Should you buy a house sight unseen? Here’s what you need to know

A smart way to speed up your house hunt?

Many home buyers these days have to move quickly. That’s because demand outweighs supply, and appealing homes that hit the market often generate bidding wars and sell fast.

Some buyers eager to move fast will buy a home ‘sight unseen,’ without ever touring the place in person.

This can be a good strategy in a competitive real estate market. But sight-unseen homes aren’t without risk. Here’s what you should know before making an offer.

Verify your home buying eligibility (Feb 2nd, 2021)


In this article (Skip to…)


What does it mean to buy a house ‘sight unseen’?

Purchasing a home ‘sight unseen’ means buying it without having toured the property in person first.

Typically, someone buying a home sight-unseen will have looked at pictures and videos online and likely taken a virtual tour.

While it might sound odd to buy a home without having set foot in it, more and more home buyers are choosing to do so.

According to recent research by Redfin, a surprising 63% of those who purchased a home in 2020 made an offer on a property they hadn’t viewed in person.

Why remote home buying is increasing

There are several reasons why more buyers are opting to purchase a home sight unseen lately.

“Given the ongoing [coronavirus] pandemic, it makes sense that people make offers on properties without actually physically touring them,” says Rajeh Saadeh, a real estate attorney, investor, and professor.

“After all, people are trying to limit physical contact and going into places where they do not know if any occupants have COVID-19.”

“In hot markets, you must submit offers in minutes or hours, not days” –Bruce Ailion, Realtor and attorney

Bruce Ailion, a Realtor and attorney, agrees.

“The market has changed. People need to move quickly, and touring a home in person before an offer may not be possible. In hot markets, you must submit offers in minutes or hours, not days,” he says.

He points out, “Today, photos and videos are of better quality. And a smart buyer should be able to rely on a high-quality agent or broker to act as their eyes, ears, nose, and fiduciary.”

How to buy a house sight unseen

The process of buying a home sight unseen isn’t too different from a traditional home purchase. You’re simply using online photos, videos, and tours in place of an in-person tour or open house.

Saadeh says the following steps are involved for the buyer:

  1. Evaluate the property remotely using photos, facetime or video tours, and descriptions provided by your real estate agent or broker
  2. Get pre-approved for a mortgage to show the seller you can afford to finance the home
  3. Make an official offer to the seller to purchase the property
  4. If the seller likes the offer and accepts it, you and the seller prepare a contract
  5. Both parties sign the contract
  6. You make an earnest money deposit (or ‘good faith money’) in cash
  7. You have the property professionally inspected (optional but strongly recommended, especially for a sight-unseen offer). If you are satisfied with the inspector’s findings, the deal continues
  8. You order a title report. If the title is clear or clearable at closing, the deal continues
  9. You choose a mortgage lender, finalize the terms of your home loan, and lock an interest rate

Then, as with any purchase, you’ll schedule a closing date to sign your final loan documents.

Once the mortgage is finalized, your lender pays the home seller and the home title transfers to you. You’re now the official owner.

Start your mortgage pre-approval (Feb 2nd, 2021)

Is buying a home sight unseen a bad idea?

There are pros and cons to purchasing a home sight unseen.

“On the positive side, you may get to purchase the property for a bit less because you moved quickly and avoided a bidding war,” notes Caleb Parr, vice president of Sales and Acquisitions at Renshaw Company Realtors.

Virtual home tours can also be helpful for long-distance purchases, like buying a home out of state.

“Most people end up visiting a home multiple times during the purchase phase. This can cost a lot of money if you are having to travel out of state to tour the home,” says Nathaniel Hovsepian investor and owner of The Expert Home Buyers.

“You may get to purchase the property for a bit less because you moved quickly and avoided a bidding war” –Caleb Parr, VP of Sales and Acquisition, Renshaw Company Realtors

On the other hand, with a sight-unseen offer, you won’t have the benefit of previewing the property in person.

You’ll have to rely on photos, video, virtual tours, and the descriptions and opinions provided by your real estate agent and home inspector.

“Given that a home purchase is likely the most expensive transaction of your life, it’s important to adequately ‘kick the tires’ and determine the true condition of the property,” cautions real estate attorney Charles R. Gallagher.

“There is great risk in failing to see defects to the property with a sight-unseen purchase, particularly if you choose not to have the home professionally inspected.”

Even when you’re in a rush, real estate experts recommend getting a home inspection to make sure there aren’t any major issues the seller neglected to disclose. An inspection is your one chance to get the seller to cover repair costs — or walk away if the problem is a deal-breaker.

