By Erik J. Martin | CTW FEATURES
Years ago, the idea of purchasing a home sight unseen – that is, without physically inspecting the property – was strongly frowned upon by most in the real estate industry. After all, what is probably the biggest and most expensive transaction of your life should include looking, touching and walking through the home to prevent buyer’s regrets.
But especially since the pandemic, remote buying has become a viable trend, making sense for a significant number of out-of-state/international buyers who can’t make the trip in time but still want to claim an available property before someone else does does something else.
“The real estate market has seen a significant increase in remote home shopping in recent years, driven by technological advances and accelerated by the COVID-19 crisis,” says Anthony Sherman, CEO of Sonar, a mortgage experience platform in New York City. “Fortunately, these individuals can use virtual tools, 360-degree photos and detailed online listings to explore properties remotely, even if they can’t physically view them.”
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In fact, modern technology can make shopping remotely at home more painless and risk-free than ever before.
“The steps I use to work with buyers purchasing from far away include video tours, virtual tours, Google Street View, providing a thorough analysis of the property and carefully estimating value based on comparable sales,” explains Erin Hybart, real estate agent at Clients First Property in Zachary, Louisiana. She says she has several out-of-state clients who are relocating for work, people who often have to look for homes on short notice without the opportunity to view the area before the transaction closes. “I record a video tour of the property while telling the buyer candidate exactly what I see. It makes me think out loud about the good, the bad, the ugly and the expensive. The tour may take some time as there may be a lot to discuss. I then send the videos to the buyer for review.
After the buyer reviews their video, Hybart calls the customer to collect feedback and questions about the property. The conversation can turn into a video call so she can conduct a virtual tour while the customer watches.
“Even if the listing doesn’t include a floor plan, I sketch a floor plan and house plan in pencil to make it easier for them. I also do a video tour of the neighborhood so they can see the surrounding community,” adds Hybart.
According to Daniel Henry, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker in Long Grove, Illinois, coronavirus fears may have abated, but the number of long-distance buyers has not. He says many buyers continue to buy remotely because housing inventory remains in short supply and competition among rival buyers is fierce, often leading to bidding wars. To win a bidding war, a distant buyer may have to shop from afar.
“Given current market conditions, there are times when potential buyers find themselves in the difficult position of having to make a large investment without seeing it first. This is where the broker comes in: “You have to feel comfortable with the person you’re working with in this situation,” he says.
When time constraints play a role, such as when moving or needing to purchase property quickly, home shopping from a distance makes sense.
“When a buyer has a short time frame and cannot view the homes in person, hiring a knowledgeable agent who can communicate well is critical,” Hybart continues. “However, buyers and agents must have excellent communication, a clear list of must-haves and wish-list items, and leverage technology at the highest level.”
Additionally, it is advisable to seek the help of an experienced local real estate attorney if you cannot be there in person, as well as an experienced home inspector who can thoroughly inspect the property. In most cases, experts advise against purchasing a property without first having a professional home inspection carried out – especially in the case of a distance purchase.
“While remote shopping offers convenience, keep in mind that it carries risks such as misrepresentation of ownership and unforeseen problems,” warns Sherman. “Damage control strategies include conducting thorough due diligence, consulting with local experts, requesting additional property information and, if possible, arranging at least one physical viewing before completing the purchase.”