it in person.

There is inherently more risk when buying a house blindly. However, sometimes it’s the only way. Here’s what you can do minimize surprises.

Hire the Right Representation

Bringing on professionals who will advocate on your behalf can be hugely beneficial when buying sight unseen. It’s particularly helpful to hire someone if you’re relocating or making a long-distance purchase.

One in five buyers made an offer on a home without seeing it in person.

A buyer agent will understand the local nuances and real estate practices involved in the area. That person can provide neighborhood resources and industry connections and can help you analyze property values.

Relocation specialists are adept at the logistics involved in the move. They provide a wide range of services that can get you acclimated to a new area and ensure a smooth transition. These services include assisting with the home search, scheduling movers and introducing you to community providers like daycare, medical practices, etc.

Have Boots on the Ground

Even home buyers who are able to tour homes in person often bring a friend or family member for a second opinion. If you can’t physically be at the property, all the more reason to enlist someone you trust who can.

Not only can this person be your set of eyes, but he or she can be your ears and nose as well. Some unpleasant issues like a home with a moldy smell or a loud street are impossible to detect unless you’re on-site.

Get the Full Picture

Listing photos are intended to show off a home’s best attributes. You want to make sure you are getting the full picture, not just the highlights.

It helps to get photos/videos of the home taken from a variety of vantage points. For example, street views are helpful to give you an idea of the setting and neighborhood. You can use Google Maps and Google Earth to scope out the address at different angles.

As home shoppers, we tend to spend a lot of time looking at the house from the outside, but what about the other way around? For instance, what sort of views do the windows offer? Does the master bedroom look directly into the neighbors’? Are you surrounded by greenery or something unsightly?

Ask for a Floor Plan

Pictures and videos can enable you to piece together the layout, but having a floor plan completes the puzzle. If a professional floor plan is not available, you may be able to get the measurements from the sellers/listing agent or your buyer agent. From there, you can sketch out the configuration. Having the floor plan drawn up can help you visualize the space and whether or not it’s functional for your lifestyle.

Protect Yourself With Contingencies

Since buying a house without seeing it first is already on the riskier side, you may want to consider adding a few extra terms to your contract for more protection. Perhaps you want to make the offer subject to a walk through by either yourself, a representative or a licensed contractor.

Contingencies can weaken an offer, which isn’t ideal if you’re making a bid in a competitive market. That said, as a home buyer, it’s important to understand your options and to weigh your personal risk tolerance.

Have a Thorough Home Inspection

A home inspection is considered a standard practice and is a key component of the buying process. In addition to a basic home inspection, you may want to tack on some additional services like a mold, radon or lead paint test that could reveal information not available to the naked eye. If you’re unable to attend the home inspection, you’ll want to carefully read through the report summary and contact the inspector should you need clarification about anything that was uncovered.

Do a Thorough Due Diligence

Beyond the home inspection, there are several actions that you can take to facilitate your due diligence — many of the items can be checked off from the comfort of your couch. For starters, get your hands on a copy of the seller’s disclosure statement, which outlines any known defects about the house. Next, make a few phone calls to city officials like the police department for reports on community crime, the inspector’s office for a copy of the property’s file and the building/zoning departments for information on neighborhood development.

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