Precautions to take with sight unseen homes

Again, there are risks involved with committing to a sight-unseen home. To minimize these risks, it pays to take special precautions.

“Try to have someone you trust at least drive-by the home and take fresh videos and pictures so that you know what you are getting. It’s possible that these images may more accurately reflect the property’s current condition than the images displayed on a website,” says Parr.

A friend or family member in the area you hope to buy could be a big help in this regard.

Additionally, consider placing a home inspection contingency in your offer.

“A buyer does not have a trained eye to notice or even look for issues and concerns with a home. It’s always prudent to have the property professionally inspected, whether or not the buyer did a walk-through or simply viewed pictures and video before making the offer,” advises Saadeh.

Also — using your agent as your representative — be sure to ask the homeowner about any aspects you aren’t sure about based on the listing photos and video tours; including home features, appliances, systems, design aspects, or potential renovations.

Buying a house sight unseen FAQ

Can you put in an offer on a home without viewing it?

It’s perfectly legal to make an offer on a home ‘sight unseen,’ meaning you haven’t viewed it in person. Sight-unseen offers are becoming more popular as home inventory remains low and COVID prevents home buyers from touring propreties.

What is a sight unseen addendum?

A sight unseen addendum is part of a home purchase agreement. It indicates the buyer has not seen the property in person, and accepts the purchase terms without an in-person viewing and without walk-through contractual entitlements, per real estate attorney Charles Gallagher.

Can you buy a house virtually?

It’s possible to buy a home virtually. But it has more to do with how your mortgage closes than how you view the home. “Some may define a sight-unseen purchase and a virtual purchase as the same thing. However, a remote or video closing doesn’t involve closing in person, which can happen even if the property is being purchased sight-unseen,” says Rajeh Saadeh, real estate attorney.

How quickly can you buy a house?

The time it takes to buy a home can vary a lot, depending on whether there are competing offers or multiple negotiation stages between the seller and buyer. If everything else goes smoothly, though, the longest stage of the home buying process is closing the mortgage. This usually takes around 30 days.

Do I need a real estate agent to buy a home sight unseen?

No, you don’t need a real estate agent to purchase a home sight unseen. “But it is prudent to use an agent to purchase a home. You can benefit from this person’s expertise in terms of valuation, deal points, and guidance through the entire transaction,” recommends Charles Gallagher, real estate attorney.

It’s especially helpful to have a professional on your side if you can’t see the home in person, or if you’re a first time home buyer without much experience in real estate.

Should I buy a home sight unseen?

The answer depends on your risk tolerance and the degree to which you perform due diligence on the property.

Purchasing a home sight unseen can help you avoid a bidding war and buy your new home more quickly.

“But a sight-unseen purchase increases the odds of an unfavorable outcome for the buyer. You may be saddled with some undisclosed defect that can cost you upwards of tens of thousands of dollars,” says real estate attorney Charles Gallagher.

So take certain precautions. You should have the home professionally inspected, make sure you’re satisfied with the inspection results, and consult closely with your real estate agent or broker throughout the process.

Can I buy a house as-is?

Anyone can purchase a home as-is. This simply means the “seller has no obligation to improve the property or make it better for the buyer,” Rajeh Saadeh explains. If you’re considering a home listed ‘as-is,’ you should be sure to have it inspected before you buy to make sure there are no major issues you’ll end up paying to repair.

Do I have to be physically present at closing?

The answer depends on the state you live in. Some states require in-person notarization. And some lenders require that a buyer sign documents in the presence of a notary.

If you choose a lender that offers ‘e-closings,’ and live in a state that allows remote mortgage closings, then you do not need to be physically present on closing day.

If there is no loan because you’re buying the home with cash, there is no obligation for a buyer, a seller or a closing agent to be in the same room or even building to conclude a closing. “Everything can be done by mail, email, and wire transfer,” real estate attorney Rajeh Saadeh explains.

What can go wrong at closing?

Issues can occur at closing if you no longer qualify for the mortgage you were pre-approved for. This might be the case if you lost your job or had a negative change to your income or credit score between applying and closing. In this case, you’ll need to re-apply and see if you still qualify for financing. If not, the deal can fall through.

Other potential issues at closing include problems discovered with the property’s title, a bank transfer of funds that falls through, or document errors. Consult closely with your mortgage lender, real estate agent, title company, and attorney to avoid these and other problems.

The first step to buying a home

Whether you’re buying a home sight unseen or touring homes the traditional way, the first step in the process remains the same.

