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Buying a House Sight Unseen: Worth It or Not?

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Buying a House Sight Unseen: Worth It or Not?
4 min. read
real estate agent handing over keys to house

Image: Alexander Raths / Shuttterstock.com

Buying a new home is always an exhilarating experience. In some markets, you might consider putting in an offer without visiting the property in advance. However, is it a sensible approach to one of the most significant financial transactions many people ever undertake? Let’s find out.

When Is Buying a House Sight Unseen a Good Idea?

Property Is out of State

If the property you’re prospecting is out of state or requires traveling for thousands of miles, buying it sight unseen can be a good call. You no longer have to spend money on getting there, booking accommodation, and paying for your meals while you’re away. Not only that, but it will also allow you to maximize time efficiency by not having to take time off work or spending days traveling there and back.

The Market is Hot

In neighborhoods where demand is high but housing supply is low, it’s not uncommon for sellers to find a buyer within days of posting a listing. Buying a house sight unseen allows you to act quickly, and the sooner you get your foot in the door with an attractive offer, the sooner you can outbid other buyers.

The Location Takes Priority

Perhaps you’ve lived in the area in the past, or maybe you have friends and family already living there. Maybe you need to relocate there due to work. Or perhaps you’re willing to prioritize a good location over the property itself, and your budget can accommodate a few repairs and upgrades. Whatever the case, if the location is the most important aspect for you, then buying a house sight unseen can work in your favor.

Why Is Buying a House Sight Unseen a Bad Idea?

You Won’t Get the Full Picture

This is by far the biggest caveat of buying a house sight unseen. Despite all the photos, 3D tours and video calls with your agent on-site, you won’t be able to get a real feel for the property until you actually visit it. You won’t be able to detect flaws such as mold, unpleasant smells, poor lighting or a noisy interstate nearby. Pictures can be photoshopped, and virtual tours can be staged to show only the best angles, but once you get there, you may discover that the ceilings are too low or the rooms are smaller than they looked in the photos.

The Seller Might Reject Your Offer

Although most sellers would jump at the opportunity to sell their home quickly, a sight-unseen offer can actually be perceived as risky. For example, the sale could be delayed due to the buyers’ request for inspections and appraisals. Also, there’s a higher chance that the deal will fall through.

It’s not uncommon for buyers to place a sight-unseen offer in an attempt to crowd out competition, then back out when they finally set foot inside the property or when their contractual demands cannot be met. For most sellers, going back on the market can make their property seem less appealing to new buyers, and as a result, they can be wary of sight-unseen offers.

Tips for Buying a House Sight Unseen

Here are a few tips to keep in mind if you’re considering buying your future home without viewing it yourself.

Work with a Real Estate Agent…

Real estate agents are a real asset for homebuyers at the best of times. But when buying a home sight unseen, a good agent is worth their weight in gold.

… and an Inspector

If you’re buying a house sight unseen, hiring an inspector should be a must. They may cost a few hundred dollars, but their input is invaluable. Remember that an inspector can discover flaws not visible in photos and virtual tours, such as faulty electrical wiring or plumbing, flaws in the basement, roof or attic, and even problems with the structural integrity of the house.

Be Cautious of Old Listings

If a property has been on the market a long time, you can bet that other buyers have already visited it. And if they didn’t buy it, there’s probably a very good reason for it.

Protect Yourself with a Contingency Clause

This contractual clause allows you to back away from a sale if the requirements you and the seller negotiated are not met. You can include an appraisal contingency, an inspection contingency, and even make the sale contingent on walk-throughs or viewings before closing.

Be a Tech-savvy Buyer

Technology is changing the way we buy homes in the 21st century. From Google Street View and Satellite View to real-time video tours, you now have an entire arsenal of tools at your fingertips. And if you use them to your advantage, they can be a real game-changer when you’re buying a house sight unseen.

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