You need to get approved for mortgage financing before you can make an offer on any home.

A pre-approval letter verifies your loan amount and your mortgage rate — and it shows the seller your offer is serious. If you hope to move quickly on a home purchase, getting pre-approved first is a must.

Verify your new rate (Feb 2nd, 2021)

Compare top lenders

Source: themortgagereports.com

Moving Stressing You Out? Here Are 5 Move-Planning Apps to Make Your Life Easier

What can eclipse the excitement of moving to a new home? The headache of packing and unpacking, deciding what to toss, and actually transporting all of your prized possessions, that’s what. It’s a big job, and someone has to do it—but that doesn’t make the impending stress of moving any less overwhelming.

What will help take the pain out of preparing to relocate are move-planning apps. Like other productivity apps that can be downloaded on your smartphone, move-planning apps will help you keep everything organized.

“Move-planning apps work great for preparation and organization, because they help you break up your move into small, actionable steps, so you can be prepared on your move day,” says Jason Burroughs, founder and CEO at Able Body Moving and Delivery in Birmingham, AL. “This can greatly save you on the cost of your move, because the less the movers do, the more money you keep in your pocket.”

Below are five of the best move-planning apps to help make moving day as hassle-free as possible.

1. Sortly

Sortly is an app that helps you keep inventory for your move.
Sortly is an app that helps you keep inventory for your move.

Sortly

The beauty of this app is its attention to detail; it allows you to compartmentalize every inch of your house. You can create a moving checklist (which can be exported for movers), photograph items and categorize them by location (room, closet, box, etc.), and you can add value and condition for specific items (i.e. your prized dolphin painting).

For $3.99 a month, one user can catalogue an unlimited number of items on three devices. The $25-a-month plan allows three users to catalog unlimited items, with the option of adding users $3 a month per user. The app also has a two-week free trial and a free version that allows one user to catalogue 100 items on one device.

Sortly is available on the App Store for iPhones and iPads, and the Google Play Store for Androids.

2. Unpakt

Find a moving company with Unpakt
Find a moving company with Unpakt

Unpakt

This app helps you find a moving company. Enter basic details—when, where, and what you’re moving—and you’ll see real prices (not estimates) from verified firms. Unpakt offers a price guarantee that only changes if you add or remove an item or service.

Booking a service is simple: Just select a mover, enter your billing information, and your move is reserved. Your credit card will be charged two business days before the day of the move. Unpakt guarantees that moving companies are screened to ensure that they’re reputable; you can also read reviews from other consumers on the app.

Unpakt is free and is available on the App Store for iPhones and iPads and the Google Play Store for Androids.

3. MakeSpace

MakeSpace is a great storage solution.
MakeSpace is a great storage solution.

MakeSpace

If you’re downsizing or moving to a home short on storage space, MakeSpace will come in handy. “We take care of the hauling and heavy lifting, at a price that’s comparable to traditional, DIY self-storage,” says Amory Wooden, VP of brand at MakeSpace.

The app makes the process as simple as possible: Just book an appointment, and its team of professional movers will come to pick up your stuff and haul it off to storage. When you want your items back, schedule a delivery, and the team will return your goods.

As an added bonus, Wooden says MakeSpace will bring complimentary supplies, like bubble wrap and free MakeSpace bins.

When the items arrive at the storage facility, the company sends photos of everything—and the photos can be used to request specific items that you want to get out of storage.

The storage plans range from $69 per month for a 2-foot by 2-foot unit, to $469 per month for a 10-foot by 20-foot unit.

The MakeSpace app is free and is available for download on the App Store for iPhones and iPads.

4. Flying Ruler

Flying Ruler will help you measure anything in your home.
Flying Ruler will help you measure anything in your home.

Flying Ruler

Not sure if that sofa will fit in your new living room? Is it too large to come through the front door? Flying Ruler can help you be sure. This app is a tape measure, ruler, protractor, and a goniometer (otherwise known as an angle-measurer).

After you calibrate your phone—a simple process that the app walks you through—you can take measurements merely by moving your phone from one point to the next. The measurement is then displayed on the interface in either inches or centimeters. You can also take a photo of the measurements. The Flying Ruler app has a high accuracy rate, but the company recommends that you measure more than once.

FlyingRuler costs $1.99 and is available for download on the App Store for iPhones and iPads.

5. Dolly

Hire someone to help you move with Dolly.
Hire someone to help you move with Dolly.

Dolly

Dolly helps you find vetted and insured pick-up truck owners to help you with moving, furniture pick-up, and even hauling off your trash. Found your perfect sofa at a store that doesn’t deliver? Dolly can help you hire someone to transport your purchase home.

In addition, Dolly can match you with someone for a “labor-only move,” if you need some extra muscle to move stuff around your home.

The app is extremely simple to navigate: Enter your details (what/where/when you need something picked up and delivered) and receive a quote for the service. If you agree to the price, simply book the Dolly. You can book a same-day delivery, or schedule the delivery for the next day, or even the next month.

You can ask for almost anything to be moved, with the exception of a few items, such as gun safes, pianos, and alcohol.

Dolly is free. It is available for download on the App Store for iPhones and iPads, and the Google Play Store for Androids.

Source: realtor.com

6 Reasons Why This Is Actually the Best Time in Years To Sell a House

Talk about a strange summer. Between the continued threat of the novel coronavirus, a wobbly economy, and layoffs happening left and right, it’s no surprise that many who may have hoped to sell their home this season are wondering whether to put those plans on hold—or they’ve already thrown in the towel.

Such hesitancy is understandable. Yet the irony is that, after closely examining the current housing market conditions, many real estate experts believe this summer could be one of the best times to sell a home in years.

“Given the pandemic and uncertainty it’s caused, the general sentiment [among some owners] is that now is not a good time to sell your home,” says Danielle Hale, chief economist at realtor.com®. “Yet so far, the data suggest the opposite—that buyers outnumber sellers in the housing market, which means it’s better to be a seller than a buyer.”

So if you’re a home seller who assumed they should write off this summer’s home-selling season as a lost cause, it’s time for a reality check! Here are a few reasons why the market could actually be moving strongly in your favor.

1. Home buyer demand is back with a vengeance

Granted, in the spring, when COVID-19 was spurring many states to enforce quarantine and ban open houses, home selling understandably went dormant for a while. But now that lockdown restrictions are loosening up in some states, home buyers are out with a vengeance—and many of them are eager to make up for lost time.

Indeed, the real estate market is already seeing strong signs of a rebound, according to the National Association of Realtors®’ Pending Home Sales Index (a forward-looking indicator of home sales based on contract signings). In May, after two months of decline, pending home sales shot up 44.3%—the highest month-over-month jump since 2001, when the index began.

“There’s very significant demand,” says Matthew Gardner, chief economist at Windermere Real Estate. He adds that demand is strongest right now in the suburbs and in smaller, cheaper cities—as buyers look to escape the biggest metros and more companies follow tech titans like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft in allowing employees to work remotely for the foreseeable future.

“If we continue to see an increase in working from home, people can move farther away, where they can get more bang for their buck,” Gardner says.

———

Watch: 5 Things to Know About Selling a Home Amid the Pandemic

———

2. Home inventory remains low

Yet amid this glut of home buyers, the number of homes for sale to actually meet this pent-up demand is at an all-time low.

“There was insufficient supply last year,” says Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the NAR. “This year during the pandemic, the shortage has intensified.”

According to realtor.com’s market outlook, housing inventory in June was 27% lower than a year earlier.

And some reasons for the shortage of available homes have little to do with the recent coronavirus crisis. The number of homes for sale is at a “generational low,” says Gardner, because people are living in their homes longer than they used to. In fact, NAR data shows that Americans are spending an average of 13 years in their homes before moving.

The lower inventory is also the result of fewer distressed properties on the market, “due to the massive government stimulus support, including mortgage forbearance and generous unemployment benefits,” Yun explains.

3. Home prices are up

With demand for homes up and inventory down, the conditions are perfect for home sellers to get high prices.

“Many sellers can get top dollar in the current market conditions,” says Yun.

According to NAR , single-family home prices increased in most markets during the first quarter of 2020, with the national median single-family home price increasing 7.7%, to $274,600.

This good news may come as a surprise to sellers, since it was expected that the housing market would take a hit and home prices would drop because of the pandemic. That’s quite the contrary.

“Home asking price growth is actually higher now than it was before the pandemic,” Hale explains.

4. Mortgage interest rates are low, too

Another factor pushing home buyers to shop are the historically low mortgage interest rates.

According to Freddie Mac’s July 2 report, average interest rates recently reached a new record low of 3.07% for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. Given this means homes could cost potentially tens of thousands less over the lifetime of the loan, it’s understandable that mortgage purchase applications have jumped since last year.

5. The economy is showing slow signs of recovery

While the pandemic led to record high unemployment rates in March, these levels have recently fallen slightly, which could be a good sign that people are still eager and able to buy a home.

Continuing spikes in COVID-19 infection rates may have a negative impact on employment numbers in some areas going forward, but for now the national trends are heading in the right direction.

“The pandemic sharply curtailed economic production and consumer spending in March, April, and part of May. As a result, joblessness soared,” Hale explains. “But data from May and June suggests that businesses are adding back jobs as consumers get back to spending, and some companies are now scrambling to keep up demand. Some speculated that we’d see a sharp bounce back in activity, and I think it’s fair to say that’s what we’re seeing so far.”

6. Home buyers’ needs have changed

Along with working remotely, people have been spending more time at home in general—and this, in turn, has sparked a fresh deluge of home buyers whose current homes no longer seem as comfortable or roomy as they were pre-COVID-19. That is, if your dining table now doubles as your “office,” you might be tempted to trade in your short commute for another room or two so all can work from home in peace.

“People are looking at their existing home and saying, ‘If I have to work from home, then maybe my house just doesn’t work,’” Gardner says.

“Spending three months locked up at home taught a lot of people that where they live is important,” agrees Jed Kliman, managing broker at Windermere Real Estate in Seattle. “Clients I’ve been working with recently are trading up because they’ve spent more time in their homes and realized it didn’t meet their needs.”

Home offices, more privacy, outdoor spaces, and just more room are becoming more important to homeowners. Kliman says playing up these features and amenities when you sell your home can attract buyers. Home staging and visually appealing listing photos, though always important, are especially crucial in today’s market.

“Staging, professional photos, even video and 3D virtual tours—those are all really important because people start their home search online, and they have to be moved and captivated to go see a house,” Kliman says.

In addition to understanding market conditions, home sellers will want to know that the process from offer to closing may work a little differently today.

For example, social distancing may mean home inspections and repairs take a little longer. Kliman says some of his sellers have been doing their own pre-inspections and making reports available to interested buyers to speed up the process.

The bottom line: “You want to make it as easy as possible for a buyer to make an offer,” he says.

Just be prepared for the unexpected, Hale says.

“The time it takes to sell a home does seem to be shrinking, as states lift restrictions on business and consumers feel more confident and comfortable,” she says. “But depending on how infection rates evolve, this could change. This doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods completely.”

Source: realtor.com

U.S. Housing Market Takes a Breather But Stays Hot

The juggernaut that has become the U.S. housing market finally paused to take a breath last week. But even with buyers and sellers taking a step back temporarily, the industry remained hot.

During the week ending Nov. 7, both buyers and sellers averted their attention from relocations and instead focused on current events, according to Thursday’s report from realtor.com.

“Between the presidential election [on Nov. 3] and a new wave of coronavirus cases, buyers and sellers had a lot of reasons to pause last week,” Danielle Hale, realtor.com’s chief economist, said in the report.

Sellers avoided putting their homes on the market, with the number of new listings last week dropping from an already low point, the report said.

New listings were down 12% annually during the week ending Nov. 7, worse than the prior week’s decrease of 9% and a significant fall from the week ending Oct. 24, when newly listed homes were down just 2% compared to the same time in 2019.

A steady supply of new listings is crucial for home sales, and they’ll need to make a strong comeback for housing activity to continue, the report said.

Due in part to the lack of new listings hitting the market last week, the total number of homes for sale recorded a dip too, with total inventory across the U.S. now 39% below last year’s levels.

The speed in which homes are changing hands as well as listing price changes held steady last week with no drastic gains, but both metrics continue “to signal a tight market,” the report said.

With buyers competing for limited inventory, the homes that are available are selling fast. Last week, the average time a property spent on the market was 13 days faster than a year ago, marking the seventh consecutive week that homes are selling 13 or 14 days faster than they did in 2019.

For the 13th week running, listing prices logged double-digit growth, up 12.9% over last year. This latest increase is on par with the 12.2% growth that was recorded in October, when the median listing price reached $350,000.

“The big question is whether both buyers and sellers will jump back into the market after last week’s break,” Ms. Hale said.

“With mortgage rates expected to rise on news of a likely vaccine, buyers may have reason to jump back in and find a home sooner rather than later, but sellers may be more inclined to stay on hold. Thus, even as overall activity slows, we may very well see continued price growth and quick sales,” she added.

Mansion Global is owned by Dow Jones. Both Dow Jones and realtor.com are owned by News Corp.

Source: realtor.com